7 Small Pantry Organization Tips That Make Meal Planning Easy

Rachel | Rachel Resets
by Rachel | Rachel Resets

Organizing a huge pantry space certainly takes up a lot of time, but coming up with the right ideas for a small pantry organization takes a lot of creativity.

Small pantry organization ideas can be tricky because you have to find just the right products that fit well and store everything you need in a cramped space so that you can plan meals in the most efficient manner.

To help you save time and money before you make your next meal, I’m here to show you how to organize a small pantry in the easiest way possible.

It's the start of a new month, and our pantry is as full as it's ever going to be. I usually do a lot of my shopping at the beginning of the month, and I am definitely needing to tidy it up a little and adjust my organization strategy to suit our present lifestyle.

While I'm doing this, I thought I'd share a few of the ways that I put our pantry to work for us, in order to help us throw meals together easily throughout the week, and I'm hoping it might be helpful for you as well.

I organized our pantry in a similar way starting about a year and a half ago, and I found it's made a huge difference in how often we eat out and what kind of meals we're able to make because I'm able to see what we have with just a glance.

Filler and bases for meals

1. Find a filler or base

The first thing I do when planning a meal is find a filler or base. The easiest-to-reach eye-level shelf I have made is full of quick meal options. Things like mac and cheese, Hamburger Helper, and different sauce packets are great starting points or foundations for a dinner.

Organizing starches

2. Select a starch

Next, I generally start planning the meal around a starch because it's generally the largest component of the meal. So the second easiest shelf to see actually has more of our starches on it. It has pasta, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.

I would stick the rice we have on this shelf too, but we buy our rice in a 50-pound bag, so that'd be kind of heavier. For a higher shelf, I'd be afraid it would break under the pressure.

Starches are what create the bulk of the meal for a lot of people, so they're generally relatively inexpensive and they fill us up pretty well. 

Canned proteins

3. Add a protein

After I determine the starch, I like to add a protein. Now, the protein can be anything from beans to meat from the freezer or canned meat or tuna.

I like to use duct tape to label things. It adds a really easy, really quick way to label everything so that others helping you out with putting away groceries know exactly where to put things. 

Canned vegetables

4. Choose a vegetable

Next, I add a veggie or even a few veggies. We have plenty of canned vegetables, frozen, and fresh vegetables in the fridge, so there are plenty of options. 

Flavor maker items

5. Locate a flavor maker

The next thing I like to do is add what I would call a flavor maker. It can be a sauce, condiment, or seasoning packet just to set the flavor profile of what I'm making.

For example, a can of cream of chicken soup is an easy way to bring a meal together. So is teriyaki sauce, a lot of marinades, or gravy packets, and these can easily add a lot of flavor.

Spice mix packets can be really helpful if you're still learning your way around the kitchen. And they are a great combination because they already have that balance of several spices added to them already. 

Pizazz items

6. Sprinkle some pizazz

The last thing I like to add to meals is what I like to call pizazz. So basically it's the cheese that you put on top or crunchy toppings like breadcrumbs, crispy onions, crushed chips, crackers, crushed nuts, or anything to add a fun touch of texture or richness. 

Small pantry organization ideas

7. Small pantry organization ideas

From time to time, you’ll probably have to rearrange your pantry. When I realized I had a basket up high that was just collecting random clutter because it was dedicated to items we didn’t tend to have on hand, I went ahead and made adjustments, putting the Crock Pot that we use more often on that shelf. 

Small pantry organization

At the end of the day, it's all about making your space work for you, making meals with what you already have, and filling in gaps when you're able to.

Arranging my shelves according to how I think of meals really helps me to see what we have now and get more creative in what I make for dinners moving forward. It's not Pinterest-worthy or super fancy all the time, but it doesn't need to be. 

What it needs to be is functional and easy to use for our lifestyle and easy to adapt as our needs and budget change. I know our pantry wouldn't look like some others just because we don't have the space, the budget, or the need for a lot of fancy things at the moment. And that's okay. 

I know I have to look at what we use regularly, what we already have, and our budget, then create my pantry around that. Whether you have a walk-in pantry or two office cabinets stacked on top of each other like me, as long as we're able to make a healthy meal after a long day at work, our pantries are serving us well. 

Small pantry organization

With the right small pantry organization hacks, organizing a small pantry is easier than it sounds. Simply follow the advice for small pantry organization that I’ve outlined above, and in no time, the dry storage food items you have at home will look nice and neat.

Plus, you’ll be able to actually find them. Tell me what types of items you usually store in your pantry down below. 

Join the conversation
2 of 3 comments
  • Gbe69776730 Gbe69776730 on Aug 12, 2023

    Nice. I use four metal wire or plastic trays from the dollar tree to organize my canned goods on a shelf. The shelf is wide enough to fit two trays side by side length wise and two trays high. Each tray gets a food type fruit, veggie, protein or soup. Each tray fits 12 (16oz ) cans. I can pull a tray out and select desired items. I use a sharpie to mark the top of the can ( peach, beets etc) so I don't have to lift each can to see what the can holds. Easy pantry storage.

  • Robin Robin on Dec 03, 2023

    What an interesting way to plan a meal. That's backwards from everything I have ever learned about meal planning AND good nutrition. When planning a meal it is usual to start with the protein and go from there!! Also, I'd advise looking at a food chart of what comprises a healthy meal. This is especially important if you are feeding children!! There is NO WAY the starch should be the largest part of the meal. That's teaching kids wrong nutrition! Vegetables should be the largest part! A tossed salad before a meal or crudites...carrot and celery sticks, radishes, cucumber sticks, raw cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, green, red, and yellow bell peppers! Do different veggies every day! Make a yummy hummus dip to go with them! Then steam veggies to serve with meal. Sometimes stuff a veggie: green peppers, squashes, etc. Make zucchini lasagna using the vegetable instead of pasta. I raised 3 kids and never served Hamburger Helper! A a matter of fact the only boxed food I gave my kids was Kraft Mac and cheese and Rice-a-Roni! I did give them Campbell's soup, some frozen meals (Night Hawks, Stouffers, pot pies come to mind.)