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How to manage a pantry

This is embarrassing!

I've been cooking for 40 years so I feel like this is something I should have figured out by now but the truth is I haven't. Either I don't have something I need or I can't find it or I'm buying the same things over and over and over again because I assume I need it. Consequently, my pantry is crammed full but it's still not an efficient resource.

What do I need to know and do to keep things going in and out in an efficient productive way?

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  1. We went through having a poor idea of what we needed and thus buying too much or too little, so our answer has turned out to be very simple. We have a small pad of paper and a pen on top of the microwave (it sits there nicely out of the way, doesn't get lost and isn't really visible). When we think of something we need or run out of something we know needs to be purchased, we write it on the list. If it has to come from a specific place, we note that too--Costco has its own list running down one side. When someone goes to the store--there are only 2 of us--they rip off the list and take it with them. If they don't buy an item, they write it on a new list. Has worked very well for a year now---and if you forget the list you can hopefully call home for a list of what's needed.

    19 Replies
    1. re: escondido123

      Actually, I do something similar in my recipe database.

      It's more about managing the physical items so that I can find and use what I actually have on hand. Then that becomes a shopping list that I carry on my iPod.

      1. re: rainey

        I do not have a lot of space so I keep my canned/packaged items to a minimum, only storing an extra or two of the basics. Since grocery stores/Costco are close by, I've made the decision to let them "store" food for me rather than keeping it in my house. Except for pasta--I buy a dozen boxes of my favorite brand when it goes on sale--I usually have multiple cans of only a few items--canned tomatoes, refried beans, tuna and garbanzo beans which are all items I use frequently. (The cans go into a drawer, on their side, so I can easily see what I have.) My sister does exactly the opposite, buying large quantities of everything which means her cabinets, frig and freezer are always full and difficult to keep organized. To each his own.

        1. re: rainey

          can you do a spread sheet on the iPod (sorry not an Apple/Mac person, though I do like them) and have check off columns of Full, OK and Low on the regulars as you go or before you hit the store? (reminds me - I need sage)

          1. re: hill food

            Hmmmm. I'm not sure but I could do one on my desktop. I do my shopping list on the recipe DB on my desktop anyway because it's easier using a full keyboard. Then the software would transfer the bottom-line conclusion to my iPod and that's the only part I need to be carrying with me anyway.

            Thanks. I'll start working up the construct of what I need to have on hand and where the best place for each item to live.

            1. re: rainey

              I am working on my master list right now and It's giving me a headache!

              So far it's just the abstract must-have stuff based on a couple family favorite go-to recipes and our general dining pattern. Brain aches! After that I'll pull apart all my storage and see what I missed and what I'm just going to ruthlessly dump.

              While I'm at it I'm going to add fridge and freezer must-haves. And then I'll integrate that with my shopping list.

              I'm not enjoying doing this but I think, in the end, it will be a big step forward for my storage needs and organization.

              Wish there were some Girl Scouts doing a food drive just now...

              1. re: rainey

                Would it be easier to take a slower route and jot down what you use over the next month?

                1. re: meatn3

                  Thanks for that thought. I will, no doubt, be adding to it over a period of time. But I really want to get this done before the holiday and my daughter is taking a hiatus from work next week. If I pull everything out of my pantry when she has some time, she can go through what I'm eliminating and then I can find and catalogue permanent places for what will be remaining and being maintained.

                  Here, in case this works, is what I've got so far on my spreadsheet. The shelf locations will have to wait to be determined. Lots still to add too. But this is what I've got so far. Pantry Inventory.htm

          2. re: rainey

            For physical pantry storage, the keys for me are: shallow shelves [to minimize the number of things that are behind other things] and putting like with like -- all tomato canned products together, all the soups, the baking-related items, the backups for items that are in the fridge when open [worcestershire sauce, ketchup, tamari, mustard], the unopened jams/jellies, etc.

            Something tells me too-deep shelves might be at the root of your problem.

            --- Posted before reading all the thread, and they are. Like with like becomes even more important with deep shelving. With those 20" shelves, I reluctantly conclude that baskets and lazy susans are necessary.

