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melissa ben-ishay with OXO POP Containers for organizing the pantry

Master It: How to Organize a Pantry Like a Pro with Chef in Residence Melissa Ben-Ishay

OXO’s Chef in Residence Melissa Ben-Ishay shares her top tips on how to tame the chaos in your pantry.

19 min read

A well-organized pantry is a beautiful thing: Every ingredient is arranged and organized; no jars remain buried behind expired cans of soup. In a well-organized pantry, oils, spices and grains rest happily in their place, within easy reach when it comes time to make dinner.

But organizing your pantry can be a daunting task, especially when shelves have devolved into cans stacked four rows deep and baking supplies that are no longer identifiable (is that baking powder or baking soda?) clutter every corner. If your storage space includes bottles upon bottles of oils and sauces that you have to sift through to find the one you’re looking for, it’s time for a pantry organization makeover.

No one is immune to pantry clutter—not even the pros. But pantry organization is essential when you have a busy family and full work schedule, says OXO Chef in Residence Melissa Ben-Ishay. If the name sounds familiar, it’s no surprise. Ben-Ishay is co-founder and CEO of Baked by Melissa, a buzz-worthy bakery based in New York City that specializes in mini cupcakes (particularly colorful tie-dye varieties). She also has some 2.4 million followers on TikTok(Opens in a new window) where she shares her secrets to baking sweet deliciousness in her home oven along with tips for her flavorful chopped salad recipes, toast toppings and more. With her new Chef in Residence role, Ben-Ishay is also highlighting some of her favorite OXO products that make life—and pantry organization—easier.

A Match Made in Heaven

Ben-Ishay has long been a fan of OXO, calling her exciting new role as Chef in Residence a dream come true. “OXO is a brand that has been in my kitchen since I’ve had my own kitchen to stock with tools,” Ben-Ishay says. “It was on my very short list of brands that would be a dream to work with.” As a new member of OXO’s Chefs in Residence program, Ben-Ishay is ready to invite the OXO community into her kitchen and her life as she shares tips and advice about cooking over the course of the next year.

Why so much OXO love? “I'm very particular about my tools,” Ben-Ishay explains. “I’m not one for tools unless they’re totally necessary.” OXO products help her raise her food prep game every time, she adds, citing the Y-peeler, salad spinner, citrus zester and her beloved handheld mandoline slicer among her absolutely indispensable kitchen possessions.

It’s not just the kitchen, though: Ben-Ishay says OXO products also come in handy for pantry storage, her newest obsession. She used to use old jars to store ingredients like rice and flour, but when she tried the OXO POP containers, she was blown away by the boost to organization. The containers are airtight, stackable, space-efficient and dishwasher safe—not to mention modern and attractive.

In short, the busy business owner and mother of two daughters is a fan of OXO, and she is eager to show others how a few key products can help a professional chef and baker make the most of her kitchen and pantry space—and can help you, too.

An Organized Pantry Keeps the Family Happy

Just about everybody can appreciate a clean, streamlined pantry. But an alphabetized spice rack or size-coordinated containers may seem like just another time-consuming activity that’s more effort than it’s worth.

Not so, says Ben-Ishay, who points out that a pantry full of well-arranged items in which you and everyone in your household knows where everything is with a fast glance can result in more than just a visually pleasing arrangement. It means less stress when you’re trying to put a meal together quickly for the family, and likely fewer teenagers asking for the third time where the pickles are.

As anyone who cooks knows, minutes spent digging through bags of nuts to find the slivered almonds or pushing cans aside to pull out the coconut milk can add up to frustration and more tedious meal prep. Ben-Ishay, who strives to provide her family with homemade meals every night, says saving those few extra minutes is key. “I have a full-time job running a company and I have two young children and they are my top priority,” Ben-Ishay says. “I live in my kitchen.”

