How to organize a pantry? Talk amongst yourselves.

Barb of Great Family Gadgets wonders:

How do you organize a pantry? We’ve just moved to a new house with a pantry closet. It’s not extremely large, but I plan for it to hold all my dry- and canned-goods. It has four shelves and the floor. What I need to know is how to organize it so that the littlest ones can’t get into the snacks/treats, but also can’t hurt themselves (for example, I thought of putting cans on the bottom shelf, but am afraid my toddler will drop a big can on his foot). It’s not that my toddler can get in by himself, but the older two do get in there and the toddler pushes his way in. Should I just lock the door and keep everybody out? I’m at a loss and hope somebody can help me.

I try to organize the pantry by category: baking, snacks, canned goods, condiments, dry goods, etc. I’d put cereal and the light, dry stuff down below (scratch that…you want to keep the snacks out of reach), along with baking and dry bulk ingredients (flour, sugar, dried beans, etc.) stored in large, airtight, unbreakable plastic tubs. I’d also use Expand-a-shelves to maximize the space for the canned goods.

I found some more general thoughts on pantry organization in this article at MommyTrack’d.

Any other ideas?

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  1. says

    The Mommy Track’d article is pretty good. It’s really a personal choice thing.

    My pantry is arranged mostly by weight: the lightest things are the highest because they don’t hurt much when I drop them on my head, and the heaviest things are lowest, where they’re easiest to lift.

    There are exceptions: spices are just below eye level so we can read them (those door shelves are great for this) and the lowest shelf is filled with paper plates, plastic bowls, cereals & healthy snacks so the kids can help themselves.

  2. Jill says

    Liquor in fragile glass bottles is up high with leftover Christmas candy and other “no-touches”, spices and condiments at eye level, dry goods like pasta and rice, cereal and crackers in the middle, then canned goods and extra flour etc at the bottom. On the floor I keep big packs of things from Costco, my mixer and sodas I don’t want in the fridge yet. I keep most of my canisters in a different location.

    I also kept a baby lock on my pantry until my youngest was over two. I’m a neat freak and it drove me crazy when they pulled everything out. No one ever smashed a foot with a can of beans though.

  3. says

    Here’s one vote for locking the pantry doors (you can put the latch at a height your older children can operate it, if you so desire). Could you out a short gate inside your door frame (so the door will still close)?

    We have a sizable pantry with bi-fold doors. It’s easier to put the heavy appliances on the lower shelves (crock pots, food processor) because those really hurt when they fall during removal. That ends up putting non-baby stuff in easy reach of the knee-high set. I stuff all the light stuff (paper goods, plastic pitchers, and other things that don’t hurt when falling) nearest the ceiling.

    We have different areas designated for each food type (vegetables, fruits, soups, sauces/bottled goods, pasta/noodles, popcorn/snacks/crackers, breakfast, baking supplies, baby food/formula, drinks/drink mixes/tea, grains), and double stack cans of like items.

    With stuff like granola bars and individually packaged snack foods we unbox them and put them in open topped containers for easy browsing and access.

    As rice noodles, long pastas, and soba noodles don’t stack too well, we now stand them (packaged) on end in lidless Rubbermaid cereal containers.

    I love the Rubbermaid/Tupperware type cereal containers for holding cereal too. They’re uniform, so they take less space than cardboard boxes. You can see the cereal levels without having to look inside the box. They avoid the internal wax bags, so less cereal goes stale. They’re also great if you’re buying cereal clones in the large plastic bags that take up too much space in the pantry. In the case of the bulk, bagged cereal, you are conserving some cardboard, so it can be environmentally friendly.

  4. Sarah says

    We have a small pantry closet. I keep spices in teh cabinet over my stove and basic baking supplies in bins on a metal shelf in my kitchen because I bake a lot.

    In the pantry, I have two sets of plastic shelves, one big and one small. (The small one is pushed into a corner.) On the big one, I put cans of the bottom, bottles like vinegar, unopended sauces, etc next, then snacks in the middle in two plastic bins that my 3 year old can pull out and look through. Cereals and crackers on the next shelf and plastic wrap, foil and no touch items like candy on the top shelf. On the small shelf, I store extra flour and grains on the bottom, then baking supplies I don’t use often, then pasta and rice on top.

    I used one of the child-proof door knob covers until my daughter was 2 but I haven’t figured out what to do once my second baby gets mobile.

  5. cw says

    just lock it! my six year old can manipulate (rightly) those push-down-and-pull-out-the-door locks. my two year old can’t. perfect.

    and it depends on the kid. with my six year old (girl), we never childproofed anything. i would tell her at 18 months that a metal can crashing down on her toe would be painful. enough said. my two year old (boy) would actually have to remove a large can from the pantry and throw it down on his toe to confirm that statement.

    also: we keep a plastic bucket on the counter. that way every time you need to get into the locked-up-trash door, you don’t experience frustration. just use the bucket on the counter and dump at the end of the day or as needed.

  6. STL Mom says

    I like to put things that I use at the same time together. For example, I keep all my baking/pancake stuff together in a plastic bin: salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon & vanilla. The flour and sugar canisters are next to the bin. When it’s time to bake, I pull the whole bin out onto the counter and then put everything back at once when I’m done. You could do this with a lot of different items, for example storing canned tomatoes next to the pasta instead of with other canned goods.
    I always put the cans on the bottom shelf so if a 2-year-old dropped one, it wouldn’t fall far enough to injure them badly. Each of my kids bonked their foot once or twice, then learned to hold the cans more carefully. I wouldn’t bother with a lock if the older kids will be in and out a lot, because you’ll have to nag them about keeping it locked. Better to put sharp & poisonous things way out of reach, and preferably out of sight. Keep the stepladder somewhere else!
    If you have opened boxes of pasta, rice, and such where the toddler can reach them, tape them shut. That way your toddler won’t spill them all over the floor as he or she examines or stacks the boxes. I learned that one the hard way!

