Stop falling into the rut of having so much food that you get overwhelmed and can't keep track of it! Easily keep 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.
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Sound overwhelming? We're 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, we'll walk you through how to do 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. Our 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.
INVENTORY YOUR FRIDGE
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 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!
INVENTORY YOUR PANTRY
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 you're no longer wasting food!
Your pantry is probably going to have a lot more in it, so 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 you know what sales to watch for and what to purchase at the store. Work on your pantry organization as you're taking your inventory.
HOW TO INVENTORY YOUR FREEZER
If you know anything about us, then you know how deep and personal our relationship goes with our freezers. Yes, you heard that right. Freezers, like in multiple. They are so full with food and it's amazing! They're basically the main reason we're able to not spend an arm and a leg on groceries while still being able to make healthy, homemade meals for our family!
We're all about shopping sales to get extra food for our freezer stockpile, but the real key is keeping an inventory of the freezer so we know what's in there. This allows us to rotate our food regularly and always know what we have without having to dig through everything. Are you ready to learn all of our 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's 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 we 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 let's hope no one ever judges us by the toxic crud in the bottom of our 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 an E-Cloth with hot, soapy water, lay it on top of the gunk, and 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. We 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 we organize our 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.
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 us know how it goes for you in the comments!
Don't forget to check these posts out!
- Learn how to prevent freezer burn so that you can stop wasting your food!
- These pantry staples are crucial to help you with your shelf cooking.
- Get your kitchen organized to make cooking easier on yourself!
- Learn how to set your grocery budget.
Way to go, no more wasting food for you!