It’s not just what you buy, but how you store it that can help you avoid food waste.
a person holding a labelled jar of rice with other labelled jars
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Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where nutrition editor and registered dietitian Jessica Ball keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make Earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.

As food prices rise due to inflation and supply chain challenges, making your dollar go as far as possible at the grocery store has become front-of-mind for many. One of the best ways to make your grocery bill less costly is to have a well-stocked pantry. Not only do pantry foods tend to last much longer than refrigerated foods, but they're also typically less expensive up-front. But even still, there are a few extra steps worth taking to make your pantry even more intuitive to use. Here are some ways to organize your pantry that can help you save money on food. 

1. Make Sure You Can See Everything

One of the biggest oversights in many pantries is quite literally not being able to see what's in it. You don't need to full-on decant everything you buy, but clear containers can be helpful if you have access to them. Having a transparent container makes it easier to see exactly how much is left from your tin of oats or bag of rice. But even without clear containers, make sure your pantry foods are organized and not cluttered. Being able to see the different ingredients can make you more likely to use them and when everything has a space, it's more obvious what is empty and needs to be restocked. Grouping similar products close together is helpful and can make it easier when you start cooking. 

2. Employ a "First In, First Out" Philosophy

Channel your inner chef (watching The Bear might help with that) and employ the "first in, first out" method commonly used in food service. Simply, this means that older products that were first stored in the pantry (or the fridge or freezer) are used before new items that were just purchased. This philosophy makes it easy to keep tabs on your inventory and prioritize things that are closer to going bad. 

Personally, I've found it helpful to devote the whole top shelf of my pantry to backfill ingredients. This allows me to have a more organized space that's easier to reach when I'm cooking, but also helps me have things on hand for when I run out of products. 

3. Post a List

Another surefire way to keep tabs on what's in your pantry is to keep a running list of what's in there and tape it to the inside door. This makes it easy to cross things out when you run out so you know to add them to your grocery list. Also, if you do this for every cabinet, you can avoid rummaging around looking for that one thing that you're sure you have, but are not sure where to find. 

4. Make Healthy Options Easy to Reach

Make healthy foods and things that you regularly use easy to reach and grab. I'm constantly reorganizing my pantry to make it more intuitive and easier to get the things I need and use often. For example, if you're always reaching around the flour to get to your container of oats, swap where they are or move the oats closer to the door. Plus, when healthy foods are the easiest option, it makes you even more likely to eat them. 

5. Use Pantry Ingredients Often

The best way to be in tune with what's in your pantry is to be in there a lot. There are several meals you can make that revolve around common pantry ingredients like canned beans and rice, so get creative with it! Plus, it'll help you save money and reduce food waste. Most of my weekly grocery list includes the produce and proteins I need to supplement the meals I planned considering what's in my pantry. 

The Bottom Line 

Everyone has different cooking styles and food preferences, so everyone's pantry looks a little bit different (and it should!). But these simple tips can help you make the most of your space, cut down on food waste and save money. For more budget- and beginner-friendly cooking tips and recipes, check out Thrifty