            1. re: ellabee

              shallow shelves do make life easier, if one can pony up the expense there are amazing hardware/shelf solutions out there - get to a Hafele showroom (highly engineered cabinet hinges and runners - require a talented cabinetmaker to get them installed right). some friends gutted/re-built a house and their pantry was brilliant, it was fridge deep, the doors held shelves, the interior shelves hung perpendicular to the opening and slid out lengthwise so nothing in the space was ever more than 6 or so inches deep. I don't care for lazy susans, something always flies off and jams the works.

              1. re: hill food

                I don't care for lazy susans either; especially the whole cabinet carousels because you have to disassemble them to clean the cabinet properly. They work in the middle of a table but not in a pantry/kitchen cabinet.

                1. re: HillJ

                  Oooo... lazy susan! Thank you! I have a large wooden one from Ikea that I'm not using. It would be perfect on one of my pantry shelves for the stockpile of condiments I have. (I have 3 units - this is it, but ours are black: http://www.homedepot.com/h_d1/N-5yc1v... )

            2. re: rainey

              Erasable white board attached inside of pantry. Also every 2 months or so I'll do a physical inventory of my pantry & freezer writing everything down. I'll then plan meals around using those items up.

            3. re: escondido123

              When UPC codes first came out, I figured it wouldn't be long until home kitchens were equipped with a scanner. You could scan the empty can of tomato paste and it would automatically get put on the shopping list. Yet, today this facility is not part of the pantry.

              1. re: GraydonCarter

                Ever see the modern techo kitchen model MS put together for some of the trade shows. In that design scanners were installed throughout the kitchen and recipes & shopping lists could be pulled up on the kitchen PC and printed out. Flaws, appliance issues, etc. it was quite remarkable.

                1. re: HillJ

                  I did see the MS kitchen, weren't scanners going to be incorporated into microwaves as well for folks too lazy to read the package directions? and in refrigerators to do exactly as GC expected?

                  1. re: hill food

                    all sorts of gizmos were featured including a recipe file that printed on the countertop and a refrigerator monitor that "knew" when you were out of something.
                    Some 10,000 high tech features, big and small,....I'm all for progress in the kitchen but it was a bit too Jetson even for me.

                    1. re: HillJ

                      Because you know what happens when we count on machines to do the work. They fail. And if we don't have a clue because the machines do all the work, then WE fail. I love technology, but there is a limit to how much of it I want in my life. And that above? No way. Not for me.

                      1. re: kscooley

                        So true. Whenever I am thinking about a purchase I always consider the cost to own it, repair it, maintain it...and then decide. Unless I had an MS tech person living in my guesthouse (of course the guest house would have to be tricked out too!) then the value to operate such a high tech monster won't be worth the WOW.

                        1. re: HillJ

                          yeah I used to be so good at remembering phone numbers, now I just punch up 'recent' or 'missed'

                          I can see where this might lead.

            4. Crammed might be the key word. Sounds like a lack of organization. If you describe the size of your pantry and any organization you have going on, I suspect you'll get some pretty good tips. Is it just spices? Food items? Small appliances?

              I have a narrow walk in pantry that was always a jumble until I bought some carts on wheels and Lock&Lock. Everything's fairly mobile in there, so I can rewiggle things as needed. Spices stay in a cupboard, and all jars and cans sit in an over the door shelf system. Bulk baking items (flour, sugar, etc.) are either in Rubbermaid bins (flap lid front for scooping) or Lock&Lock on shelves front and center. Nothing gets stored on a deep shelf unless it takes up the entire depth, otherwise things do get crammed and lost. Lables and a sharpie are your best friends.

              As far as spices go, they do lose their oomph so I tend to rotate them. I'll do a lot of Japanese cooking for awhile, then switch cuisinies when I start to run out of seasonings. Then I've got a whole new fresh set. Use and rotate seems to work really well for me, and once in awhile I'll notice things I don't even remember and do a little purging. Not saying I'm a genius at it yet, but I seem to have stopped that cycle where everything in the cupboards and fridge gets old and goes to waste.

              11 Replies
              1. re: mlou72

                Yes. Organization is precisely the issue.

                My baking ingredients and spices/herbs are in good order. My vinegars and oils are pretty good.
                It's the canned and dry goods that are out of control -- what I think of as pantry items.

