Taking Inventory in Your Kitchen

Sometimes, I get burned out on cooking. To the point of “y’all are on your own tonight, Mama is done!”  I open the fridge door, and stare at the contents, willing something to jump out at me and when nothing does, I think I need to go shopping. For food, anyways 🙂 Does this happen to you? Here’s a solution to help make you the hero of the kitchen once again! 

When you are constantly shopping for new ingredients, it’s hard to save money. For many of us, a trip to the grocery store is not just for one item. Since you had to drive there, why not pick up this or that, and “wow! What a great sale on ____! I need 3 of them.” Spending money like that adds up.

Taking Inventory In Your Kitchen

A food inventory will help you save money on groceries because you will always be aware of what you have on hand. It will remind you to use up ingredients before they go to waste and reduce the clutter in your pantry, freezer, and refrigerator.

You won’t have to spend a ton of time looking for ingredients because you’ll always be able to see what you have.

With less clutter and more money on your hands, you’ll likely find that it’s much easier to get creative with your dinner ideas!

Sometimes, it feels as though your kitchen is loaded with food and you still have no idea what to make.

Making a kitchen inventory can be challenging especially when you consider that it does take some work to get it started. Plus, at face value, it’s much easier to buy more ingredients and just throw stuff out rather than trying to figure out ways to use up what you have.

I had this issue one night, and decided to take control. Time to take an inventory of my kitchen! Here are some simple steps I followed.

1. Start by Making a Grocery List (and Then Fill in the Gaps)

Here’s what my fridge looked like when I stared into it and thought I had nothing to make for dinner or other meals for the week.

I actually started making out a grocery list, until I really looked at what was in the fridge already.

fridge full of jars

What I found I had was this:

  • eggs
  • mozzarella cheese
  • parmesan cheese
  • salsa
  • red peppers
  • onions
  • mayo
  • yogurt
  • milk
  • carrots
  • lettuce
  • sausage (chicken)
  • milk kefir
  • buttermilk
  • 2 lbs. hamburger
  • peaches
  • hummus
  • applesauce
  • chocolate syrup
  • blueberry syrup
  • nutella
  • strawberries

Of course, none of those items would make a meal, right? Not by themselves, anyway.

But, knowing what you have in your fridge, pantry, and freezer are KEY elements to creating a healthy meal plan. Based on what I had in my fridge, here’s what I came up with for the week:

BREAKFAST

  • smoothies, using the yogurt and kefir and peaches or strawberries
  • biscuits and gravy (using 1 package of chicken sausage, buttermilk and milk)
  • Dutch baby (oven baked pancake) using peaches or strawberries
  • muffins using whatever’s left of the peaches/strawberries

LUNCHES/DINNERS

As you can see, we didn’t go hungry that week. Sometimes, you just need to go back to the basics.

That means stepping back and cleaning out the fridge a bit and re-arranging the items so you can see what you have.  It can also be trying something new and pushing your creative limits.

Start by taking an inventory of what you have in your pantry, fridge, and freezer. Do this at least twice a month to ensure that you are using all the food up, and not wasting any.

Yes, spoiled food can go to the compost, but who likes to grocery shop for the chickens. Read more about that here.

2. Make a List of Favorite Meals

Once you have your inventory list, decide what your family likes to eat.  Fill in the most obvious meals first: yogurt for breakfast, veggies with hummus, salad… then move on to what you have in the pantry to make more options. Think outside the normal-flour for pizza dough or pasta, making tortillas for enchiladas or tacos, rice for a side dish.

Need a great recipe for making homemade pasta? Full video instructions included, too!

You can write down a list or even categorize and organize favorite meals by using social media and organizing tools like Pinterest. I like to save all of my favorite meal ideas to boards – these can be grouped by meal type (breakfast, lunch, dinner), type of cuisine (American, Mexican, Italian) or even by ingredient (chicken recipes, squash recipes, etc).

Having a dedicated list of meals is a great way to keep all of your ideas in one place. When you find yourself lacking in the motivation department and can’t come up with any meal ideas, return to your list and you should find a dash of inspiration to help you out!

It might help to think about dishes that can easily be adapted to work with a variety of ingredients, such as:

  • Soups
  • Pastas
  • Salads
  • Stir fries
  • Casseroles

3. Don’t Forget the Freezer

Don’t forget to include your freezer in this list of inventory items.

