How to Organize Your Pantry for Optimal Nutrition

Fall is coming next week! What rituals do you have in preparation for the changing seasons? Something I love to do during this transitional time is re-organize my food pantry.

As cooler weather approaches, I'll begin to cook more cozy and warm dishes using ingredients that I don't often reach for in the warmer months. So this is an optimal time to do a thorough cleaning in my pantry, and move things around to make food prep as easy and fun as possible in the fall and winter. Read on to learn how I approach this (sometime daunting) task!

Step 1 — Plan

As Benjamin Franklin said, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Organizing the pantry isn't a matter of failure per se, but a plan will absolutely set you up for success! So before you go and take everything off the shelves, take stock of the following: 

  1. What foods feel the most nourishing to you?
  2. What foods do you enjoy eating the most?
  3. What is your skillset in the kitchen? (i.e. Do you cook in large quantities, do you experiment often, do you repeat the same dishes frequently, etc.)
  4. How much time do you have for meal preparation? 

With these considerations at the front of your mind, then clear out your shelves.

Step 2 — Clean

When was the last time you gave your food pantry a good cleaning? Turn on some music, break out the sanitizing spray and get to it! Fresh, clean shelves are such a joy to restock. 

Step 3 — Restock

Next, assess each food item before you put it back on the shelves. Think back to the 4 questions in Step 1.

Is it something you use frequently? Put it in the most accessible place. Is it a special treat for occasional snacking? Put it somewhere out of casual sight. Is it a specialty item you haven't even thought of in 6 to 12 months? It's probably time to donate it or give it to a neighbor.

Step 4 — Fill In the Gaps

Once all your current items are organized and in place, take a minute to admire your work! Sometimes it takes hours to get to this point, so enjoy the fruits of your labor!

After giving yourself a pat on the back, sit down with some paper or the notes app on your phone. Create a shopping list of any pantry staples, herbs, spices, shelf-stable snacks or cooking oils that you feel are missing from your kitchen. Maybe while you were cleaning you discovered some ingredients that inspired you to cook a certain dishdo you have all the other ingredients you need? Add those to the list, too.

If you're really on a roll, you can also add fresh fruits, vegetables, frozen foods and any other items to your list that you think will fill in nutritional gaps. Ask yourselfwhat foods do I want around that will support a healthy lifestyle this week, this month, this season?

A Note Before You Go Grocery Shopping:

Are your shelves pretty bare after completing Steps 1-3? Maybe you want to cook more healthy meals at home, but you don't know where to start? Before I do a big grocery run, I like to make a list of my favorite recipes—3 for breakfast, 3 for lunch and 3 for dinner. Then I create a shopping list from the ingredients in those recipes, divided into fresh, frozen, and pantry staples. Voila! There's the beginning of your pantry plan!

Bonus Tips for a Healthier Pantry (and Healthier You!):

Do you want to cut down on processed snacks or sugary treats like ice cream, cookies and chips this season? Or do you tend to overindulge in certain healthy snacks like nuts or dried fruit? The easiest way to kick these habits is simply not to keep them in the house—for a little while or permanently. Opt for nutrient-dense snacks instead, or if you suspect you're eating out of stress or boredom, prepare yourself a nourishing superfood latte. You can also make some refreshing cold-brew iced tea or "spa water" as described in this blog post.

So does that mean skipping fun food indulgences altogether? No! Make it a special thing—ice cream with your daughter at her favorite local ice cream shop, a visit to a wine bar with a friend, pizza night out with your co-workers. You'll feel good sharing these special times with the people you care about! You won't feel deprived, either. On the contrary, you might savor your favorite treats even more when you're enjoying them in good company. Not to mention—you'll be supporting local businesses while you do!