5 Habits I Do to Keep My Pantry and Fridge Tidy

published May 9, 2023
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Credit: Sylvie Li

As a parent to two young kids, I’ve learned to ditch a lot of tidying habits in exchange for more rest. But there’s an area of the home I always need to keep tidy: the kitchen, specifically the pantry and the fridge. For me, a well-functioning kitchen is a source of community, nourishment, and joy. Even if there are stuffed toys all over the living room floor and empty toothpaste tubes on the bathroom counter, I’m at ease if the kitchen is tidy because I know my family can fuel up. I’ve narrowed down five habits that help me maintain a working, tidy pantry and fridge. 

Decant right away.

I love to buy in bulk (within reason), but I notice that when I neglect to decant my bulk grocery items, I am left with a confusing heap of plastic bags. In the worst-case scenario, I forget what that mystery bag of spices contains. To overcome this dilemma, I’ve started decanting as soon as I get home from the store. I think of my grocery shopping in three parts: planning, shopping, and decanting. Sure, it takes longer at the moment, but it takes the guesswork out of day-to-day eating and cooking. Whether you use plastic storage containers or repurposed glass jars, decanting is key. 

Create pantry zones.

It’s important to me that all members of the family, especially the kids, know where to put away and find food. We’ve created zones in my pantry to make lunch packing and snacking easy. There’s a kid’s zone that has grab-and-go snacks, a shelf dedicated to their cutlery and cups, and a section that houses all of our dry goods like rice and pasta. Our breakfast shelf is easily accessible so everyone can serve themselves. And on the highest shelf, we keep our sweet treats. I use IKEA bins to help separate food into groups, but there are plenty of options. 

Edit condiments monthly.

We’re a big sauce family — teriyaki, BBQ, ranch, Sriracha. While I love having delicious options on hand, I don’t love expired or unloved condiments taking up precious refrigerator space. I tend to keep all condiments on the sides of the fridge for easy visibility, and there’s not an abundance of space on those skinny shelves. That’s why I edit all of my condiments monthly. I take everything (yes, everything!) and wipe the shelves down. Then I check all of the expiration dates and give questionable bottles a whiff (the nose knows, after all). This monthly habit ensures my fridge is functioning and my condiments are fresh. 

Get creative with on-hand ingredients. 

I’m a big fan of the detailed meal plan, but part of my planning includes one night a week we lovingly call “Mystery Night.” One night a week, we clear out the fridge and use whatever looks like it’s on its last leg. About-to-be-limp broccoli plus half of a rotisserie chicken and a single cup of brown rice becomes a robust bowl when topped with one of our many condiments. Three eggs with some leftover potatoes and a few rashers of bacon become a fun frittata. Whatever is taking up space in your fridge and at risk of ending up in the compost bin is put to use. This not only helps keep my fridge free from sad produce, meat, and dairy, but it also cuts back on food waste. 

Keep leftovers at eye level.

Even with glass food storage containers, it’s easy to forget about leftovers if they’re shoved into the deep recesses of the refrigerator. Keeping all leftovers on an easy-to-see middle shelf means I am more likely to choose leftovers for the next day’s lunch or dinner remix. I also challenge myself to eat my leftovers fairly quickly (within one to two days) because I know I’ll lose interest and the food may lose its freshness. 

Keeping my kitchen tidy with an organized pantry and fridge allows me to spend less time figuring out what to cook and where to find my ingredients. Whenever I open my fridge and pantry and see that it makes sense, I get a little spark of joy. This isn’t just about aesthetics — it’s about creating a system that works for my family and encourages more moments of connection around the kitchen table.