                I have two storage areas. One is a tall cabinet next to my fridge on one end of the kitchen. It's about 55" tall and has 5 drawers that are 15" wide and 20" deep. The other is a bank of shelves on the other end of the kitchen. It has small appliances, etc but the area left for food storage is about 55" high, 22" wide and 14" deep. There are 5 shelves available for pantry storage. That 14" of depth is just about deep enough to mean that anything 2 layers deep is in a black hole.

                I use some baskets so that I can lift out or pull out categories of things but it's hard to find sizes that make good use of the space and contain logical groups of things.

                I will be very grateful for ideas that make the space and my efforts/discipline/organization more workable.

                1. re: rainey

                  There is a shop in the UK that sells various racks that lift up the cans at the back of the cupboard so they're above the rows in front and therefore visible. You could improvise with a cut length of 2x4, I suspect. They also sell rotating carousels so you can bring stuff at the back to the front. They make a lot of money out of people trying to be more organised, I think :P

                  If I have several cans of something, I will store them front to back so I know that all the cans behind the baked beans are also baked beans. When I buy new cans I put those at the back. I do tend to keep a lot of food in - a month's supply is my goal. I also make liberal use of stickers on the front of the shelves to jog my memory of what lives on that shelf.

                  I don't have a huge variety of different dry goods in, just large amounts, so it's easy for me to group things in a logical manner. Spices go in small rectangular baskets roughly sorted as to cuisine which stack on top of each other - a bit wobbly but it does the job. I have a small section of shelf that is devoted to one-off purchases that I intend to use quickly, so they don't get lost behind the endless cans of beans.

                  1. re: DunkTheBiscuit

                    Thanks for the thought about the hardware but those things, I think, use up a tremendous of the storage space themselves. I'd rather have food in there than hardware.

                    1. re: rainey

                      Very true, and so would I (note that I didn't say I owned any of them :P )

                      However, if you have a few inches of headspace above your food, which you don't normally stack more food in, then the piece of wood or whatever that you stack your rear cans and packets on isn't taking up any extra space - it's just moving that empty space from above your cans to below them and bringing enough of the label into your line of sight that you can't forget what's back there. If, like I usually do, you stack your smaller packets on top of your cans and stuff as much as you're able to in there, then no, they're no help to you :)

                  2. re: rainey

                    I know what you mean about "the black hole". It isn't perfect, but two things that have helped with that are stacking like cans on top of each other, so I can look in the back and know if I see a can of garbanzos I know every can under it is the same, and I also use baskets with items of each ethnicity so I can lift an entire basket out and hopefully have all the ingredients I need for a dish. If it isn't in the basket, then I need to buy it.

                    My pantry has a regular door on it, and although I don't have one now, I used to have a great wire rack that hung over the door and I could store can goods, jars and spices in a single layer over the entire door. I should probably find another one since it sure would be handy.

                    I have a freestanding rack about 6' tall across from my pantry and that is where I store all of my pastas, rice, nuts, flours, bulk foods, etc. I love storing everything just about everything in glass jars, I think it is not only pretty but also easy to find the correct pasta or rice in a hurry.

                  3. re: mlou72

                    Organization. Precisely!

                    My spices, baking ingredients, oils & vinegars and small appliances are pretty good. It's the canned and dry goods and my management that are out of control.

                    I have two storage areas. One is a tall cabinet on one end of my galley kitchen next to my fridge. It's about 55" tall. It has 5 pull out drawers that are 15" wide and 20" deep. On the other end of the kitchen I have a bank of shelves. It stores small appliances and also has 5 shelves that are available for food. That area is about 55" tall, 22" wide and 14" deep. That's just about deep enough for everything more than 2 layers deep to be a black hole.

                    I have some baskets that act as pull out or lift outs but they're a double edged sword. It's tough finding baskets an appropriate size and even harder to find ones that enable groups of logical things to be stored together.

                    Finally, there's my own management/discipline that keeps things going in/being used/being replaced in an efficient manner.

                    I'd love ideas for how to get this all operating effectively.

                    1. re: rainey

                      I think you almost stated your own solution, "everything more than two layers deep...a big black hole." Just because you have the space, doesn't mean you need to use it. Keep things to two layers...get a plastic tub or basket and place it upside down so you don't put stuff there. You've got to see it to use it. Let us know how you do...you're certainly not the only one with this issue!

