How to Organize Your Pantry for Everyday Life or Emergency Situation – Lessons from COVID-19 Lockdowns

We’re finally preparing to or already coming out of COVID-19 lockdowns (hurray!) via a gradual easing of the restrictions that have turned our lives upside down for the last year. People are looking excitedly towards the future, yet also wondering what our new lives will look like.

Now is the best time to take a look at the way the pandemic caused us to drastically change our shopping habits and organize our food cupboards. Most of us had to quickly adapt to going to the shops much less often and learn how to meal plan on a completely different scale than we had done before!

The concept of maintaining a ‘pantry’ or ‘store cupboard’ became much more important as we moved through each new lockdown. We learned new ways to manage our weekly food requirements, along with some lessons about what not to do.

Just what are the lessons that we can take forward into the ‘new normal’ to help us maintain a more efficient and sustainable pantry? And what should we do if another emergency occurs?

Let’s take a look…

Lockdowns caused havoc in the supermarkets

As we were plunged into a highly anxious and unknown lockdown in March 2020, the first thing that people did to cope was stockpile food and household goods. Remember how people stockpiled packets of toilet roll, pasta, and flour? Supermarket shelves were bare due to people buying in bulk – even fresh food, a lot of which probably went to waste.

Even people who thought stockpiling was an extreme reaction were tempted to add some extras to their shopping baskets that they didn’t really need. When you consider that the last major emergency situation the country faced was World Ware Two, with its rations and food shortages, you can understand where the stockpiling mentality originated from.

Thankfully, our food supplies in the western world are not limited and we will always have access to the foods we need!

We learned some interesting insights into how we consume

Seeing images of bare supermarket shelves and hearing pleads from CEO’s to stop panic buying seemed strangely surreal and made us stop and think about our attitude towards what we buy. It shone a light on how we consume and also how much of what we buy goes to waste.

At Cozzo, we saw users creating huge inventories of their home pantry in this first fraught two months of lockdown. People effectively became stock managers without realizing as they had stockpiled enough food to last for months!

The next challenge was to use the goods that were stockpiled and keep on top of pantry management! For many people, it was the first time that the entire family ate every meal at home each day. And children seemed to need constant snacks to get through home-schooling!

Taking your pantry management into the ‘new normal’

It’s hard to say how things will change as society starts to open up again, but it seems likely that there will be periods of temporary lockdowns or self-isolation over the next year as we learn to live with Covid-19. As a society, we’ve got used to planning our meals a bit more and having a wider range of ingredients at home – will this be one of the ‘good’ elements of lockdown that we take forward?!

It certainly seems that we’ve all learned a lot, and there has never been a better time to fine-tune your very own smart kitchen organised around your personal preferences, saving money and reducing food waste!

Here are some of the things we’ve learned:

  1. Plan carefully and don’t buy too much

The great thing about having a stocked pantry is that most foods have a long shelf life, often lasting years. But it’s still important to be aware of the dates as they will go off at some point! 

Stock as much as you need

Only buy foods that you know you like and will actually eat. There’s no point buying bags of red lentils if you aren’t a fan of the Indian spices that they are normally cooked with!

Basics like pasta, rice, couscous and other grains form the basis for most pantries. Think about the foods you like most and stick to those.

  1. Don’t feel you have to be too saintly

Ingredients like black beans, chickpeas and lentils are tasty, filling and full of important nutrients. You can add them to bulk out nearly any dish or make them the star in a tasty bean chili or taco.

It’s cheaper to buy dried beans and legumes but ask yourself if you’re really going to spend hours cooking them from scratch. While they can be frozen once cooked, it might seem like too much effort and you could end up never using them! 

Tinned beans and legumes can be cooked up in minutes and some can be eaten raw. Likewise, tins of soup, tuna and sweetcorn are incredibly useful.

  1. Sauces and dips make most meals taste better, so make sure you have the key ingredients

It’s easy to make a tasty sauce with chopped tomatoes or passata, but on busy days you just might not have time. It’s useful to have some jars of good quality tomato sauce, pesto and curry to make a quick and easy meal.

Things like tahini, hoisin sauce or curry paste can add a bit of excitement to mealtimes. And having coconut milk on-hand means you can whip up your Friday night takeaway curry at home! 

  1. Spices

No pantry would be complete without a spice section! Again, stick to the essentials that you know you will use. While spices have a long shelf life, their flavor weakens over time.

Think about the types of cuisine you like most. Chilli flakes and cayenne pepper are great for adding spice to Moroccan and Mexican food. While cumin, coriander and garam masala will allow you to cook Indian curries with ease. Basil, oregano and thyme are essential for Italian cooking.

Don’t forget to add stock cubes to this section!

  1. Plan for breakfast

One of the differences in planning a pantry during a pandemic is that you need to factor in many more meals at home. Breakfast is one meal that can often be neglected!

Keeping a supply of porridge oats and cereal can prevent any hungry bellies in the morning. Don’t forget coffee and tea bags.

  1. Indulge in your favorite sweet treats 

We’re all missing visits to our coffee shops and cafes and many people learned the art of home baking during lockdown. It’s a lovely way to spend some time and you get an indulgent treat. We’re not suggesting that you stockpile kilos of flour but having a few bags in the pantry means you can quickly whip up a birthday cake or some muffins for the weekend!

Basic baking ingredients include flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cocoa powder and vanilla extract. You might want to include some sprinkles, cooking chocolate and chocolate chips too.

  1. Stock your freezer

It’s not strictly in the ‘pantry’ category, but a well-stocked freezer will provide you with essential ingredients to complement your dried goods and make well-rounded, delicious meals. It’s always useful to have frozen spinach, broccoli, peas and any other veg you like. Frozen fruit can be delicious mixed into smoothies and used for making desserts.

Freeze freshly minced garlic, ginger and herbs to stop these ingredients from going off in the fridge.

Finally, don’t forget to stash some ice cream in there for days when you fancy a quick, easy treat!

  1. Some extras to make your pantry even better

There are lots of things that you might not normally keep an extra supply of, but we think they make meals extra special – some examples are tins of fruit, maple syrup, nut butter, nuts and seeds, and mustard. 

Less exciting but incredibly useful is long-life milk, because who wants to miss out on their morning coffee?!

Finally, let technology be a force for good

Thankfully, managing our food pantry does not have to be overwhelming today. 

The Cozzo App is here to help you keep on top of it right from your phone! Through the App, you can:

  • create an inventory of your pantry items
  • track expiry dates
  • create shopping lists
  • match your pantry items to your favourite recipes, and much more.

By using the Cozzo App, you will be able to take all the things you learned during lockdowns and maintain them when life returns to normal.

It might seem like a daunting task to organize initially, but once set-up a pantry that works for you, will save you time and money. You’ll have all the key ingredients to whip up a lovely dinner when family and friends visit, and enough food to eat well if you have to stay at home for a while! 

Hopefully, the tips above have shown how with some planning around the flavors YOU like, you’ll have access to some seriously appetising meals.