Pantry Storage to Inspire Great Meals

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Here’s how to organize a pantry so that you always have your staples within reach and your kitchen actually helps inspire you to cook.

No matter how amazing your kitchen looks, it won’t mean a thing if you open your pantry to a jumble of canned goods and half-empty boxes that leave you feeling that there’s nothing to eat. Been there? If so, you’d be amazed by what a difference a little pantry makeover can bring.

Start with clean shelves

The first step in organizing the pantry in your kitchen is to remove everything from inside and scrub the shelves well.

“Set aside any unopened boxed foods or canned goods you’re definitely not going to eat, and donate them if they haven’t expired,” says Mim King, a professional organizer in St. Paul, MN. Next, make a single row. “The ideal pantry is one item deep—this way, nothing gets lost in the back,” explains Darla DeMorrow, a professional organizer with HeartWork Organizing in Wayne, PA.

Check all expiration dates on grocery items as you go.

Streamline kitchen containers

Amy Bell, owner of Red Chair Home Interiors in Cary, NC, doesn’t bother transferring pantry items like cereal and pasta into resealable boxes (they get eaten up too quickly), but she does like space-saving storage containers and jars for baking ingredients such as flour and sugar. Use an easy-to-reach basket to hold individually wrapped bags of snacks, like chips and granola bars, so your kids won’t tear apart the pantry looking for them, suggests Emma Gordon, a professional organizer at

Baskets are popular now, and for good reason. Clear containers work just as well. The secret is to keep similar items in your kitchen together as you organize, in a place where you can easily find them. Organize small items like bag clips in jars. If you have wire shelves, baskets and other containers are also handy for keeping small items from falling through to the floor.

A Lazy Susan can also hold smaller items that could otherwise get lost in a cabinet or on shelves.

Choose a categorization system

It doesn’t matter which system you use to organize your storage—just stick to it. You could line up cans and jars on one row and boxes on another, and stash potatoes, onions, lemons, and limes in their own wire bins. Or group foods that go together on shelf space (cereal and oatmeal, rice and beans, pasta with sauces, oils and vinegars).

Other storage categories include dry goods (rice, coffee, grains), baking supplies (sugars, flour, chocolate chips), and spices and condiments, says Julie Coraccio, a lifestyle expert at Reawaken Your Brilliance in Raleigh, NC.

Using a label maker or a chalkboard to designate each shelf is also an option—as in “breakfast,” “dinner,” and “snacks.”

Use the door to organize

Mount a spice rack on a kitchen cabinet or pantry door—and then alphabetize it. Coraccio devotes one row to frequently used baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, and puts more unusual ones (turmeric, mace) on higher kitchen shelves.

You can also install over-the-door shelving to organize oils, vinegars, and other condiments. Towel hooks can add storage for grocery shopping bags and soft coolers on the back of your pantry door, adds Gordon.

Clear the floor

Want mice, ants, and pesky moths? Of course not. Pests don’t belong in an organized pantry, so don’t use the pantry or closet floor for food storage, especially for open containers that might hold snacks tempting to pests. Instead, consider using rolling bins in your kitchen to keep edibles safe, maximize space, and organize the pantry at the same time, says DeMorrow. The exception to the floor rule might be a large bin of pet kibble; cases of seltzer, soda, or wine; glass jars, nonperishables, and devices you use often (for example the blender or stand mixer). The less on the floor the better, however, especially if you’re aiming for the clutter-free look.

Infrequently used appliances do not get prime pantry real estate, including the ice cream maker, Thanksgiving roasting pan, pressure cooker, and waffle iron, says Gordon. Put them on low or high pantry shelves or in drawers in your kitchen, but not on the floor.