                      1. re: berkleybabe

                        Agree with berkley babe - your shelves are too deep and things are getting lost there. If you can't make a physical divider to make the shelving shallower, at least commit to putting a mental divider in there and going no deeper than two layers. Another consideration would be to maybe try to store less stuff. If things are getting lost in your pantry maybe you didn't need them in the first place? I try to keep pantry items to a minimum by utilizing a written meal plan, and having a written plan not only makes life easier and more organized, it results in less waste.

                        1. re: janniecooks

                          There is certainly an element of "maybe I didn't really need it in the first place". Still, I'd like to have couscous and red lentils on hand even if I only use them once a month...

                          It's also true that I probably have more canned diced tomatoes than I really should because if I can't find the can I need when I need it, I go out and buy one to use and another one to store and, god help me, I probably can't find *that* one when I need it either and repeat the whole process. =o

                          I think the spreadsheet plan above that inventories everything and identifies the location and shelf would at least limit me to pulling apart a single shelf to find the canned chipotle in adobo that I really need once every 4 months.

                          1. re: rainey

                            'Still, I'd like to have couscous and red lentils on hand even if I only use them once a month...'

                            Exactly!!! It is late Sunday afternoon and I just got home from South Texas after a weekend of working horses and cattle and the drive itself is 3 1/2 hours each way. I barely dragged myself into the house, half my stuff is still in the car, and tonight is just gonna be Pasta Con Sarde (out of the can) with bucatini. Oh, and wine, lots of wine to help my aching muscles. :)

                        2. re: berkleybabe

                          You might also want to label shelves with contents. I did this on the outside of my freezer - level 1 meats, level 2 frozen veggies, level 3 fast meals, already made stuff, level 4 desserts/ice cream, etc. and a final "misc." Works pretty well if the others in the household stick to it...but as I mainly do bulk shopping, it stays pretty organized.

                    2. A suggestion for you would be to take a rainy afternoon, pull everything out of you pantry, and take a little inventory. Check expiration dates as you organize the shelves, keeping like ingredients together in a way that will work for you. Plan meals over the following few weeks around using up some of your overstocked items.

                      Going forward, a shopping list is key. Plan your week's worth of menus, which I do based on the sales ads for the stores I shop in. Check your pantry for needed items and add what you need to the list. If you see a good price in the ad for an item you use, check your stock before you buy. I really think planning ahead and the ongoing shopping list is key.

                      1. Get yourself organised and put everything in clearly labelled containers. Then you know where everything is and you won't have situations where you have packets of stuff in more than one place.

                        Then get yourself a mini whiteboard and put it up in the kitchen. Everytime you run out of something, write it up on the whiteboard. Then you know what to put on your shopping list. Don't forget to wipe it off the board when you buy it!

                        1. My "pantry" space is a deep metal metro shelving unit. I was having a terrible time seeing what was there. The configuration encouraged stacking based on size/shape rather than by food category.

                          I finally removed everything and started experimenting with groupings that fit the way I use the ingredients. I purchased (massive sale at Michaels) coordinating baskets in several sizes. I rigged up a few shelves to make some of the larger spaces more manageable.

                          Some categories which worked for me:
                          *Breakfast - dry cereal. oatmeal, grits
                          *Hot beverages - teas, coffee substitutes, cocoa, mini marshmallows
                          *Salads - dressings, croutons, items I only use for salad ie shelled sunflower seeds, canned heart of palm, etc.
                          *Dried - broken down further by fruits, legumes and other (tomatoes/mushrooms, etc.)

                          I labeled each basket with a letter. Tried to make it easy B - beans, F-fruit. A cheat sheet is in the pantry. I just pull down the basket and it is easy to find what I need.

                          I did purchase a can storage thing - similar to this:
                          Mine has different sized slots, so it accommodates small tins of tomato paste, soup sized cans and larger sized tomato products. It is easy to see whats there. It is a bit bulky though.

