If you want to save money, stay fit, or just waste less, you MUST do a pantry inventory! Taking inventory of what you have to eat in your home will allow you to better create meal plans, use foods before expiring and be prepared with plenty of food anytime. Plus you'll know exactly how much and what items to stock up on when you find them on sale!
How To Do A Pantry Inventory
Doing a pantry inventory is one of THE biggest game changers in frugal living, self sufficiency, and building your emergency stockpile. Once you know what you have on hand you will begin to better understand what you and your family actually need on a day to day basis.
Once you can narrow down what you need you can start to bring a little more order to your kitchen and food budget.
We recently did a full inventory of our pantry, refrigerator, and freezers. (Yes, multiple freezers. We go all in when making our coupon stockpile so we needed the extra storage space.) We used the information we collected specifically to build a meal prep plan.
With a plan in place, you know exactly what you need from the store so you never end up wandering around and buying stuff you don't need.
You can also find those hidden gems that seem to find their way to the back of the cabinets never to be found until they expire. This inventory plan helps you organize your pantry so nothing gets lost and you use everything before it expires.
How to get started
First thing you will want to do is figure out how you want to keep track of everything. Some people prefer the good old fashioned pen and paper. Some like to be a little more technical and make a spreadsheet.
We are of the opinion that spreadsheets make it easier to keep things organized. So we like to keep track of our food inventory that way.
Once you have your tracking method, it's time to get down and dirty with your inventory. Pick an area in which you want to focus. Decide if you are just trying to count your dry stock, fresh foods, frozen foods, or the whole shebang.
Figure out where you're starting and make sure you have plenty of room with which to work. For example, pick a set of cabinets for a dry storage inventory. Remove EVERYTHING from the cabinet.
While removing everything, you may find it easier to sort things into like categories as you go. For example, pasta with pasta, soup with soup, SPAM with SPAM (just kidding, no one likes SPAM), etc.
If you really love organizing, you can sort within each category. For example, spaghetti with spaghetti, linguine with linguine, SPAM with outdoor trash, you get the idea.
When sorting everything into your predetermined categories it is a good time to check everything for it's expiration date. You can toss anything that is out of date.
You may want to double check each item though. Sometimes they have a "Best By" date which is about quality and not safety. You can look up specific foods on FDA.org and find their recommendations for how long after the label date an item can still be safely consumed.
If you come across anything that is still within it's expiration date but you know you will not ever eat (*cough*SPAM*cough*) you can always donate them. Do a quick online search for local food banks and help those that may be a little less fortunate.
If you have a bunch of random ingredients that you want to keep but don't know what to do with you can always run everything through a recipe ingredient website and make some new dishes.
Now that you have everything organized out of the cabinet, it is time to actually do the inventory! This part is easy though. Just enter the item into your tracker and count how many you have of each item. Do this until everything has been counted.
Now that we have counted everything it's time to put everything back in an orderly fashion. We put like items with like items (so black beans with black beans and ignore the brand) and arrange them in order of expiration date. Oldest to the left and front and newest to the right and back. Pull from the left and move things as the rows start to dwindle down.
If you prefer, you can count as you put things back into your cabinet, whatever makes this easier for you. As you enter items into your tracking sheet we like to note amount, size, and expiration date.
If you're really a spreadsheet nerd (no judgement from us, we love our spreadsheets) you can dive deep and set up formulas with alerts for when you are running low on an item and when you need to replenish your supply.
You can repeat this process for all of your cabinets, pantry, fridge, freezer, panic room, 1950's style bomb shelter (you do you, okay); anywhere you may keep food. While you are making your inventory, you should also think about the typical pantry staples you need to have to make your most commonly eaten foods.
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