  7. kytyn says

    I must say I’ve never understood the tiered expand-a-shelves, sure it lets you see what you have but it doesn’t actually give you more ~room~. I’d much rather have the white coated wire cabinet shelf to fit twice the number of cans without having to actually stack them on themselves (and the inevitable tumbling of said cans). I also use one in the cabinet for my mugs. Get the heavy duty ones from someplace like the Container Store (amazon: “large cabinet shelf”)- I tried a cheaper one from Target and it just bent under the weight. We sort cans by type (soups, chili, fruit, veggies, tuna) at mid-height, large stuff on the bottom (bags of rice), no-no’s (sweets), light and breakable stuff up top (granola bars, rice wine vinegar).

  8. says

    Perhaps this is a little bit Darwin of us, but we let the toddler have access to the cans. What’s the worst that happens? She drops it on her foot? She’s not going to die and she’ll learn a (physics) lesson in the process.

    OTOH, we keep the stuff that’s open (rice, cereal, etc) out of reach to avoid a mess.

  9. says

    I couldn’t organize my pantry without my Tupperware containers. All my dry goods go in them and I haven’t had any pantry bugs since I got them. They are also on sale this month.

  10. Julie says

    We keep cans, unopened boxes and packets of things, water bottles, and anything else that won’t make a mess on the lower shelves. Nearly everyday my two year old uses these as his “blocks” while I make lunch or dinner. He makes all kinds of castle creations. The lower shelves are never organized, but it keeps him busy! When he wants to move onto something else, I make him first put away the stuff he just got out.

  11. says

    We have a double bi-fold pantry and ever since our 18 month-old figured out how to open it we had trouble. We also have a lazy susan that we could not figure out how to babyproof. In the end, we put all the cans in the top of the lazy susan and all our plastic containers in the bottom. He loves to stack the cans and make towers. Sometimes I find them lined up on our stairs. He has dropped them on his toes a few times, but so far no broken bones.

    The pantry was another matter, because what ever he would get out, he would make a huge mess with or feed to the dog. It didn’t matter how we organized, and I tend to be on the organized side anyway. So finally I found bi-fold door locks from baby bungalow

    awesome! Now my little one can play in the lazy susan as much as he wants but the pantry is off limits.

  12. hedra says

    We have a tiny pantry.

    DH organizes it. Right now, it seems to be separated by category of use, mainly. Things we use most are on shelves that are the easiest to reach/use.

    Snacks are down where the kids can reach them. Yep, said that. On purpose. Very Montessori household, we have – and so far, they don’t seem to be suffering from overdoing snacks. They actually ASK. A few things are kept out of reach (the oranges, since Meriel will indulge until she pukes), but not much that is ‘theirs’.

    We have a lot of deep shelves with not much headroom, so we use rubbermaid tubs to allow deeper use of the shelves. They’re labeled (my favorite is the one that is ingredients for ‘throwing something together’ meal-wise. The oddball ingredients go in there, where I can hopefully remember to find them when I need to make something interesting!)

  13. Mieke says

    We have a mixed bag of organization. If only there was more time and space, I’d love to organize all of it _right_ :) I do agree with the darwinism-approach, that definitely teaches long-term useful life-skills. Having some things within baby/toddler reach also provides a safe entertainment and distraction for them in the kitchen. Our spices are stacked on very narrow shelves that go from the ceiling to the floor. Of course, these were one of the first non-toy things our daughter would grab and play with. All kinds of colors, they make noise when you shake them, they’re stackable, and light enough to carry. Imagine my surprise when I found the missing jar of peppercorns in her toybox :)

  14. says

    WOW!! There’s a lot of information here for me to wade through – THANKS!!

    My two youngest are always taking things out of drawers and cabinets and throwing them on the floor or down the stairs (the older of the two encourages the toddler to do this and thinks it’s funny). I wouldn’t mind keeping snacks at a lower level, but I know that they’d be opened and spread across the floor.

    I think the expand-a-shelves are a good idea for high shelves, so that you can see what’s behind. Fortunately I can keep my spices above my stove, and plan to get one of these for that area.

    I hadn’t thought of putting some things in airtight containers – good idea. I really need to look more into Tupperware. :D

    Thanks again! I’ll have to come back and slowly go through the comments to see what I can apply today.

  15. PeterB says

    Living in a temporary place right now, so I can’t say I’m following this advice, but if space is a concern, one way I found that was both efficient and intuitive was to organize items by the type of packaging. Boxes went together, bottles/jars went together, and all cans went together. (Spices were all together, but not in this particular pantry.) When I went to the pantry to find something, I automatically visualized in my head what it looked like, and so I immediately had it narrowed down to one shelf. Plus, putting like with like from a packaging perspective saved a lot of space!

  16. says

    We have bi-fold pantry doors too, and the plastic over-the-door locks were the wrong width for our 1970s era wooden doors.

    We used window latches from our local hardware store- the result is lovely, highly functional, and slightly nautical. It only costs slightly more than the plastic locks and, for our doors, works much better. See our hack here:

    I love the Darwin description! My son loves cans more than building blocks, so I keep some out of the pantry just for him. We’ve also given him two low drawers that are his and have harmless stuff in them (silicone muffin tins, extra measuring cups, a few cans, heavy duty plastic spoons, and such). A friend told me to give him drawers and cabinets he can play in and he’ll leave the rest alone. It’s been quite true so far (although all the dangerous stuff is behind baby locks).