How to Organize Your Pantry to Reduce Food Waste and Make Meal Prep Easier

Make your time in the kitchen more calm and efficient.


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A organized pantry doesn't just look pretty. It makes meal preparation and snack time easier because you aren't hunting for ingredients or trying to guess whether you still have the basics on hand. It can also prevent you from having to toss out forgotten and expired items time and time again—helping you save money and avoid food waste. The task of organizing a pantry may seem overwhelming but with the right storage supplies and the following tips from three professional organizers, you can complete the task in just a couple of hours.

Before You Begin

Before you pull everything out of your pantry and get to work, take a long look at your pantry space and think about how your family uses it. Are your pantry shelves deep or narrow? Is there one area or shelf you're always complaining about? Is there an opportunity to add more storage with over-the-door racks or additional shelves?

Reviewing the space will help determine what size and type of storage containers or accessories you want to have on hand before you begin the task of organizing.

Ashley Murphy, a co-founder of NEAT Method, suggests going shopping for your typical staples and filling in any gaps before you begin organizing. "This will ensure you’re making space for the items you frequently store," she adds.

Empty and Clean the Pantry

Now that you have your supplies on hand, it's time to pull everything out of the pantry. If you don't have a counter nearby, use laundry baskets or a rolling cart to hold all the goods. "As you're pulling pantry items out, check expirations as you go," Jamie Hord, founder of Horderly Professional Organizing, says. "We don't judge if you want to keep something expired, but do keep in mind that expired items can lose their potency or freshness. The goal is to create a new system where you will no longer forget about items and let them expire."

Once the pantry is empty, take time to wipe up any spills, dust, vacuum, and inspect the space for any critters that might have invaded. If you see evidence of insects or mice, treat the problem and double-check all of the food packaging carefully.

Sort the Items

Before you put anything back in the pantry, take the time to sort what you've removed. If there are items that don't belong in the pantry, like cleaning supplies, return them to their proper location.

"Create broad categories first, then sub-categorize as needed," Marissa Hagmeyer, co-founder of NEAT Method, says. If you're unsure how to group your items, you can shop for pre-categorized pantry labels, like this set from NEAT Method, which has categories like "Snacks," "Baking," "Backstock," and more.

"Still drawing a blank on how to group your items? Our Pantry Label Set is a great starting point and can help you determine what categories make the most sense for your family’s needs"

Donate any unexpired foods that your family doesn't enjoy to a local food bank.

Organize and Replace Pantry Items

  • Use Functional Containers. "We’re a fan of products that are both functional and work together visually in the same space," says Murphy. "Opt for translucent containers, like metal Grid Baskets and coordinating Glass Jars, for categories that you’d like to keep an eye on. Less often used items, like reusable bags and backstock, can be tucked away in opaque vessels, like our Reeded Rattan Bin, that hide the visual clutter."
  • Add Organizational Tools. "Lazy susans are life-changing for bottles on upper shelves, making everything right at hand," Hord says. Murphy also likes turntables and risers for keeping condiments and canned goods from getting lost at the back of shelves.
  • Pick a Spot for Everything. The placement of supplies is critical for an organized pantry. Remember the categories you grouped during sorting—baking supplies, grains and pasta, canned goods, snacks, or breakfast foods? Storing those like items together cuts down on meal prep time because you'll be able to quickly grab everything you need. "Place each category back into the space, making sure to prioritize often-used categories on eye-level shelves and in top drawers," Hagmeyer says. "Anything that is less frequently accessed should be located on the highest and lowest shelves. Also consider whether snacks and sweets should be placed within reach of small children or if you’d prefer they don’t have access."
  • Add Labels So Everyone Can Find Things. "Labeling a pantry is the last and most important step. Even if the categories seem obvious to you, keep in mind that they likely won’t be obvious to everyone in your household. Plus, labels are a reminder of what needs to be restocked in an empty canister or basket," notes Hagmeyer. If possible, add purchase or expiration dates and cooking instructions to the labels of items you have transferred from their original containers.

How to Keep an Organized Pantry

  • Keep a grocery shopping list on your phone and add products as you empty the pantry.
  • Discard empty packaging or consolidate open products.
  • Do a quick monthly sweep to put things back into their proper place.
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