Pantry Efficiency – How’s yours?

by Sandy L on August 9, 2010

Okay, before I even get started, I need to confess that I’m a bit of a food snob. I love food, I’m extremely brand loyal and its my #2 biggest expense in my budget (Daycare is #1).  I am not the one to talk to if you want to know how to feed a family of 4 for $200 a month..or even $400 a month. I shop sales, I use coupons, but I still spend a small fortune.

Admitting You Have a Problem

As much as I loved eating fresh peaches off my mom’s tree growing up, it was equally horrifying when she pulled out a 10 year old can of brown peaches from the basement and expected me to eat them.  Being my mother’s daughter, I know I have some of these same tendencies.  I didn’t want to throw away expired food, but I didn’t want to feed it to my family either. The compromise was to figure out how to use food before it expired. What a simple concept huh?  Not really.

When I admitted to myself that I had a problem, I first tried to eliminate a few bad behaviors. The key ones were:

  • Buying Stuff because it’s on sale, but not knowing how much of it you already have at home.
  • Buying stuff because it’s cheap, but not having a specific purpose for it.
  • Buying exotic things and not having a specific purpose for it.
  • Buying crappy products in bulk and then not wanting to eat them when you realize they taste bad.


Tracking Pantry Turnover

I know myself and I know that in order to find a system that works, it can’t add more than an extra 5 minutes to my grocery routine, so here’s what I came up with.

  1. First, I labeled all my canned goods with O (short for old), so that I could start with a clean slate.
  2. The next step was to “group like things together.”  How many people just shove things in the cupboard? I know I did.  This helped prevent having 25 cans of beans around the house..all in different spots.
  3. All incoming canned goods are labeled with the month/year of purchase. Why not the expiration date you ask? Because it would take forever to read all the different dates. Plus, I wanted to get a sense of my turnover rate which is much easier to do when I know when I last purchased something.
  4. Try like heck to use up your old items.  You’ll find that there are some things you thought were staples that you actually use very rarely. When you find one, eliminate it from your staple list and only buy it when you need it for a recipe.  I know many people also periodically hold pantry purge months that also help.
  5. Before you leave for the grocery store, quickly scan your cupboard to see if anything needs replenishing.
  6. Try to stock items in relation to how often they go on sale. (You’ll see my veg stock is from Nov. That along with baked good supplies go on super duper sale during the holidays, so I buy a year’s worth of those at Thanksgiving.)
  7. Avoid stocking up on plastic containerized items for too long. The plastic that is used in food packaging does not have the same kind of  barrier properties as metal or glass packaging. That is why ketchup and peanut butter go on sale all the time. Try to avoid buying more than 6 months worth of those items.

After about a year of this, you’ll have a better understanding of what your food turnover rate is and hopefully that box of corn bread mix is not taunting you every time you open the cupboard.

Coincidentally, Frugal Dad also posted an article today on pantry storage as an emergency preparedness tool.  You should go check it out.

My question to the readers.  What pantry item heckles you every time you open the cupboard? Is it the instant potatoes that you thought you’d use because people say they’re so versatile? Is it the gross store brand tuna fish that you bought 10 cans of but discovered it was fishy mush water when you opened it?  For me, it’s the 2 jars of lime pickle that I bought from the Indian grocer.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Nicole August 9, 2010 at 8:49 AM

Yesterday’s GRS inspired us to write meal system posts which are in our queue now.

Right now our pantry only has stuff in it that we will definitely use. But sometimes when my father comes by he’ll drop off semi-exotic-type goods like bamboo chips or water chestnuts, and I’ll just forget that we have them when we’re making something that they could totally be thrown into. We do a food pantry clear out about once a year when the post-office comes knocking. That really helps when I make a decision like “no high fructose corn syrup” or “no msg” or “no processed food.” Most folks aren’t so picky. (One of my colleagues says she hates beets and feels guilty giving canned beets to the food pantry, which makes no sense to me both because I love beets and so do probably other folks at the food pantry.)


Everyday Tips August 9, 2010 at 9:34 AM

I make a list before shopping so I can take advantage of the sales, and combine some coupons. However, I do know some things still sit unused in my pantry. I think Au Gratin potatoes are my nemesis. I never seem to use them all up in time, so I refrain from buying as many if they are on super-sale.

For Mother’s Day, my husband and kids organized the pantry, so it is looking pretty good right now. Ask me again in a few months… 🙂


Suba @ Wealth Informatics August 10, 2010 at 12:36 AM

Wow! My pantry will be ashamed to come near yours! It is almost empty 🙁 I am a vegetarian and a very strict one at that, so that sort of eliminates a lot of soups/sauces/beans. The few things I have in my pantry are mostly made by me (and mostly tomato based stuff). The only store bought things I have are whole wheat pastry flour, yeast, some seeds I use for baking (caraway seeds, poppy seeds) and lentils. I have to think about what I will do in an emergency…


Budgeting in the Fun Stuff August 10, 2010 at 3:36 PM

We did a huge pantry clean out last year and have been pretty good since then. I’m actually mocked by chocolate covered cherries that aren’t my husband’s brand and I don’t want to gain weight from. Oh, and the huge box of oatmeal packets that I bought from Sam’s Club that I thought were Maple and Brown Sugar but ended up being a variety pack of all kinds of flavors that I don’t like…hubby is slowly making his way through them…


Christine August 14, 2010 at 10:48 AM

We recently moved and about a month before moving day we started the “Pantry Challenge”… determined to eat everything before buying any other dry or canned goods, so we’d have less to move. It felt great to downsize the pantry, have less to move and start fresh at the new place. I think I had moved some of the muffin mixes and soups to 2 or 3 different houses/apartments.


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