If you, like so many Americans, resolved to eat healthier this year, I have a suggestion for you: Start with a good old-fashioned pantry makeover. 

Begin by pulling everything out of the pantry. Despite my best efforts at organization, I always find things lurking in back corners that I didn’t even know I had. (Goodbye, unnecessary trips to the grocery!) 

Next, sort through every item and ask: How long has this been in here? You’re not likely to use anything that has been in your pantry longer than a year, so start a donation pile with all of the unexpired, unopened items. (You may need to trash the opened oldies.)

Next question: Is this healthy? A healthy approach to eating starts with cooking. It’s better to prepare your own meal using fresh, healthy ingredients because you’ll know exactly what’s in the food. You also know what’s not in the food—like preservatives and the other additives found in most processed foods. Before you decide on the keepers, read the nutrition facts, paying special attention to the amount of trans and saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, etc. If you’re unsure how much cholesterol or sat fat is too much, take a peek at the ingredients list, as they’re listed in descending order.  

For what it’s worth, if you don’t recognize a good percentage of the ingredients as actual food, then consider putting it in the discard pile.

While everything’s out of the pantry, stop by a local shop to grab a few reusable containers. Boutiques like Two Loons Warehouse, Little Brown House, Et Cetera and The Secret Place are great options for the latest in kitchen accessories. Once those supplies are in place, categorize everything, grouping like items together. If you want to go full Home Edit, use color-coded containers for each category. 

If you’re height-challenged like me, use risers or shelf-inserts to help me store items at staggered heights. 

Use jars and canisters to store flour, rice and other whole grains, dry beans, popcorn, etc. to avoid messy spills, and so you’ll notice when a supply needs to be replenished. 

You can also make hand-written or printed labels to identify everything.  Then find a spot for everything, organized by category.

You’ll likely also need an oil and vinegar section. If your pantry is close to your stove or oven, be sure to store any oil away from a heat source, so it doesn’t go rancid or lose its flavor from heat exposure. Tucker Norrell, owner of SALT Spices and Specialties in Wolflin Village, suggests disposing of oils or vinegars older than about a year.

While you’re at it, your spice cabinet can likely use a little sprucing, too, using a similar process. Start by tossing the old stuff. Norrell says most spices probably have a shelf life of about a year. He says a good test of freshness is to “just smell or taste them.” Once you’re stocked up on fresh herbs and spices, store them in your drawer or cupboard in alphabetical order. 

With your spices sorted and your pantry organized, you’re ready to start cooking and eating more healthfully and deliciously this year. 


  • Julie Grimes

    Julie is a cookbook author, recipe developer, food writer and editor. She was Senior Food Editor at Southern Living and Cooking Light magazines, and her work has appeared in Garden & Gun, Women’s Health, and Fine Cooking, among others. Grimes has deep roots in West Texas. She’s a Texas Tech graduate and recently relocated back to Texas, settling in Amarillo where she’s looking for her next food adventure.