To that end, she needs to be able to know where everything is, how much of it is left and when it’s time to restock so she isn’t surprised with an empty box of noodles come dinnertime. That’s not all: Pantry items must be within easy reach and clearly labeled. In short, she says, organizing her pantry is the first step to getting dinner to the table on time.

organized kitchen pantry

Pantry Organization Tips

If your pantry is currently overrun with odds and ends and expired boxes and cans, organizing things can feel a little overwhelming. Get the ball rolling with Ben-Ishay’s tips.

  • Start Small. Organizing your pantry doesn’t mean you have to do it all at once. “Start with what you use all the time,” says Ben-Ishay. Whether that’s baking supplies, jars of condiments, pasta or cereal, organize those items first.

    “Pick out the five or 10 things you use most often and make sure they are in a place in your pantry that is easily accessible,” Ben-Ishay recommends. Spend 30 minutes at a time transferring those items from their store packaging into reusable containers and arranging them on a shelf in a way that allows you to see everything at once. Then, when you’re ready to tackle more shelves, rinse and repeat. “Keep adding five containers at a time until it works for you,” she says.
  • Join the Group. So how do you know which storage container goes where? One sensible approach is to group items in your pantry based on type. For example, in Ben-Ishay’s pantry, her baking ingredients are all in one spot, oils and vinegars in another, cans in another and so forth.

    By keeping grains, cereal, beans and more with their own kind and always in the same place, you’ll always know where to look for every little thing, which makes finding ingredients fast and easy.
  • Choose Location Wisely. When deciding which shelf to use for what, place items at eye level that you are likely to seek out on a daily basis. Common spices, pasta, salt or other popular ingredients should go front and center where they’re easy to get to. (There’s no sense in putting pumpkin seeds in the back or on a top shelf if you reach for them daily to make a salad.)

    But remember, what’s eye level for you isn’t necessarily eye level for your kids. Consider who else is using the pantry, too. Ben-Ishay’s children are old enough to dish themselves out an afternoon snack, so she stores their favorites on a shelf where they can easily see and reach them. Another tip: Place taller containers behind shorter ones so they don’t obscure your view.
  • Follow the First-In, First-Out Rule (FIFO). If you’re regularly transferring ingredients like flour or chocolate chips from their original packaging into dedicated storage containers, Ben-Ishay recommends keeping in mind the concept of first-in, first-out. That means you should use older ingredients first before digging into the new stuff. In other words, don’t dump new lentils into a storage container on top of old lentils or the ones at the bottom will be ancient if (or when) you ever get to them.

    That doesn’t mean you have to leave full bags or boxes on the shelf while you wait to use up what’s left. Instead, grab a vessel like a mixing bowl, pour the older ingredients out of the storage container and into the bowl, pour the new ingredients into the bottom of the now empty storage container, then top off the container with the original contents now in the bowl. This way, you’re using the oldest ingredients first, but everything is still nicely contained.
woman in well organized kitchen

Products That Make Pantry Organizing Easier

When it comes to pantry storage, not all products are created equal. Look for tools that will make storing, finding and using ingredients as simple as possible. These are some of Ben-Ishay’s favorite items.

POP Containers

For Ben-Ishay, pantry organization starts and ends with the convenient shapes and multiple sizes of OXO POP Containers. Designed with handy fill lines and curved edges for easy dispensing, these containers form the building blocks of her entire pantry; Ben-Ishay uses them for everything from holding spices to cereal. As a bonus, the containers now come in a fresh new lid color, allowing you to organize by color—all grains get blue lids, for instance. (The lids are airtight, which keeps food fresher longer and leads to less waste.)

The rectangular shape means practically every square inch of shelf space is maximized and because they stack perfectly, Ben-Ishay can make the most of vertical space in addition to horizontal space. She accessorizes the containers with the POP 3-Piece Scoop Set, which comes with three ½ cup scoops that attach to the insides of the POP container lids for easy measuring.

