Organizing your pantry is no small feat. No matter how diligent I think I am with my FIFO (First In First Out) rotation I always seem to find something that’s expired. Other than a handful of expired items our pantries can also hold many unhealthy foods and ingredients. The pantry is a great place to start cleaning for your health. So here are a few things to remember when you clean out your pantry…
Check Expiration Dates– The first thing to do is check expiration dates on all packaged items. Throw out any foods with expired dates. If you like to stock up on bulk items it is important to date your jars when you fill them. These are typically the items we most forget about. Here are a few to remember:
- Olive oil is full of healthy polyphenols that help fight cancer, however these compounds deteriorate after about 6 months.
- Dried herbs and spices can have many health benefits like anti-inflammatory turmeric or cinnamon that can regulate blood sugars. However, exposure to light and oxygen decreases their health benefits and flavor.
- Flours and grains are full of fiber and unsaturated fats but can go rancid after about 3 months.
- Nuts contain healthy fats and omega-3s but go rancid in 3–6 months.
Read Labels– Ask yourself “Is this real food or is this a food product?” Look hard at the food labels in your pantry. If packaged foods have more than six ingredients, then it is probably a food product, regardless of the healthy labeling. This is a good rule of thumb to follow when purchasing and stocking foods. Most packaged foods contain large amounts of sugar (including HFCS), sodium, artificial colorings and additives, and preservatives.
Foods to Throw Out– There are loads of common pantry items that contain empty calories-or foods with little to no nutrients but high in calories. If you cannot quite part with an item, at least put it on a higher shelf out of reach and eyesight. This will keep the temptation from consuming it to a minimum. Get rid of foods high in sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Common foods are cookies, cereals, soda, ketchup, tomato sauce, breakfast bars, and desserts. Also, rid your pantry of fats. Many pantry foods are high in saturated and trans fats. For example, peanut butter, chips, desserts, butter popcorn, cheesy crackers, and prepackaged meals. For great alternatives with no high fructose corn syrup check out a Wholefoods in your area.
Utilize all shelves- I know that sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how much we cram in the eye-level areas, neglecting the lower shelves. Put kid-friendly snacks and meal options there; small boxes of cereal, crackers, fruit snacks, or fruit juice boxes can keep you in bed for a few more minutes on Saturday mornings.
Organize right away– (This is where FIFO come into play) When you bring new items home, make sure you put the new canned goods and boxes of snacks behind the older items. This will help you use up items before they expire, and it also means you’re regularly going through what you have — which makes it easier to call up the contents of your pantry when you’re tempted to buy (yet another) jar of roasted red peppers on your next shopping trip.
Use airtight containers- Make sure you have storage containers for opened items. This keeps food fresher longer, so you don’t end up throwing away half a box of that pricey cereal because it’s stale. Choose clear versions so you can see at a glance how much of each item you have left. And don’t feel like you have to make a major investment in matching, stacking containers: Clean, empty jars and takeout soup cups can help you organize nuts, dried fruit, and small seasoning packets.
Put everything in its place– Having a dry goods location and a soup spot, a space for the kids’ juice boxes, and a place for your husband’s brown-bag lunch snacks can also make your shopping trips easier; you don’t need to know exactly how many juice boxes are in the cabinet if you know that the space has been looking a little empty.
A Well-Stocked Pantry– The main idea is to stock your home with more fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer pantry items. But, having a well-stocked healthy pantry can make mealtimes much easier. Fill your pantry with whole grains like brown rice, beans, whole-wheat pastas, lentils, and whole-wheat flour. Have small amounts of herbs and spices so they will remain fresh. Stock low sodium canned veggies and beans. And when filling the shelves with packaged foods make sure to avoid HFCS, trans fats, and lengthy ingredient lists.
Here is a great healthy pantry starter list from our friends at Wholefoods.