                          It took a while to figure out the best way to group for my space/brain/cooking style. But it was time well spent. I haven't had to revamp it and I seldom buy something I don't need due to it being buried away.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: meatn3

                            OH, this is a good idea. I have been watching this thread intently. I have been cooking for a long time as well and never even knew how to put a pantry together. I mean, other than flour, sugar, baking powder, soda, etc. I never knows what goes into a pantry, let alone organize it. I think I waste more time and money looking for things, buying double of things, not using what I got. So this thread has been enlightening.

                            1. re: ezzirah

                              We can be pantry-building buddies while we organize a plan and inventory that work for us. ;>

                            2. re: meatn3

                              Thank you for sharing the idea. I am going through this thread to look for ideas for myself, and realize that yours is quite similar to what I am doing, only even more organized. It makes so much more sense to group by category. I have pretty much all your categories! With the addition of:

                              - cookies, snacks and candies
                              - flours and other supplies for baking (dried fruits, nuts, although they sometimes end up in my grains/breakfast bin)
                              - cans and jars of anything preserved (I do not have many and they usually all fit into one bin)

                              1. re: vil

                                Glad it helped!

                                I ended up with 38 baskets of various sizes!

                                I have 9 large baskets over the top cabinets. They hold things I seldom use, such as cookie cutters, electric carving knife, holiday themed towels and dishware, kitchen aid attachments, etc.
                                The ones over the fridge have every day dish towels, and assorted plastic-ware for leftovers and bag lunches.

                                Most of the rest are for food and beverages. I've worked in the natural foods world and still have many friends there, so I get a lot of sample products. Since they are usually not something I routinely use I find I have to make an effort to remember to use them. This system has helped a lot in whittling down the surplus!

                            3. I just replaced one of our 48" wide kitchen cabinets--dark brown inside and out--with a slightly large one that is light tan inside and out. I also bought an additional pair of shelves. Now I have a tall space for somethings, narrower ones for small cans/containers, and a space that is brighter and easier to see into--although the extra shelves use some vertical space they keep us from having to pile bowls on top of plates which I find annoying. It's also shallower than the old one so things don't get lost. We also have turned one of the 2 linen closets in our hall into a pantry/small appliance/baking pan space for those things we use less frequently or don't want to have out on the counter. This has really given things a bit of breathing room in the kitchen itself making it easier to see what we have.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: escondido123

                                Sounds like a positive move to lighten the insides of your storage space. I'm sure it' makes things easier to see.

                                Mine is, generally speaking, in well lit areas.

                              2. Great thread. As far as the making a list goes, for those with an Android phone there's a wonderful & free app called Our Groceries. Registering online at their website allows you to enter things on the site (using full-size keyboard, of course!) and it sends that info to your phone instantly. Head on out to the store, open the app, and voila! Your grocery needs in the palm of your hand. I LOVE this app.

                                Storage wise, I have a tiny kitchen with little cabinet space. We do have a basement, so hubby bought a few heavy duty black plastic shelving units from Home depot. I use two of them and have each shelf categorized - condiments on one, canned fruits & veggies on another, cereal & breakfast items on another, pastas on one, etc. I am so grateful for this because if I didn't have an area in the basement to store things, I'd be shopping every day or two for food. We seriously have no spare room in the kitchen or dining room for carts, etc.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: kscooley

                                  Can you explain more about how to input data to a computer and transfer it to an Android phone?

                                  I just got my first Android and I'm still pretty clueless about using it. ...all the more because I've been Mac-dependent for 20 years or so.

                                  In any case, I'm going to check out Our Groceries. Oh how I wish MacGourmet would develop an app for an Android!!!

                                  1. re: rainey

                                    Well, if you want basic data - like a spreadsheet or document - the easiest thing to do is to create one on the Google Docs site - docs.google.com. You can download a Google Docs app for the android phone - it allows access to your online docs very easily!

                                    For shopping, it's easy to go to OurGroceries.com and enter a list there. It automatically updates your phone for you. Here's how to get it synced:

                                    Once you download & install Our Groceries, open it up. From the menu, click on Settings. Second down is List Sharing. Click that. New screen will tell you you're not currently sharing grocery lists, blah blah blah. Enter your name where it says to and your email address (this should be the same one you used to create an account on the Our Groceries site.) Press send, then go into your email to find the confirmation email from Our Groceries. Click the link provided to confirm and voila! Online and phone will sync!

                                    Hope this helps!