Do you have some meat lurking behind the ice cream that you can use?  How about pulling some of the frozen zucchini to make zucchini pancakes or bread for snacks?  Hey, isn’t that a pack of stale bread for making breadcrumbs?

Once you get the creative juices flowing, there’ll be no stopping you! And, when you can’t get into making food again…there’s always the eggs.  Scrambled eggs for dinner, anyone?

4. Work in Zones

If you have a large kitchen (or otherwise find that you just tend to get overwhelmed easily) it might make sense to work in zones.

You can break things down by refrigerator, pantry, and freezer or you can get more advanced and break it down further by crisper drawer, meat drawer, etc.

You can either write things down as you move through each zone or pull everything out and put it on the kitchen table or counter so it’s all easier to see and organize.

5. Inventory Your Kitchen Regularly

If you can, make it a habit to inventory your kitchen on a monthly basis (or at the very least, twice a year). Set a reminder in your calendar to do this. This will help you keep on top of things like dry goods and allow you to keep track of your personal changes over time.

For example, you might find yourself buying black beans every time you go to the grocery store – but are you actually eating all those canned beans? If you find that you’re not using up an item regularly and it is just sitting around in your pantry, you can scratch it off your grocery list with confidence.

6. Clean as You Go

As you inventory your pantry, take the time to tidy things up. Sweep crumbs out and get rid of anything that has expired or passed its maximum point of freshness.

You can get rid of things like stale bread or crackers, almost empty boxes, or spices and herbs that have lost their flavor. Oils that have become rancid should be tossed, too.

If there are any items that are still fresh and safe to eat – but you know you won’t touch them – set up a box of food that can be donated. This is a great way to get rid of unused items without all the guilt.

7. Keep the Pantry and Kitchen Organized in the Future

It is going to be much harder to stay on top of what you have stocked in your kitchen if you don’t do a good job of keeping things organized.

Storing bulk ingredients, like grains, nuts, seeds, and flours in clear containers is a great way to make your pantry more organized and to protect it from bugs. Clear containers are ideal for seeing what’s inside but labels are always a good idea, too.

Give each food a designated space. That way, you’ll always know where to look when you think you’ve run out of a given food.

You can create an unopened area and one where you stash extra ingredients. You could even lump similar items together – for example, you can put baking ingredients with baking ingredients and canned goods with other canned goods.

Once you have all of your similar items in a group, use sheet pans or food storage containers to hold them together. This will keep things looking neat and tidy.

If you’re still having trouble seeing what you have, you might consider using storage shelves that will display your goods on multiple levels, making the most of the space you have available while also making it much easier for you to keep track of your inventory.

8. The First Time is the Hardest

Making a food inventory the first time is always going to be the most difficult – and the most time-consuming. Take breaks if you need to, and reward yourself when you’re done! Throw things out as you go along and try not to dive into this task when you’re already exhausted. Do it when you’re feeling fresh, ideally with a cup of coffee by your side.

9. Write Down Use By or Expiration Dates

As you take stock of what you have, write down expiration or “use by ” dates. This will help you organize your kitchen and pantry so that the older items are in the front and can be used up first and the fresher ones can go toward the back.

10. Publish Your Inventory!

Once you’re done making your list, publish it! Put it up where it’s easy to see so that you can always reference the ingredients you have on hand and those that need to be replenished. I like to write my inventory down on a whiteboard so it’s easy to see what I have to use up.

However, you could also write it down in a notebook, on a piece of paper hanging in the kitchen, or even, in the case of a freezer, you can write down what you have right on the freezer with a dry erase marker!

11. Turn to Technology

There are all kinds of apps that you can use to make a list of your kitchen inventory. A general list-making app (even just the Notes app in your iPhone) can be helpful, but there are some that are tailored specifically to food items.

One option is CozZo. This lets you keep track of groceries as well as all other household and personal essentials so it’s easy to tackle your grocery list.

12. When You’re Done, Stop

Obviously you’ll stop when you’re done – but let me explain what I mean by this.

