I know this is going to sound so much more Monica than Rachel. This may even surpass the lame stuff Rachel likes to do now that she’s an adult because like Monica, I really enjoyed doing this. I spent a couple of hours one Sunday inventorying my fridge, freezer, and pantry.
I decided to do this when I realized how disorganized my meal preparations had become. I was wasting a lot of money and food because I forgot about things shoved in the back of my fridge. Because I love to cook and I try to be as healthy as possible, I always have tons of fresh produce on hand. My freezer is stocked with expensive local meat that I’ve purchased on sale. But when it comes time for dinner on a weeknight, I found myself making frequent trips to the store to buy produce or meat when really I had plenty at home to use.
Ideally a fridge/pantry inventory is something you do once and then maintain. I couldn’t handle having to go through and count everything once a month. But once it is done, you have this new handle on exactly what you have available to use and you will probably be surprised just how much is actually in your house.
Step 1: The Freezer
My whole project started because I realized I had a lot of stuff in my freezer that I kept forgetting to use. Also, my freezer was sort of a disaster. So the boyfriend and I pulled everything out of the freezer and organized it. While we did that, I made notes of what we had:
- What it was
- How much of it we had
- Example: Strawberries – 10 1 cup servings
We then put it away as neatly as possible to make everything as accessible as possible. If you want to go an extra mile, write down when you purchased/froze the items so you have an idea of what should be used first. Certain things—like my frozen strawberries that I picked this summer—I try to stretch all year to make winter a smidge more enjoyable.
There are certain things I did not inventory because they aren’t the kind of things that go unused. Things like:
- individual ice cream cartons
- ice cube trays
- my veggie scrap bag (for making homemade stock!)
These items are pretty front of mind for us, so I don’t need to be reminded of them every time I check my inventory.
Categories I used:
- Meat and Fish
- Prepared Meals & Packaged Foods
- Fruits & Veggies
Step 2: The Fridge
After I organized my freezer, it just made sense to transition into the fridge. How many times have I let potatoes sprout entire plants before I remembered they were in there? How often has half a container of ricotta grown its own little ecosystem of blue mold before being discovered?
For the fridge, I had my boyfriend call out the items he found while I wrote them down. If you don’t have a teammate, you can easily just pull things shelf by shelf and reorganize as you go.
Like the freezer, there were items that I didn’t bother counting because I’m relatively aware of them:
- Beer, soda, seltzer
- Condiments like mustard, mayo, and jam
- Leftover meals (though if I had leftover cooked rice, I did add it to the list)
These items I’m easily aware of when they run out and I can just add them to my shopping list for the week.
Categories I Used:
- Meat & Fish
- Dairy (where I lumped eggs)
- Ready To Eat
- Fruits & Veggies
Step 3: The Pantry
By the time I finished the fridge, I was in it to win it. Organizing my pantry probably made the whole process worth it. Did you know that I had four containers of breadcrumbs? FOUR. Because every time I was going to make meatballs or chicken cutlets I got worried I wouldn’t have breadcrumbs and bought another package. Luckily they keep and it’s not a catastrophe. But now with my list, I won’t be subject to that nervous over-buying I’m prone to do when I don’t know exactly what’s on hand. (This was also relevant for powdered sugar and cornmeal.)
Repeat the same process for your fridge and freezer, but tweak your categories a little to suit your cooking needs.
Categories I Used:
- Canned Goods
- Dried Goods
- Baking Supplies
- Condiments (vinegars and oils, mostly)
- Fruits & Veggies (anything I was keeping out in fruit bowls or storing in a cupboard)
Step 4: Organize
At the end of this process I had a very messy list of items. For my final list, I typed up a copy of my inventory complete with check boxes and notations for how much of an item I had. For example, if I had four cans of tomato sauce, my line item would look something like this:
Ο 4 Cans Crushed Tomatoes ο ο ο ο
The overall checkbox is for me to check off (or cross through) once I am out of an item and the four smaller circles are so I can keep track of how many I have left of an item without having to update my master list daily.
Step 5: Maintain
As I mentioned already, this system will only work to your benefit if you maintain it. Make a point to spend a little bit of time after your grocery shopping trip to update your list and add new items and remove items you no longer have. I was in the habit of making smaller, more frequent grocery trips, but this new system allows me to plan for a week at a time and limit my weekday fill-ins to only items I seriously need.
To give you an idea of how I am benefiting from this system, now I am able to:
- Menu plan a week’s worth of meals
- Not be caught off guard by having no leftovers for lunch
- Save money by not purchasing random breakfasts or lunches
- Save money by not wasting food items sitting in various storage spaces in my kitchen
- Eat more healthfully because I am not purchasing random food
- Shop more efficiently
What are your best kitchen organizing secrets? Let us know in the comments or Tweet us @LitDarling!