Stop falling into the rut of having so much food that you get overwhelmed and can’t keep track of it! Start keeping a kitchen inventory of your food and you’ll never waste food again.
Having a whole load of food won’t do you much good if you never know exactly what you have. And if you want to know what you have at any given time, you need to keep an inventory.
*Note: When you click the links in this post, we may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.
Sound overwhelming? I’m not gonna lie, it takes some work to do it the first time, and it takes commitment to keep it going. But it’s absolutely critical to your success as a shelf cooker. And that’s what we’re here for, right?! Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through doing your kitchen inventory and you’ll be a pro in no time!
DIFFERENT WAYS TO DO YOUR KITCHEN INVENTORY
There are three basic things you need to inventory on a regular basis: your freezer, your fridge, and your pantry. But there are lots of different ways you can keep your inventory. Choose the one that works best for you, because you’re going to have to work with it on a regular basis.
Your inventory can be either print or digital, whichever works best for you. Here are just a few examples of how you can do it:
- Use a paper checklist/inventory and put it in a plastic page protector. Hang it on the fridge, freezer, or pantry door. My mom used to do it that way and it worked great for her.
- Use a paper checklist/inventory on a clipboard in the pantry. It’s always at your fingertips.
- If you don’t like to do it old school and prefer to work on your laptop or tablet, use a digital spreadsheet in a program like Google Sheets. A digital inventory is quick and easy to update.
- There are all kinds of inventory sheets available online, some you can use digitally and others you can print. I have some great printable ones on FunCheapOrFree.com.
Since the process is basically the same for the freezer, fridge, and pantry, I’m going to give you a blow-by-blow account on how to inventory what’s in your freezer(s). Once you’ve gotten your freezer inventory down, then you can do the same for your fridge and pantry.
INVENTORY YOUR FRIDGE AND PANTRY
You might as well clean and organize a bit while you take your fridge and pantry inventory! Start with your fridge. Take all the food out and place it on the counter, wipe down the shelves and inventory your food as you put it back! Add some organization to your fridge to help you find what you need easier.
One note about your refrigerator food – besides things like condiments and salad dressing, your fridge has a bunch of perishable items in it. So obviously, you’ll have to rotate the stuff in there on a much more regular basis than what’s in your pantry or freezer.
Help yourself out by adding another column to your fridge inventory sheet and note the date you put each item in the fridge, including leftovers. Then pay attention. If you notice that you have a package of chicken breasts that are approaching their use-by date, either use them right away for dinner or stash them in the freezer to use later. Whatever you do, don’t let them go to waste!
Now move on to your pantry. Don’t worry, you can take a break and eat some chocolate while sipping on your favorite beverage. But then get to it so that you’re no longer wasting food!
Your pantry is probably going to have a lot more in it, so make sure you inventory the basics first and then make notes on the more obscure items! This will help you keep track of the most important items to keep in stock so that you know what sales to watch for and what to purchase at the store.
HOW TO INVENTORY YOUR FREEZER
If you know anything about me, then you know how deep and personal my relationship goes with my freezers. Yes, you heard that right. Freezers, like in multiple. They are so full with food and I love it! They’re basically the main reason that I am able to not spend an arm and a leg on groceries while still being able to make healthy, homemade meals for my family!
I’m all about shopping sales to get extra food for my freezer stockpile, but the real key is keeping an inventory of my freezer so that I know what’s in there. This allows me to rotate my food regularly and always know what I have without having to just dig through everything. Are you ready to learn all of my ways? Here’s how to do it:
TAKE ALL THE FOOD OUT
This is just what it sounds like. Choose one part of your freezer and completely empty all of the food onto the floor (it won’t thaw out fast enough to do any harm), your counter or in a cooler. Keep a trash can close by and toss anything that is old and looks or smells weird. You’ll also want to toss out those rare things you’ll never use. You know, the things that you have no idea why you would’ve kept them, like a tablespoon of cream cheese from who the heck knows when. Seriously, what would I have done with a tablespoon of cream cheese?!
CLEAN YOUR FREEZER
There’s bound to be weird crumbs and sticky stuff when it comes to storing food. We all have it. And I hope no one ever judges me by the toxic crud in the bottom of my freezer.
Do not skip the cleaning step. With your freezer (or at least part of it) empty, clean it til it gleams. Use a vacuum to suck out any crusty stuff you can, then use some cleaning spray and hard core scrubbing to get the rest of it out. If the cleaning spray doesn’t do the trick, try a cloth with hot, soapy water on it and lay it on top of the gunk to let it soak. It’ll look and smell a LOT better when you’re finished and put you in your happy place for sure!
TAKE YOUR INVENTORY AS YOU PUT IT BACK
Put all of the food back and try your best to organize it rationally as you do! Here’s the important kitchen inventory part: write down every item as you go and note which section you put it in. That may sound daunting, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. I start with the bigger items that don’t get used as much and put those things at the bottom of the freezer.
Try to make sense out of each section of your freezer. For example, here’s how I organized my pull-out freezer drawer:
- Top mini drawer: Small, random items and items we use regularly, like butter, cream cheese, string cheese, bagged shredded cheese, yogurt, breads, frozen sandwiches, and ice cream.
- Right side: Veggies, fruit, dairy, baking goods, lunchmeat, and similar items.
- Left side: Frozen meals/soup, meat, purees, salsa, and similar items.
Don’t be afraid to use some organizer bins to help keep everything organized and easier to find, either! They work great in the freezer, fridge AND pantry.
USE YOUR KITCHEN INVENTORY
The biggest part of all of this is the inventory! Keep up with your newly organized freezer, fridge and pantry by crossing off the things as you use them. Then, when you buy new freezer products, write them on the inventory list and put them where they belong in the freezer. Regardless of whether you’re using print or digital, keep your inventory list current as you buy and use things. The result? At any given time you’ll know exactly what’s in your freezer.
At the end of the day, the purpose of having all this food is to make your life easier and save you money, so USE IT! Shelf cook and plan your meals around what you have, especially during those times where money is tight. It will save your budget and your sanity!
Okay, well what are you waiting for? Now that you know how to inventory your kitchen, get to it! Let me know how it goes for you in the comments!
Don’t forget to check these posts out!