                                    1. re: rainey

                                      If your Android phone has a camera (and most do), you can download a pantry manager app that includes a bar code reader. I use one called "Out of Milk". You just hold the bar code on the package up to the phone's camera and it enters the item into the list. Sometimes you need to edit the name, if the name is not clear (an envelope of Knorr's dried vegetable soup mix might show up as "5.2 OZ ENVELOPE KNORR'S DRIED VE")

                                      I scan all of the items in my pantry and create a Master List of what I want to have in stock. Then when it is time to go to the store, I use the app to check off the things I am out of and need to re-purchase. Then when I get home and am putting them away, I rescan them into the database. Beep beep beep. That way I have a record of anything that I was out of but didn't buy -- because the store was out or they weren't on sale or whatever.

                                      1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                                        Looks like a nice app. I think it would be a little daunting to get my entire pantry into that list. LOL

                                        Oh, forgot to add about Our Groceries - anyone with an Android phone can download the app AND you can share the list. So, for example, my husband could have it on his phone and if he thinks of something he needs, he can add it right then.

                                        1. re: 2roadsdiverge

                                          My problem is that I don't even know what goes into a pantry. I would love to have a pantry put together so that all I am doing each week is purchasing fresh stuff, and restocking what we ran out of. I hope I am making sense.

                                          1. re: ezzirah

                                            I am beginning by thinking about my family's favorite recipes and basic needs. I want to have at least what I need to make those with, at most, a trip to the store for fresh meat & veggies. Then I'm trying to include a stash of the most versatile things that turn up in a variety of recipes or that can be substituted for an unusual ingredient I may not have: canned tomato, broths, canned & dry beans, grains, pasta, condiments, etc.

                                            I'd love to hear how you do it as you begin the process. I'm a procrastinator who moves at a snail's pace at best so I expect to be in this process and refining this process for a good while. ;>

                                            1. re: ezzirah

                                              A pantry is basically dry goods/canned goods - things that have a long shelf life and that you use in quantity over time. Years ago it may have consisted of the vegetables you put up from the kitchen garden and a barrel of flour and bushel bags of dried beans!

                                              I approach stocking my pantry from three perspectives.

                                              The first is to have on hand enough basics so I don't have to run to the store to pick up flour or rice or cornstarch, etc. if I decide to cook something which requires it.

                                              The second focus is laying in a reasonable stock of things when I can catch them on sale. I know each time I make pasta sauce that I will need x cans of plum tomatoes. I know I make sauce perhaps 4 times a year. So when my brand is on sale I buy enough to cover me for a good 6 months. Dried pastas are another item I watch for sales on. If you know you'll be needing it within a few months why pay full price?

                                              Thirdly, I make sure I have at least a weeks supply of hurricane foods - things that will tide me over in the event I don't have power and/or water due to a storm. Canned meats, beans, fruits, stocks and juices fall into this area.

                                              Then the trick is being able to easily access whats in your pantry so you actually get full use out of it. Hope this gives you a starting point in figuring out how to put a pantry together!

                                        2. re: kscooley

                                          i think cloudlist is the way to go if you have a droid. all the droids can talk to each other-- so i can be in the commercial kitchen and send the list to dh's phone while he is in the van en route to the store. you can have different lists for different stores/distributors/menus and simply check/uncheck.

                                        3. I would say there are less than 20 items on my "need to be bought regularly" canned/boxed, not-for-the-frig items and they show up on my pen and paper list that is small and taken to the store everytime we go--which is at least every other day. But we are just cooking/eating for two so don't need to be concerned about large quantities. But my sister and I have an ongoing discussion because she buys in bulk and I don't--but since we both live within a short distance of all major food suppliers I don't see the point in overstocking once you have 3 days emergency supply of food and water stashed away.

                                          9 Replies
                                          1. re: escondido123

                                            Seriously!? I'm up to 60 items and this is my first pass through relying only on my memory and concentrating on just one location. I still have the shelves in my second storage area to run through mentally. That may only amount to 20 or so new items but even still... And then, no doubt, I'll be adding to that when I tear everything apart.

