With our meal planning challenge in full swing this month, I thought it would be helpful to dive into the meal planning process we use in our home. This approach has not only helped us stay within our grocery budget, but has allowed us to allocate additional funds towards debt repayment. Today we’re tackling the initial step in crafting a personalized meal plan that your family will love by taking inventory of your fridge, freezer, and pantry. I’ve employed three strategies to ensure a seamless process, and I’m excited to share them with you.
Why Should I Inventory My Fridge, Freezer, and Pantry?
But first, let’s talk about why this is important to begin with.
Reason #1: Reduces Food Waste
Keeping a detailed inventory helps you become more aware of the items in your kitchen and their expiration dates, significantly reducing the likelihood of letting food go bad or expire. I don’t know about you, but I love any strategies that help me minimize the food waste in my home.
Reason #2: Save Money
The knowledge of what’s already in your kitchen empowers you to plan meals strategically around existing ingredients. This minimizes the need for frequent grocery store trips and (hopefully!) reduces the temptation to make impulsive purchases. By using what you already have, you’ll cut down on those necessary grocery expenses, which will help you save money over time.
Tip: This is also an effective deterrent for your cookie-loving spouse that can’t wait to stop for that last minute dinner item AND a bag of cookies, too.
Reason #3: Efficient Meal Planning
An inventory helps to ensure that you use existing ingredients before they expire. You can plan meals that use items nearing their expiration dates and create grocery lists based on the items you actually need.
Reason #4: Time-Saving
Having an inventory in place can save a significant amount of time during meal preparation. Instead of rummaging through your pantry or fridge, you can quickly identify what you need, and streamline your cooking process. This is super helpful if you have a lot going on in the evenings and need to put together meals in a hurry, with multiple distractions. (Where are my toddler mamas?)
Reason #5: Budget Management
By understanding the food items you already have, you can allocate your fund more strategically. This allows you to prioritize necessary grocery purchases, avoiding unnecessary expenses on items you already have. As a result, your budget becomes more controlled and focused on essential needs.
So, it’s clear that having an inventory is critical not only for your meal plan, but for your budget as a whole.
Tips for Inventorying Your Fridge, Freezer, and Pantry
Before we jump into the actual process of inventorying the items in your fridge, freezer and pantry, I have a few tips for success:
Tip #1: Track Every Item
As you create a comprehensive list of all of the items, make sure to include everything. Don’t leave something off the list just because you aren’t certain how you’ll use it. It’s only when you know EXACTLY what you have that you can use those ingredients to help you stay on track with not only your grocery budget, but your financial plan, too.
Tip #2: Look for Expiration Dates
The first time I ever created an inventory list, I realized that we had condiments, canned goods, and other items that had been expired for years. Gross, right? Of course, there’s nothing more disheartening than preparing to cook a meal and realizing that your ingredients are no longer viable.
So, as you create your inventory list, take the time to look for expiration dates, make note of them, and dispose of anything that’s past it’s expiration date.
Tip #3: Group Like Items Together
Personally, as I’m creating my inventory list, I pull each and every item out of the fridge, freezer and pantry (not all at once!) and then place the items back in their respective areas. This allows me to group like items together both on my inventory list AND in the fridge, freezer, or pantry location, which makes it easier to identify what I have and to plan my meals accordingly.
That’s a win-win situation all around!
3 Simple Ways to Inventory Your Fridge, Freezer, and Pantry
Okay, without further ado, let’s jump into the three ways I use to create a complete food inventory in my home.
Method #1: Use a Whiteboard
The first method you can use to track your inventory is a whiteboard. A magnetic whiteboard that adheres to your fridge or freezer is a relatively inexpensive purchase and allows you to see at a glance exactly what ingredients you have. I like this set of whiteboards. The best part about using this method is that it’s easy to erase the items you no longer have in stock.
Note: The most effective way our family has found to use the whiteboard is to track our leftovers. Every time leftovers or other open food products enter the fridge, one of us will add that item to the whiteboard as a possible lunch item or a leftovers meal. This has helped us significantly reduce our food waste.
Method #2: Use an App
The second method you can use to track your inventory is an app. Most of the food tracking apps I’ve tried have similar features:
- Manually add the item or scan the barcode
- Add the quantity
- Include the expiration date
- Note where the item is located
Out of all of the apps I’ve tried, the one that I like the most is Cooklist. You can log all of your food, spices included, and the app even suggests meals you can eat based on the items you have at your disposal. The app even connects with major retailers, allowing you to order directly from it and import the items you purchased via receipt. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it can definitely make a difference.
Now, while I know there are merits to using this process, it can be challenging if you aren’t the only one consuming the food in your home. For example, if your inventory in the app states that you have three hotdogs in the fridge, but the babysitter used them for your toddler’s lunch, then you might be frustrated when you get ready to cook them a hotdog for dinner.
Ultimately, it’s all about what works for you.
Method #3: Use Paper (My Favorite!)
The final method to use (and my favorite!) is paper. More specifically, I’ve designed a grocery inventory list that works like a charm every time.
It’s as simple as listing out the item you have, and then as you progress through your inventory, highlighting a box for each serving available. This has allowed us to efficiently create meal plans for the entire month at a time, and streamlines our grocery shopping efforts.
Tip: Grab my FREE Grocery Inventory List HERE.
I use one page for each location – fridge, freezer, and pantry – and that allows us to check off the items as we use them. At a glance, I’m able to see exactly which items we have at our disposal as well as items that might need to be added to the grocery list – now or in the future. And as a bonus I can remember some of the items we had in the past as I’m thinking about new meals to cook for the future.
NOTE: I have to say that we have used all three of these methods at different points in time and we still use a combination of them. As I mentioned, I prefer the third option for the entire inventory and that’s what we use most consistently.
What Method Will You Use to Inventory Your Fridge, Freezer, and Pantry?
As you consider creating your first meal plan or simplifying the process for a future meal plan, it’s time to get an inventory in place. Not only will it save you time and make meal prepping easier, but you’ll reduce waste and save money along the way.
So, which method will you use?
Keep in mind that a little bit of trial and error might be necessary to get it right. Don’t get discouraged if the first method you use doesn’t work perfectly. It might just mean that you need to try another option. That’s life, right?
Whatever you choose, I’m here to support you. You can:
- Grab my FREE Grocery Inventory Template HERE.
- Submit your budgeting and home organization questions HERE.
…or jump into the Lemon Blessings’ Membership for an insider’s look at all of my personal meal plans, recipes, grocery lists, budget worksheets, and more.
Remember, if you don’t ask for the help you need, you’ll never get it!
Cheering you on!