Power to the pantry

Power to the pantry

A can-do spirit makes foods easier to find

By Mary Lou Brink

A pantry tells a lot about a person. Because the door is usually closed, people tend to get away with organizational peccadilloes they might not be able to pull off anywhere else in the home.

Granted, I’ve seen a few pantries that make the one in the movie “Sleeping with the Enemy” look messy. The soup cans are not only stacked and the labels are not only all facing front, but the soups are alphabetized. I’m not naming names here, I’m just saying …

I also have been in pantries, more commonly, where it simply amazed me that the homeowner can find anything he or she needs. Soup cans sit atop opened cereal boxes (can you say stale?) and spill over onto a few random paper plates. A sack of potatoes sits on the top shelf (shame, shame) and spices are in a cardboard box on the floor. What?

Having an untidy pantry is reasonable, then add the madness of holiday foodstuff gifts and non-stop baking supplies, and you have a complete and utter mess on your hands.

But, Emily Fitzgerald, local organizer and owner of Organized Living Solutions in Fort Wayne, said the pantry can be beaten back into submission after the holidays – believe it or not.

It should take about two hours, she said, “depending on the size of the pantry and its current level of disorganization.” It’s the perfect afternoon project for you and the kids to do on a snow day from school, or a snowy Saturday afternoon in northeast Indiana.

You will need a box or sturdy bag for donated items, a garbage bag, sticky notes for labeling, wet rag to clean the shelves and a label maker. “The label maker is not necessary, but it is very helpful in putting things back where they belong once the pantry is organized.”

Fitzgerald recommends starting by clearing out the pantry. Examine each item for an expiration date and the likelihood you or your family will use the item any time soon. “We all buy things and never use them, whether it’s because we have changed our diet, or were going through a phase.” Even the most organized pantry has an expired item or two lurking most likely in the back.

Pitch the expired items. Donate the items you won’t use to the Community Harvest Food Bank of Northeast Indiana. Load those boxes or cans as you go.

Put those items you will keep on the counter or on a nearby table. Use the sticky notes to help you organize those items into groups. Some group examples would be: snacks, baking supplies (flour, sugar), canned veggies and fruit, packaged meals, drink mixes (tea, hot chocolate, coffee), paper products (paper plates, napkins).

Work up a sweat yet? We think not. The hard part is putting everything back!

Before you start to put items back: 1.) Wipe down all the shelves. 2.) Consider what worked well before and what didn’t. Were you constantly reaching over the seldom used coffee can in order to reach the daily tea bags? Were your drink mixes scattered throughout? 3.) Once you figure out what works, move the shelf heights accordingly.

“Keep the smaller items and the items you use daily at eye level,” recommends Fitzgerald. Because the items are smaller, you can keep the shelves closer together and waste less space. Put heavier items (mixers, crock pots, sacks of potatoes) on the bottom and lighter goods (overstock paper towels, etc.) at the very top. It doesn’t hurt to keep a step stool (collapsible) in your pantry if you have room.

“Unless it’s overstock items, plastic wrap, wax paper, baggies and foil should be kept in a drawer since they are items you use a lot,” Fitzgerald said.

As you place the items in their new homes, make sure the labels are turned out so you can read them at a quick glance. Fitzgerald said you don’t have to alphabetize your items, but I say it doesn’t hurt! Why not? You are going this far, might as well go all the way!

You will notice you have some items that are difficult to place, such as stray granola bars or spice packets (chili seasoning comes to mind). Putting these stragglers in small baskets or plastic containers is a great solution.

If you store spices in the pantry, and some people do, an organizer’s trusty friend – a Lazy Susan – is perfect for the job. Fitzgerald uses three: one for salt (since there are at least five types of salt) and pepper (white, black, red), one for common spices such as oregano, basil, cinnamon and the third for rare that are hardly ever used.

Other organizational tools are: 1.) “over the door” pantry shelves; these work great for canned food items and cereal boxes. 2.) attachable drawers that hook to the bottom of your pantry shelf to add more storage. 3.) plastic “step ladders” fashioned in graduated heights so you can see the items in the back because they are higher.

“Whatever tools you use to assist, it makes sense to organize your items. Drinks go together, paper products go together, cereals go together, canned items go together. Some people even group their items according to how they are used.” For example: Fitzgerald keeps her bread, peanut butter and honey all in one spot. Another example is coffee, coffee filters and creamers.

Once all the items are placed in their new home, label the front of the shelves. “This will be a basic road map for you and your family on where things are supposed to go.” They key words are supposed to go. Teach your family, and yourself, that if the items are put back where they belong, you won’t have to tackle making your pantry powerful again for a very long time.

And, if nothing else gets done that snowy day because you’d rather eat buttered popcorn and watch old movies, at least label your pantry so the bag of potatoes goes on the bottom. Hey, it’s a start!

Posted Thu, 03/03/2011 - 9:31 am