Pantry inventory sounds really boring, right? I’m not going to put sugar on this one, because you’re right, it is not super exciting. The great thing about taking an inventory of your pantry is that it allows you to save SO MUCH money.
Ever gone to the grocery store for your very specific list of maybe 10 items and then left with double the amount?
I’m here to tell ya that some of those “extras” and “we might like this!” items are still in your pantry. We had a box of quick-cook barley in our cabinet for over a year (judging by the expiration date). Why didn’t we eat that lonely box of barley sooner?
Because we didn’t take pantry inventory.
This post contains affiliate links. If you click on a link and make a purchase, I receive a small commission at no extra charge to you.
So what’s pantry inventory?
Pantry inventory is just like it sounds: you look in your pantry and write down everything you have. Pantry inventory is crucial to meal planning because of this.
When you take stock of all the food that is in your house, you’re able to plan meals around what you already have. That in turn, saves you money – you’re buying less at the store!
When done on a monthly basis, inventory can be a great way to make sure you never run out of anything that is crucial to your regular meals. For us, that is taco seasoning and maple syrup! Not together of course 🙂
Why take inventory of your food?
There are two good reasons to take regular inventory of your pantry:
– Food waste prevention
– Saving money
I hate wasting food. It makes me cringe when I have to throw away spoiled yogurt or something that is so frost bitten I can’t even tell what it is.
Not only did I spend our hard earned money on that food, but I wasted resources on food that
could should have been consumed by our family.
Just think of all the resources that were consumed during the production of your food item (looking at produce specifically)!
- A farmer grew that food somewhere (maybe thousands of miles away)
- Water and nutrients (sometimes chemicals) were used to help grow the plant
- A worked then picked the fruit from the plant
- Someone washed it (maybe) and packed it for shipping in either cardboard or plastic
- The food then traveled hundreds of miles on a truck to get to a warehouse and then shipped again to my grocery store
- An employee of that store then put it out on display
- I drove to the store to purchase the food
- The food sat in my nice, cool refrigerator that constantly runs on electricity
- Then the food is either consumed or wasted
YIKES! If we throw away food, all of those resources used in the making of our food have also gone to waste.
If you’re intrested in learning more about the life cycle of “stuff” on our planet, I highly recommend reading The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. She gracefully explains how our stuff is made and how we consume resources. Leonard offers solutions to lessen the damage we’ve done on our natural resources and how-to’s of sustainable living.
Now to the not-so-bleak benefit of pantry inventory – SAVING MONEY!
We live on one income, so saving money where we can is very important to us. Groceries can be a huge expense for most American families.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average household spent $7,923 last year on food (groceries and eating out). That’s a 2.5% increase over 2017!
Our family’s average food budget every year is $5500. This includes eating out and purchasing groceries. Could it be lower? YES! Was this total lower before we had kids? Again, yes!
Probably like most families, we have lots of food in our pantry. We are very lucky to have the means to purchase that food. However, once I’ve purchased the groceries, sometimes they become forgotten. Then when I meal plan later on in the month, I have no idea what lurks in the back of my cabinets unless I take pantry inventory.
If you don’t know what food you already have on hand, how do you meal plan and save money? You take a pantry inventory!!!
The more food from your already existing stash you use every week in your meal plan, the less money you’ll spend at the grocery store. We were able to get our grocery bill down to just $50 by doing this!
How to do pantry inventory
Now that you know why you should do a pantry inventory, let us learn how to do it.
If you sign up for my email updates, you’ll automatically receive Meal Planning 101 for FREE as a thank you! If you’re “anti-email” you could purchase it from my shop. OR you can print this jazzed-up version of the inventory sheet from the link below for free.
Grab a pen and this wonderful check list (or a piece of paper) and open your cabinets, fridge, and freezer. Let’s do this!
1. Take everything out
With the exception of your fridge and freezer (since food items should be kept at a constant temperature for health reasons), take everything out of your pantry and cabinets. Place it all on the counters and on your dining table – just any surface where you can get to it all.
Do you fridge and freezer separately so nothing melts or gets too warm.
2. Discard anything expired/questionable
Sure, that box of minute rice might be okay a few months after the best-by date, but not years. Discard any food item that is expired beyond the expiration date or if it smells/looks questionable.
Of course, keep and eat anything at your own risk. I’m not a food health and safety expert – so use your best judgement when keeping and eating food from your pantry.
If you find food that you know your family will not eat and it is not expired, offer it to a neighbor or drop it off at the food pantry.
3. Sort the food into categories
Like in the printable, all of your pantry food is separated into categories.
- Canned Goods
- Breakfast Items
- Baking Essentials
- Dry Goods
- Fresh Meat
- Current Leftovers
- Fresh Produce
- Frozen Produce
- Frozen Meat
- Other Frozen Items/Freezer Meals
Feel free to make your own categories as you go, too!
4. Write down your inventory
On the printable or on your paper, write down each food item from your stock under the corresponding category. Add roughly how much you have of each item.
Ketchup x 2
BBQ Sauce x 1
Salad Dressing x 2
Peas x 1
Corn x 2
Mixed veggies x 4
When I write “x 4” it means that I have four of a certain item. So four (4) bags of mixed veggies are currently in my freezer.
5. Meal plan!
Now that you know what is in your pantry (thanks to an amazing job at taking inventory!), you’re ready to meal plan.
Plan meals around what you already have in the house. Aim only to purchase fresh produce and other perishable items when you go to the store.
For next week our meal plan looks like this:
Sunday: Chili with cornbread
Monday: Crockpot curry
Tuesday: Leftover chili
Wednesday: Leftover curry
Thursday: Green pepper casserole (freezer meal)
Friday: Pizza (freezer)
Saturday: Leftover casserole
I don’t have to buy a single thing at the grocery store!!! Not one! I planned ahead and went to Sam’s Club to do our shopping. By purchasing produce in bulk and using pantry items, we are able to get two weeks worth of meals without shopping.
Ready to give pantry inventory a go?
Make sure you grab the free printable and get to it. This is the perfect day to take inventory and start meal planning. The holiday season is stressful enough, don’t make cooking any harder than it has to be!
To read more on preparing for this busy holiday season, check out this post!