How to Spring-Clean Your Pantry—and Key Staples to Stock

From EatingWell Magazine

While warmer weather often inspires some kind of spring-cleaning project, usually involving the basement, garage or a closet, few of us think to clean out the pantry. But take a closer look, and chances are that you might find more than one vinegar bottle lurking on a back shelf with an expiration date of 2012, or a few boxes of gelatin with a use-by date of 2015. If that sounds at all plausible, it might be time to take a look.

First, check the expiration date.

Almost everything in your pantry will be tagged with a date and one of these phrases: “Use By,” “Best By” or “Use Before.” Ditch everything that’s past its date (see ya, chicken gumbo soup from 2015!) and arrange similar things together. Put items with sooner use-by dates at the front so they’ll get used first, and toss anything that’s in an unlabeled random container.

Do a sniff test on your herbs.

Dried herbs and spices may not have a use-by date, but there’s an easy way to tell if they’re still good: give them a sniff. Anything that smells musty, dusty or doesn’t smell like anything can be dumped. If you can’t smell a distinctive spice or herb when you sniff the jar, chances are it won’t do much to flavor your food.

Make a list of what you need to replace, and donate what you can.

As you purge, keep a list of what you tossed so you’re not caught short making dinner one night. You might find that some things don’t need to be replaced, such as a baking mix that you’ve since replaced with a favorite homemade recipe, or a jarred sauce that you might prefer to make from scratch. If you find sauces, cans and boxes of still-good food that you’re not likely to use, bag them up and deliver them to a food pantry. They’ll be more than happy to put good food to use.

Keep these healthy staples in your pantry.

Whole-grain pasta: A few boxes of whole-grain pasta are great for those I-don’t-wanna-make-dinner nights. All you have to do is heat up a jar of sauce and cook some pasta and dinner is ready in minutes.

Beans: A well-stocked pantry should have a few different types of canned beans, plus different kinds of dried ones for a day when you have more prep time (or can pop them into a slow-cooker for easy cooking). Canned beans are a great emergency-meal ingredient; just cook some rice, heat up some beans, wilt some spinach, chard or other dark leafy greens, then assemble into “Mexi-bowls,” topped with shredded cheese and salsa.

Canned tomatoes: Canned tomatoes are a great staple to keep around, as they can become anything from soup to sauce with just a few other pantry ingredients. Having different varieties available—sauce, crushed, diced, fire-roasted, with chiles, with herbs—lets you be more creative.

Canned fish: Sardines, salmon, tuna—make sure to have all three on hand at all times! They’re all great sources of omega-3 fats, plus you’re only a can-opener away from a hearty dinner salad. 

Broth: Always keep a few boxes of different kinds of broth, like chicken, vegetable and beef, on hand. They’re great for making “clean-out-the-fridge” soup, reheating leftovers and cooking whole grains, among other things.

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