How-to: Stock + Organize your Pantry

March 22, 2021
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One of the quickest ways to make a big difference in your daily life in the kitchen is to set aside some time and brain power to organize and stock your pantry. An organized pantry makes it easier and more enjoyable to plan and cook weeknight meals.

Big or Small…

Whether you have a big walk-in pantry or a small cabinet pantry, here’s a simple organizational process to tackle any space you’re working with. After getting a system set up and in place, I’ll share all of the essential ingredients I stock my pantry with. These are the ingredients that I keep on hand all the time to make last minute weeknight meals.

The Pantry Purge

Any organization project should always kick off with a PURGE. Take everything out of your pantry space (I mean everything) and toss what’s expired and donate what you know you won’t use. Take note of what you use often and what you should stock up on. Give the space a thorough wipe down.

Once you’re left with everything you plan to use, group like items together and categorize. This will make it easier to define what sort of containers or baskets you need to create a system that will work for you. 

Invest in Bins + Baskets

I’ve found that getting rid of boxes and transferring items into clear containers helps to keep things more fresh and I’m more likely to use them up…because I can see everything! I also like to tape the directions from the box on the back of the container. This also makes it so I can buy favorites in bulk and utilize my pantry to its fullest extent.

Once you have your system in place it’s time to fill those bins and baskets up. I’m going to open up my own pantry and share with you what I like to keep on hand but remember to fill in your pantry needs with ingredients that meet your family’s needs. Each of my pantry categories is a suggestion, not an absolute. There’s no reason to stock black beans if you only like white beans. Your pantry will look different than mine based on your needs and preferences, but you’ll know your pantry is well stocked for your purposes when most of the time, you only need to add a handful of fresh ingredients to cook a weeknight meal. Or even better, maybe none at all!

Stocking the Pantry

Let’s start stocking this pantry by diving into dry goods. These are the items that don’t need to be refrigerated or frozen and generally have a long shelf life. They typically live in a walk-in pantry or cabinet pantry.

Oils + Vinegars

You’ll want a decent extra-virgin olive oil on hand for sautéing ingredients and things like vinaigrettes and marinades. A canola oil or something similar will work great for high heat cooking like stir-frys and shallow frying. For vinegars, I like to keep a few on hand and these are all my favorites.

  • Extra-virgin olive oil 
  • Canola or Vegetable oil
  • Vinegar: balsamic, red wine, apple cider, and rice wine vinegar are my favorites.

Condiments

Condiments can really help you pull a meal together, but they can also clutter up your pantry quickly, so only keep on hand what you’re confident you’ll use. For ethnic cooking I keep a few basic ingredients like soy sauce, sriracha, and even jarred salsa verde. The others help to build yummy sandwiches and will carry me through a backyard cookout.

  • Low-sodium soy sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Sriracha
  • Mayonnaise
  • Ketchup
  • Dijon mustard
  • Jarred salsa verde
  • Pesto
  • Honey
  • Peanut butter

Canned Goods

Canned goods like beans, broth, and tomatoes make soups, stews, and chilis come together in a snap. Staples like coconut milk, chickpeas, and roasted red peppers are great for curry and I couldn’t live without my favorite jarred marinara sauce for 10 minute pantry pastas.

  • Chicken and vegetable broth or stock
  • Coconut milk
  • Canned beans (black, kidney, and white beans especially)
  • Canned tomatoes (whole, diced, and crushed) 
  • Jarred Raos Marinara Sauce
  • Canned or jarred artichokes
  • Canned chickpeas
  • Solid white tuna packed in water
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Capers

Grains

I reach for grains and pasta in my pantry daily as the base for weeknight meals and to make dishes more hearty and sneak in some whole grain goodness.

  • Pastas and noodles: egg noodles, spaghetti, and short pastas like an elbow or penne, for quick dinners. (long, short, and chunky varieties)
  • Rice: basmati or jasmine and brown
  • Quinoa
  • Israeli Couscous
  • Farro
  • Oats
  • Bread crumbs (plain dry and panko, which are coarser)

Baking

Your baking essentials should be pretty straight forward when it comes to flour, sugar, and leaveners. Just make sure you’re not letting any of these hang out in your pantry for too long before refreshing them.

  • All-purpose flour
  • Sugar: granulated, brown, and confectioners’ 
  • Cornstarch
  • Baking powder
  • Baking soda
  • Cocoa powder
  • Chocolate (chocolate chips and other forms of baking chocolate)
  • Oats
  • Extracts: Pure Vanilla Extract or Vanilla Bean Paste and Almond Extract

The Expanded Pantry

Your pantry is technically made up of staples found in not only in your cabinet pantry, but in your refrigerator and freezer as well. I like to think of the word “pantry” as ingredients I should always have on hand. We’ll call this the EXPANDED PANTRY and dive into what I keep on hand that is both fresh and frozen.

Fresh Pantry

Things like onions, potatoes, and citrus is the produce that lives on my countertop while classic ingredients like carrots and celery live in my refrigerator with a few dairy staples including Greek yogurt, cheeses, heavy cream, and butter.

  • Onions and shallots
  • Lemons + Citrus
  • Fresh herbs: My favorites (and the most versatile) are flat leaf parsley, cilantro, basil, and thyme. 
  • Garlic 
  • Potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Celery

Dairy

  • Greek yogurt
  • Milk 
  • Heavy cream
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Cheese: I like having cheddar, mozzarella for melting, a soft cheese like feta or goat cheese on hand for salads, and Parmesan for finishing dishes.
  • Bacon and/or prosciutto

Freezer Staples

…and finally there’s the Freezer Staples I like to keep on hand like chicken, sausage, meatballs, and shrimp. I always make sure I’m stocked on some veggies like peas and spinach and fruit for smoothies and baking. Last but certainly not least, I keep a few things to satisfy my sweet tooth like ice cream and nuts.

Freezer staples 

  • Poultry like chicken and ground turkey
  • Sweet Italian Sausage
  • Meatballs
  • Shrimp
  • Petite peas
  • Spinach
  • Frozen fruit or berries (peaches, mixed berries, cut bananas)
  • Nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts)
  • Ice cream (wink*)

Label Everything

Now that everything is stocked, let’s make sure it all has a label. Labels mean longevity for organization.  Don’t skip the labeling – it changed everything for me and helped me (and everyone else) know exactly where things should be returned to. Whether your use a paint pen and write directly onto things, stickers, or a simple label maker, it doesn’t matter…just give it a label. This is my favorite $10 retro label maker, but you could use any sort of peel and stick label or a Sharpie Paint Pen.

Making meals is tough – it doesn’t matter who you are. Organizing your pantry space and stocking it with the essentials will give you a leg up and make a huge difference when it comes to cooking being more enjoyable. Three cheers for an organized and fully stocked pantry!!!

You can find all of my favorite tools for organizing my pantry right here!