                                            I'm guessing when you list "tomatoes", for example, you're not listing separately each type (whole, crushed and diced) and each size (28oz v 14.5oz) or that you wouldn't separately list tomato paste in a can and in a tube (for just a little bit even if it isn't an ingredient in a recipe). But would you list sun dried tomatoes as a separate item? I am because I want each of these things on hand at any given time and want to establish distinct spots for each that I can list as a "map" coordinate so to speak on this inventory I'm creating.

                                            Maybe you don't list canned and dry beans separately. Or maybe you don't need to list them at all. Me? I eat a *lot* of beans and store canned and dry beans in different places so I'm listing each variety I usually keep around and whether they're canned or dry.

                                            Mostly, I think how long the list would get would be dependent on the variety of things you (editorial "you", of course) cook on a regular basis rather than the number of people you cook for. Making spaghetti & meatballs for 2 requires the same ingredients as spaghetti & meatballs for 20 -- just less of each ingredient.

                                            In any case, lucky you to have a manageable number of things to keep track of!

                                            1. re: rainey

                                              I actually use a Google Docs spreadsheet. Within that, I have a sheet for a food inventory, one for meal ideas, and one for a calendar of meal plans. (Trying something new with the latter.)

                                              The inventory - I counted each & every thing. Canned beans listed per variety. Same for tomatoes. Same for pineapple. I want to know exactly what's in the pantry. Of course, it's not precise with dried goods like beans and rice, but "full, half full, low". This gives me a clear idea of what meals I can prepare at any given time. Just stating "canned tomatoes" doesn't do much good - what kind? Sauce? Crushed? Whole? Diced? I also stockpile and typically buy enough to last the store's 12 week sale cycle. I don't want to pay full price if I don't have to, especially for those items I know I use a lot of! :)

                                              Meal ideas - I have it divided into two columns - vegetarian and meat dishes. If found online, I have the meal linked to the website for easy access.

                                              Meal calendar - This is something new I'm trying because of a challenge I'm in on a different forum. I went through my inventory and there is just a TON there. So I'm using it up and stocking the basic needs. The meal calendar is just showing me that I truly have no reason to shop except for milk & produce. (Maybe eggs, but I just bought 3 dozen free-range eggs at an Amish farm last week.)

                                              This probably seems a lot to someone just starting out, but I have a family of five. We need more food than a family of two and I want to be sure I'm not wasting money by buying something we don't need. :)

                                              1. re: kscooley

                                                meal calendar? I am intrigued... is this a template you drew up yourself, or did you find one online somewhere? I am challenging myself to empty 1 full large (fridge size) freezer, one small freezer(above the normal fridge), two refrigerators, a kitchen pantry and a separate (adopted for the purpose) linen closet pantry. A meal calendar would really help a lot!

                                                1. re: r_l_kakos

                                                  Hope these help! I just made a quick and easy calendar. The error messages in some of the cells are simply because I have a partial code in there to link the meal name from the Menus sheet to the Calendar sheet. I've since added in meals and have it planned up to & including Nov 20.

                                                  Also attached my Inventory sheet and the Menus sheet in case it helps anyone.

                                                  1. re: kscooley

                                                    Oh, that is cool. Very nice. I love the menu calendar.

                                                    1. re: kscooley

                                                      This is great! Thanks for sharing!

                                                2. re: rainey

                                                  I am talking about things I buy at least every couple weeks which does not include those things that need to be replaced much less frequently--condiments would be high on that list. (We do not use canned vegetables or soups, make our own stock/broth.) This does not include anything that goes in the frig.
                                                  Tomatoes: We use whole canned tomatoes for everything; tube of tomato paste lasts me at least six months.
                                                  Beans: White kidney beans, refried, garbanzo, are the only canned ones I buy regularly.
                                                  Tuna packed in olive oil
                                                  Oils: Olive, canola plus grapeseed, walnut in frig
                                                  Rice: arborio, short grained brown, medium white
                                                  Flour, sugar, brown sugar, Kosher salt, pasta
                                                  Frig staples are cheeses: cheddar, Parmigiano, Romano, Feta, Roquefort, Comte; whole and non-fat milk; salted and unsalted butters; nonfat yogurt
                                                  When anything gets low we write it on a little pad of paper, tear off the sheet when we go shopping and start with a blank sheet. We find it very easy...as long as we remember the list.

