Most of us have probably caught on by now: food waste is not a good thing for our wallets or our world. As reported by the National Resources Defense Council, the average American family of four chucks out $1,500 worth of food annually—but according to the experts, you can help improve this dire food waste situation with just a little bit of re-organization.
Below, you’ll find organizational tips from nutrition experts and foodies that will help you make the most out of the contents of your pantry and keep your food waste to a minimum.
Establish your pantry hierarchy
If you are the kind of person that tends to grab a bag of, say, nutritional yeast, while at the shop, only to come home and see that you already have an almost full and open bag of it in your pantry, then you’re not alone.
Implementing a pantry hierarchy can help you remember what you have so that you don’t end up double or triple buying ingredients.
“If you don’t have a system, then everything turns to chaos. By setting it up, then at least maintenance of it is easier,” explains interior designer Emily Henderson. “It’s just really assessing your own daily habits and what you use when and giving each shelf their own purpose, and then sticking to that. That’s the trick because if you don’t stick to it, then it’s chaos.”
There’s no “correct” way to organize your pantry, but this means that you can customize your system so that the most used items get the best and most accessible spaces in your cupboards. If you work at the office but cook dinner every night, then keep your snacks and on-the-go items on the shelf that’s easiest to reach, while putting daily cooking items right above that. Baking ingredients and canned items that you don’t use often can go on the top shelf or the least accessible shelf.
However, if you’re really into baking, then you’ll likely give baking ingredients like flour, baking powder, and chocolate chips on the most accessible shelf. It’s really up to you and your lifestyle!
Try storing ingredients in flavor pairings
Now that you have your pantry organized hierarchically, make sure you keep ingredients that you use together again and again side by side. “As for those items you tend to forget about, store them alongside items that you typically combine them within recipes,” says nutrition expert Palak Patel. “For example, there are four of five spices I use almost every time I make Italian-inspired dishes, so I keep all those spices together. If I realize there is another spice that would work well with them that I forget about, I’ll add it to the group. That way, the next time I’m making lasagna or ravioli, I’ll remember to use it.”
Move your spices and oils—which are sensitive to light and heat—to the pantry
It might seem convenient to leave cooking oils and spices right by your stovetop, but leaving these ingredients exposed to light, air, and heat will actually shorten their lifespan. If you want to make sure your olive oil lasts as long as possible, then make sure to close the lid of the bottle firmly and store it in the pantry (ideally between 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit).
Spices are also more likely to turn rancid if you keep them on the countertop, so it’s best to leave them in the pantry, too.
Click here to read part two of the reduce home food waste series.