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Pantry Storage for a Real Food Kitchen

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Cooking real food from wholesome ingredients means keeping those ingredients at the ready for when you need them. If you’re like me and buy some of those ingredients in bulk, you’ll need a way to store them easily. Check out these options for pantry storage containers and what will work best in your home.

wire bail pantry storage containers - glass wire bail jars full of dry items like beans and popcorn

What to consider when choosing pantry storage containers

There are several things to consider when picking out pantry storage containers, but the most important is that they are airtight. Of course, some pantry storage containers are more airtight than others.

I live in a high humidity region. Grains of salt left out on the counter will quickly turn to puddles of water. Yes, really. In other parts of the world, the air is so dry that a person can simply set a slice of bread out in the open and it will air dry and be good for making bread crumbs. Airtight (really airtight) containers are critical for me. People in drier regions can probably get away with less air-tight options for short-term storage. If you’re storing food long-term, aim for air-tight so the food lasts longer.

Oxygen

Food stored in an oxygen-free environment will last longer. An airtight container coupled with moisture absorbers is a good plan for home kitchens. [Here’s how to make your own moisture absorbers.]

Light

If you rotate your pantry stock pretty regularly, light is less of a problem. Light can degrade food items stored for long periods. Most pantry storage jars and containers are clear; storing them in a dark cupboard solves this issue. If you plan to keep a food storage container on an open shelf where light can be a problem for longer-term storage, consider opting for storage containers like these.

Materials

Opt for metal, glass, ceramic, or food grade plastic containers in order to avoid chemicals that could be harmful to your health. This is especially true if you’re using plastic containers. The material used to make plastic pantry storage containers can vary widely, from stainless steel to glass and plastic.

Related: Get Organized in Your Kitchen: 12 Easy Ways to Streamline Cooking

square ceramic storage jars

Related: BPA-Free Ways to Freeze Food Without Plastic

Shape

Square containers utilize space more efficiently in the pantry. Unfortunately, square pantry storage containers are harder to come by than round ones, especially if you prefer to avoid plastic. [These squarish bail and wire jars are a good option.] Another thing to consider is the height of your storage jars. It doesn’t make sense to choose a tall container for an item that you only use by the half cup.

Size

Choose containers that are suitable for the amount of food you’ll be storing to get the most of your pantry space. As I discussed in this post about bulk food storage, I tend to buy some items in such quantity that they won’t fit in a small pantry or kitchen cupboard. I store large amounts of bulk grains and beans in food-grade buckets with these amazing lids. But I don’t want to have to haul out a five-gallon bucket every time I cook, so also parcel out more reasonable amounts into pantry storage containers that are easier to access.

Related: Storing Canned Goods to Last all Winter Long

glass storage jars

The best storage jars

Jars used for home canning can also do double duty for storing dry goods. These glass jars with lids come in varying sizes from 1/2 pint to half-gallon, with options for regular or wide mouths. The great thing about canning jars is that the lids are interchangeable. This saves time searching for a matching lid that only fits one specific jar. I use canning jars for storage a lot, because I have an extensive collection of them. When storing dry goods, I often use the plastic lids that are available for them, since they won’t rust over time like the metal lids and rings will.

Wire bail jars

These glass jars with lids have a glass lid that swings closed and latches with an attached wire. A rubber gasket assures an airtight seal. I’ve gathered a collection of these over the years and they are reliably airtight, as long as I replace the gaskets when they start to get too worn. These come in a variety of sizes, from small spice jars to a one-and-a-half-gallon beauty.

Gallon-sized pantry storage containers

For dry goods that you use regularly, a generously-sized storage jar makes sense. It’s easier to access than a five-gallon bucket, but won’t need to be replenished after every meal. These are available in glass with a wire bail lid, glass with a metal lid, or of course, plastic.

Square pantry storage containers

Square containers make great pantry organizers for small spaces. Being able to fit more storage containers per shelf is a boon. While there are some square glass jars, there’s a bigger selection in plastic. Personally, I prefer glass, but you’ll need to weigh what’s best for your situation.

Related: Organizing Your Home Preserved Pantry

glass jars full of pantry staples

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

3 comments… add one
  • Daphne Jul 19, 2018, 12:23 pm

    Have you considered or tried using the eco-wraps for a lid for storage? I wonder if they would be sticky enough to provide an adequate seal.

  • JL E Jan 4, 2020, 6:47 pm

    I use glass jars almost exclusively for food storage, in sizes from 1/4 pint up to 2 gallons. I particularly like the wire bail jars. I rarely buy them new because they’re so easy to find in thrift stores & yard sales. (Cheap too!!!) Because they’re used, I sanitize the jars & always replace the gaskets. Most of the gaskets were rubber & had hardened & cracked anyway. So I replace the old rubber gaskets with new silicone gaskets. I get the new gaskets from our local hardware store which carrys a good variety of canning supplies. The silicone gaskets are clear & don’t detract from the looks of the various jars. (Some jars are glazed ceramic, clear green glass or white milk glass) The gaskets are also very affordable. I have found that the silicone gaskets will stretch to fit just about any jar size, so I don’t need to keep more than one size on hand. None of the silicone gaskets have hardened or cracked either, the oldest ones are about 10 years old now. For my other jars I use either plastic lids or the two piece canning lids. I have found that some peanut butter lids will fit regular mouth canning jars & some mayonnaise lids will fit wide mouth canning jars. But you’ll need to test the fit because they’re not uniform in size or thread pattern.

    • Kris Bordessa Jan 5, 2020, 8:28 am

      I’ll have to try the silicone gaskets next time!

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