                                                  1. re: escondido123

                                                    Thank you for the short list. I think I am starting to get a handle on what kinds of things to put in a pantry.

                                                    I got the "Out of Milk" app and it is a big help with 'pre done" list that can be customized, and that helped as well.

                                                    Now I need containers for organization!

                                              2. I use sort of a mushed-together system that has 3 parts.

                                                1) trying to make the pantry as organized as I can: I have square & rectangle shaped, airtight, flat topped, clear containers that can be stacked. I put anything that comes in odd-shaped, non-closable and non-rigid packaging in those (flour, bagged beans, tear-open boxes of cream of wheat etc.). I put all of those together on two shelves, stacked as needed, with less used items in back/on the bottom. I also put all like items together - boxes, jars (like mason jar size), cans, odd packaged items (the ones that don't go into the big containers because we don't use a lot of them), and odd shaped jars. All of the shelves in my pantry are wire , so I have old cookie sheets holding all of my stuff (easily slid out, and for stability).

                                                2) I made a list on my computer (just using Word) organized by container type, then listing everything I have under each type. On that same sheet, I have spaces for writing in items that I didn't put on the original list (like a new sauce or something), so that I can add them the next time I update the list. As I use up something in the closet, I cross it off the list (it's in a plastic sheet protector, so I use a dry erase marker to mark up). If I have multiples of something, I try to put the number next to the item. When I have multiple types of something (someone here mentioned tomatoes) I indent, so first level is cans - under that and indented one space is tomatoes. Under that, listed and indented a second space are whole, crushed, diced, etc.

                                                3) I use a pad with a magnet on the fridge for writing a grocery list. I also use the system someone else mentioned where I divide by store.

                                                Overall, I don't write down where to find things in my pantry. It's just 2 of us, so I use memory, and like-with-like reasoning.

                                                In answer to what I keep in my pantry - usually items in big quantities, like flour, or staples, like beans, rice, etc. I also keep enough to be able to go a couple of weeks or so on various items, if I can't make it out to certain stores during the week, or if some emergency hits. I also keep rarer items (for me), because what happens, inevitably, is that I buy two of a can of something, thinking I will need both, and then change my mind. I have a separate cabinet where I keep my oft-used smaller items (honey, spices, oils, vinegars, hot sauces, coffee etc.)

                                                In terms of use, I don't generally keep more than those couple weeks' worth on hand for opened items.

                                                1. Ruled lined post-it notes are tacked to the left of my pantry wall; shelf by shelf.

                                                  I know what's on each shelf and it's in quasi alpha order

                                                  floor and bottom shelves house small appliances that are easy to see; large cans and jars

                                                  right side houses my canned jams, pickled veggies, garden stuff all labeled

                                                  My set up is a walk in pantry at the end of my kitchen but this method (if you like it) could work on the inside door of a cabinet. Post it...saves me on so many occasions...

                                                  1. I get the feeling this becomes a more difficult task if there are many people in the house who use things and then don't mention they need to be replenished. There are only two of us in my house and we're pretty vigilant about putting things on the list. I remain in awe of my mother who always got a meal on the table with four kids, a husband who worked late and a job! (And it embarrasses me to think of the times I complained to her if something I wanted to eat or drink was missing.)

                                                    5 Replies
                                                    1. re: escondido123

                                                      Don't feel bad, at work we have trouble with our saddle makers & repair people using the last of something and not adding it to a list we have hanging on the wall. BUT, I should talk. Tonight I was going to make a simple pasta with broccoli & anchovies, and after chopping the fresh broccoli & other ingredients realized I had used my last tin of anchovies from the pantry a few days ago! The dish quickly went from Italian to Asian influence.

                                                      1. re: escondido123

                                                        > this becomes a more difficult task if there are many people in the house

                                                        In my house, some random child makes tacos and then the cleanup child puts the unused taco shells somewhere in the back of the pantry. Next time someone makes tacos, they want to use fresh shells. We probably have five half-used packages of taco shells strewn on various shelves throughout the pantry.

                                                        1. re: GraydonCarter

                                                          rofl, GC..now that's reality! Same scenario in our home over the years.

                                                            1. re: hill food

                                                              I have two random children and a random husband. But, I try not to complain - they might not help at all, and that would be worse......