An open pantry door with a view into it from a kitchen

How to Organize Your Pantry for Varied Yet Simple Meals


I recently received a question: “Ann, how can I best organize my pantry and menu rotation so that it is varied and simple meals are able to be prepared?”. I thought it is a really good question, and one I have not touched on before. Some of these tips are things I have learned over time. Some of them may be more common knowledge. No matter what, I hope you are taking away some tips and tricks with this How to Organize Your Pantry for Varied Yet Simple Meals post.

So, How to Organize Your Pantry for Varied Yet Simple Meals?

A full pantry with stuff chugged into it
Annie Spratt auf Unsplash

1. Take Stock

First things first, take stock. What do you actually have on hand and how much of that has either (1) not seen the light of day for some time and/or (2) could be used in a recipe? I would presume that the chances are fairly high that there are some things in your pantry that you could comfortably use up over the next few weeks, which will already provide variety and inspiration in terms of new recipes and dinner ideas by itself. If you are unsure how to use of a vegetable or food in pantry, simply google “ingredient + recipe idea” and see what comes up.

Small olive oil and some pots and pans in a kitchen
Edgar Castrejon auf Unsplash

2. Buy “Staple Ingredients”

When I say “staple ingredients” these are ones that you find yourself using time and time again. They are likely long-lasting and complement a dish, rather than make up the bulk of your meal. Think: Nuts and seeds, good quality (cooking) oils, beans and legumes, tahini, and nut butter. Rice and (gluten-free) pasta also fall into this category along with likely some cans of coconut milk, and canned chopped tomatoes. For example, I like to make my vegan sauces with a cashew base. So, naturally, I do tend to have quite a few cashews in my house because I know I will use it as a “staple”.

The variety of your food will likely come from the flavorings you add, along with different kinds of veggies you are cooking. It will not come from the staple ingredient necessarily itself. However, you can also rotate those (think: white beans, chickpeas, black beans, etc.) for a more gut-loving variety.

Different spices mixed together
Marion Botella auf Unsplash

3. Invest in a Variety of Condiments and Quality Spices

Here is where a lot of the variety kicks in when we are talking varied, yet simple meals. Think: Tamari, red and green thai curry paste, mustard, miso, white rice vinegar, and tomato paste. The same goes for your spices. Spices and condiments can totally change the flavor profile of your dish. For example, you could make a veggie and chickpea curry with the same staple ingredient “coconut milk” and use spices such as curry powder, cumin, turmeric, and ginger. You can make the same veggies and chickpea curry with some miso paste and peanut butter, and it will provide you with a completely different flavor profile (you will likely also use completely different vegetables).

Here are three great easy weeknight ideas to try: Sri-Lankan Cashew Curry, Red Thai Curry Pumpkin Soup, Vegan Penne alla Vodka.

Glass jars filled with tea in a shelf
Annie Spratt auf Unsplash

4. Think “First in, First Out”

This was one where we messed up quite badly until recently. We had no idea what we actually had in stock and seeing what was left was a bit of a nightmare. It also did not make it easy to only buy what we needed. We have invested into some really basic canned goods cupboards where the last can added essentially rolls to the back of the queue of canned goods. That way, you can always see how many you have, but you are also ensuring to eat the oldest canned goods first, so that they do not spoil.

Onions and garlic in wicker baskets on a floor
Keriliwi auf Unsplash

5. Some Foods are Not Good Neighbors

When we are thinking of ensuring not to spoil things easily, we also have to recognize that some foods simply do not work well together. For example, onions and garlic are friends. But they should be kept away from potatoes, sweet potatoes, and squashes. Store all of those (separately) in a dark, dry, and cool place in wicker baskets. It will make your produce last so much longer, and not spoil prematurely. The wicker basket allows for some air circulation, whilst the darkness means it lasts a lot longer than usual.

someone making a cake with eggs, honey, and flour
Monika Grabkowska auf Unsplash

6. Make Space For Your Baking Essentials

If you have food intolerances, or even a food allergy, there is a big likelihood that you are cooking a lot (if not all) of your meals from scratch in order to avoid digestive upset. When you are in the mood for some baked goods, this will likely be the same. So dedicate space to your favorite flours, baking chocolate, baking essentials, and alternative sweeteners.

An open pantry door with filled goods
Ehud Neuhaus auf Unsplash

7. Decant Your Food

Which brings to my next tip: Decant your food. I have all my flours, nuts, beans, seeds, and legumes, in easy glass jar containers. My pantry is tidier and there are not bags of stuff standing around everywhere. But there is also a really important other reason to decant your food. It means that I avoid that, for example, flour beetles develop they do not spread through all the other goods. Rather, they are contained to one small area. Trust me, there is nothing more disgusting. Once you had a case like that you always make sure to decant everything.

Glass jars with labelling on it in a pantry
Jake Charles auf Unsplash

8. Label Your Glass Jars

I label all my glass jars with a heavy marker and crepe tape. I do not only write on it what is currently in the jar, but also the date of purchase so that I know when it might expire.

Frozen Berries in a cup
Ashley Winkler auf Unsplash

9. Do not Forget Your Freezer

When we are talking about your pantry and stocking it for simple yet varied meals, we cannot forget to let the freezer be part of this exercise. This can come in more than one form. You can make extra on the nights you are cooking and freeze it. Simply defrost your already cooked and delicious option when you need a meal. But it also makes sense to have food on hand that does not spoil and provides variety and freshness when you do need it. Think: Frozen veggies for stir fries, peas (super satisfying and a great source of quick protein), and mixed berries. You can also pre-chop and freeze onions and garlic so that you have them on hand for even quicker meals during the week.

Two people moving cookings into an oven in a kitchen
Hannah Busing auf Unsplash

10. Try Out New Recipes and Continue To Be Inspired

I hope this post has inspired you about how you can possibly organize your pantry and what is important. Since we are talking varied, yet simple meals though… I did not want to leave off the list the idea to continue to be inspired. To try out new and easy recipes and switch out the vegetables frequently so that you continue to get a variety of goodness (“eating the rainbow”). This will take your supper game – next to an organized pantry to a whole new level!

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I hope these tips have helped you and you enjoyed them as much as I did researching them. Let me know what you do in your pantry that I may have not mentioned above in the comments below! Beautiful cover photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

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