But perhaps her favorite feature of the containers is that they are clear. “The POP Containers let me see all my ingredients,” Ben-Ishay says, which means she doesn’t need to label every container in her pantry. She does still recommend labeling similar-looking ingredients, like baking soda and baking powder or couscous and bulgur, to ensure you don’t accidently swap salt for sugar when baking. OXO’s POP Removable Labels are water-resistant and won’t leave a sticky residue when you discard them.

Labeling can also be helpful when storing items like grains or beans that require specific cooking times. For these ingredients, Ben-Ishay recommends cutting out the directions from the side of the box they came in and taping them to the back of the POP container so you always have preparation instructions and cooking times close at hand, no Googling required.

Turntables

Ben-Ishay says she’s fallen head over heels for OXO's 16-inch Turntable. Much like the name implies, turntables rotate in place to allow you access to difficult-to-reach items in the back of your pantry. Ben-Ishay added one on a big shelf in her pantry that had become the repository for items that were forgotten and expired; she discovered the large OXO turntable (they come in 16-inch and 11-inch sizes) not only keeps things from disappearing but makes items easier to retrieve as well.

“I was blown away by how much fits on the turntable. It’s so thoughtfully designed,” she says. Nothing blocks anything else and with just a spin, she can see everything in seconds without having to remove and rearrange half the shelf.

Non-slip feet and a deep ledge help hold smaller pantry items in place on the turntable. Ben-Ishay says the smaller version is ideal for spices while the larger turntable works well for bottles of oils, vinegars, condiments and jars of homemade sauces. She also has a separate turntable just for canned goods. “It all works so nicely,” she says.

Other Tools

To put the finishing touches on her pantry organization, Ben-Ishay utilizes several other OXO tools, including the OXO Chef’s Squeeze Bottles, a two-piece set that holds oils, homemade salad dressings and more. The Adjustable Shaker is another Ben-Ishay essential: The twistable top allows you to choose a setting for coarser ingredients or finer ones (or twist is again to seal it closed completely).

And finally, the Refrigerator Egg Bin with Removable Tray is a helpful tool for someone who goes through eggs as fast as Ben-Ishay does. The bin can hold up to 20 eggs (in the fridge or pantry if you get your eggs at the farmers market where they’ve never been refrigerated) and is stackable to boot.

Small Pantry Organization Ideas

Don’t have much space? If your pantry is more of a cabinet than a whole closet or a rack on the back of the door instead of an entire wall full of shelves, you can still keep things in order. Start with POP Containers that stack, placing less-used ingredients beneath more popular ones. Add an Adjustable Refrigerator Shelf Riser to help you stack things that aren’t easily stackable, like flour, bags of nuts, and coffee.

If your shelves are short, consider using Refrigerator Storage Bins, which can act as drawers in tight spaces. And utilize kitchen counter organizational tools to maximize countertop space.

How to Find Extra Storage Space

If you are struggling to find space for all your pantry items in a small kitchen, think outside the box. You can utilize drawers for pantry items; just slide in a Compact Spice Drawer Organizer for an easy way to organize your spices.

Another tip: Install a curtain rod across one wall in your pantry, then use a ClipHangar Set to attach bags of snacks and other bulky, lightweight items across the bar for easy access.

Walk-In Pantry Organization Ideas

On the flipside, if you’re blessed with an overabundance of pantry space, rejoice! Just remember to keep ingredients used most often near the front so you don’t have to go on a treasure hunt every time you break out the cookbook. With larger pantries, keeping everything in designated spots is arguably more important than in smaller spaces where everything is quickly accessible. Check out these pantry makeovers for ideas and inspiration.

An Organized Pantry Is a Worthy Investment

Inside Ben-Ishay’s pantry, everything is in its place. She can see what ingredients she has, what she needs to add to the shopping list and she doesn’t have to dig or remove things to get to the back of the pantry. All of this, she says, adds up to a more efficient kitchen and a happy, healthy family. “An organized pantry is an investment,” she acknowledges, but one that’s well worth the effort. After all, who wants to spend extra time searching for ingredients, rather than eating a delicious meal?

Now that you’ve organized your pantry, how about your desk drawers?

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