07 October 2011

How to stock your pantry

Your pantry, when properly stocked, can be a real lifesaver. It can become the place you turn to when you don’t have any meal options at the ready. It can also be ideal for quick baking projects. And a well stocked pantry means healthy meals are quick, easy and inexpensive.

I come from  a long line of pantry stockers. There was no chance we'd ever starve growing up. My mother's pantry was always full and she could whip up a meal with just two minutes notice and not even blink. She still has a fully stocked pantry and unexpected visitors aren't a problem.

So when we were married it was just normal for me to fill the pantry. Of course back then it looked a little different to what it does nowadays. You would have found boxes of cake and pudding mixes. Jars of pasta sauces and Kantong sauces. Packets of noodles and sauce and rice-a-riso. Boxes of biscuits and tins of soup. It was full of very expensive food with limited uses.

These days you'll find canisters of flours and sugars, jars of dried fruits and nuts, bottles of homemade sauces and jams, herbs and spices, baking powder and bicarb soda, vinegars and bags of potatoes and onions with pumpkins resting against the wall (the other veggies are in the fridge). It's still full, actually overflowing, but of inexpensive staples that can be used to make just about recipe I can find. It's a much better value pantry.

It makes me happy to hear that the old fashioned type of pantry is making a comeback, especially as food prices rise and the grocery bill puts a bigger dent in a family's Spending Plan.  It's not a hard thing to do, and it doesn't have to be done in one huge shop, you can stock your pantry slowly over a few months. As you use up the single purpose ingredients replace them with those that will do double, triple, or even quadruple duty.

It won't be long and you'll have a pantry full of staples and you'll be able to make just about any recipe you come across too.

There are essentially three steps to stock your food pantry. They include:

Step One – Defining Your Pantry Space

How much space do you have? Some homes come with a readymade pantry. In other homes you have to create your own pantry. In our home there is a walk-in pantry in the kitchen, well the door opens into it and I have to take a step to reach the shelves. I also have a 5 shelf unit and a double door cupboard in the laundry to supplement the limited space in the kitchen.

If you have to create your own pantry, consider using simple solutions. For example, you might buy a dresser at a garage sale or pick one up on Free Cycle.  You can also create a pantry with a few standing wire baskets. You might convert a shelf in the linen cupboard into a pantry.

Your pantry doesn't necessarily have to be in, or even close to, the kitchen. If you have space in a spare bedroom why not use it? Or perhaps you have space for a cupboard of shelving in the garage?

Anywhere that is cool, dry and pest proof will do.

Step Two – Defining Your Needs

What do you commonly need when it comes to pantry staples? For example, do you like to bake? If so then you’ll need baking basics like flour and sugar. Do you like to eat ethnic cuisine? If so then plan to have rice, noodles and spices in your pantry. Make a list of the foods you commonly eat and enjoy. Also take note of those times when you say, “I wish I had….”

The most common pantry items include, but are not limited to, the following:

· Flour - self-raising, plain, wholemeal, gluten, rice
· Sugar - white, brown, raw, castor
· Beans - kidney, borlotti,
· Grains - couscous,
· Rice
· Pasta - spaghetti, twirls, shells
· Canned items: tomatoes, beans, soups, fruit
· Oils - EVOO, sunflower, peanut
· Vinegars - white, brown, balsamic
· Spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, mixed spice, paprika, cardamon, corriander, tumeric etc
· Baking supplies: baking powder, bicarb soda, vanilla extract, chocolate, chocolate chips, coconut
· Dried fruit - mixed fruit, apricots, raisins, sultanas, craisins
· Nuts - almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts
· Onions
· Potatoes
· Garlic
· Condiments: mustard, sauces, mayonnaise
· Jams and honey
Step Three - Creating Your Systems

Once you have a list of items to buy for your pantry and you have a defined space it’s time to create a system for organizing it all. Now there are several approaches you can take to create your organization system. They include:

Readymade storage accessories: You can find tons of handy storage and organization accessories at specialty stores. Lazy Susan’s, can racks, spice organizers and bins and boxes all help you keep your pantry organized and your food fresh. These items, however, can be very expensive.

Personally I am happy to use Tupperware or Decor containers I've picked up at the op shop or from garage sales to hold packets etc. I also have a shallow container on the condiment shelf and all the sauce bottles etc sit in it. It just helps to keep the shelf clean and is to pull out and wipe over when the bottles drip (as they do when you have kids in the house). 

Make sure, if you choose this route, to establish a budget and create a plan for the items before you purchase them.

DIY storage: You can also create your own storage solutions. For example, jars and food containers can be recycled to store your pantry items. A simple example would be to use old peanut butter jars to store dried nuts and/or fruit. You can use paper towel rolls, cardboard boxes and other household items to create a system for organizing your pantry.

Labels: A label maker is a wonderful thing but not absolutely necessary when it comes to organizing your pantry. You can make labels quite easily on the computer, using sheets of sticky labels or by printing onto plain paper, cutting them out and taping them to the canisters. Labels are essential for identifying the contents of your pantry but they come in handy to keep it organized too. You can simply define certain areas of your pantry for certain items. For example, you might have a “baking” area, a “grains, rice and pasta” area and so on. You can then use boxes or dividers to help keep things organized. Of course once you've labeled the zones in your pantry you just have to teach everyone in the house to actually put things back in the right spot!

Identify your space, make a list and then create a plan. Once you have everything in order, it’s time to head to the supermarket or bulk food store to stock your pantry. Have fun and enjoy the freedom a well stocked pantry can provide.


  1. This article is very helpful and inspiring.I don't have a proper pantry in my kitchen and so all the cooking and baking goods are here and there and I'm forever searching! I never even considered using any other room in the house;just kept lamenting the lack of kitchen space! Thanks for helping me look 'outside the square'!


Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment...I just love hearing from you!

Just a couple of things:

Please don't use your comments to advertise your business or goods for sale, any such comments will be removed.