Once you’re done inventorying your kitchen, a good way to test out whether you have a solid stock of ingredients is to initiate a spending freeze. Do a one, two, three, or even four-week spending freeze in which you do not go grocery shopping. You might want to stock up on a couple of essentials before you try this, but by forcing yourself to use up what you have in your kitchen, you could save a ton of money!

Oh, and time, too, when you figure that you aren’t constantly schlepping yourself to the grocery store!

13. What to Keep Stocked In Your Kitchen

Once your pantry is clear, clean, and organized, it’s time to restock it with your favorite pantry essentials.

You might want to sit down and take a look at all those meals you listed out earlier – this will give you a good idea of which ingredients you tend to need most often. If you’re on a restricted diet in any way, be sure to take stock of that in your inventory, too.

The list might vary but there are some versatile ingredients that you should try to always have on hand.

Otherwise, consider keeping some of the following staples continuously stocked in your pantry and kitchen:

In the Pantry

  • Brown rice
  • Farro
  • Steel cut oats
  • Quinoa
  • Pastas (including more unusual options like rice noodles, orzo, soba noodles, couscous)
  • White rice
  • Nuts (walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, nut butters)
  • Seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin)
  • Legumes (black beans, lentils, cannellini, garbanzo)
  • Canned fish (tuna, sardines, salmon, etc.)
  • Flours (all purpose flour, breading like panko, thickeners like cornstarch)
  • Bases (diced tomatoes, stock, broth)
  • Oils (olive oil, vegetable oil, etc.)
  • Vinegars (apple cider, red wine, rice, balsamic, white)
  • Condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, anchovy paste, etc.)
  • Spices (black pepper, paprika, cinnamon, coriander, etc.)
  • Herbs (basil, parsley, oregano, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme, garlic, etc.)
  • Breads and other starches (tortillas, etc.)
  • Baking staples (sugar, brown sugar, honey, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla extract, chocolate chips, cocoa powder)
  • Salt
  • Canned fruits and vegetables
  • Coffee and tea
  • Snacks and cereals (crackers, marshmallows, pretzels, dried fruit, applesauce, breakfast cereal, etc).
  • Potatoes and onions
  • Winter squashes
  • Bananas

In the Fridge

  • Citrus fruits (lemons, limes, oranges)
  • Apples
  • Versatile vegetables for cooking such as bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, celery, and leafy greens)
  • Lettuce and other salad fixings
  • Butter or ghee
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Minced garlic
  • Wine (for cooking and drinking!)
  • Plain yogurt (regular or Greek)
  • Cheese (cheddar and mozzarella are good basic items, as are Parmesan and goat cheese)

In the Freezer

  • Bulk frozen proteins (chicken, pork, steak, lamb, shrimp, etc.)
  • Plant proteins (edamame and tofu)
  • Veggies and fruits (broccoli, pineapple, carrots, cauliflower, peas, green beans, berries, mangoes, butternut squash, etc.)
  • Extra bread
  • Pizza dough

Take Control of Your Kitchen – Plan, Organize, and Inventory!

If you’re ready to take control of your kitchen and pantry, it’s time to make an inventory! The tips above should help you get started as you move toward a more organized home.

Do you take inventory in your kitchen? How does that work for you? Be sure to pin this for later!

While you are at it, download this FREE pantry printable to help you keep track of your kitchen inventory! If you need more help, read the post here on building your pantry to a par level.

kitchen inventory pin image

updated August 20th 2021 by Rebekah Pierce

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5 thoughts on “Taking Inventory in Your Kitchen”

  1. Ok, this is totally brilliant!! Although honestly, I tend to get to the bottom of nearly everything. I supposed having parents that went through the Depression and having kids who have a lot of food restrictions helps. 🙂

  2. All Natural Katie

    I do this periodically, especially when I don’t feel like lugging the toddler to the grocery. I have come up with some creative stuff.

  3. Cashstrapped Mommy

    I have many times ravaged the fridge and freezer for something to make up meals between now and the next flow of cash into our four-person home. I have plenty of ingredients but no true knowledge on what to make with them. Then I fell back on what I did know: how to research on the Net. I found the best way to find recipes (often unheard of but surprisingly delicious once tweaked to families flavor palate) is to type in the ingredients with each incased in quotation marks and a common separating each. Plenty to choose from and no need to try to rack one’s brain to remember a dish’s name from that family reunion from 20 years back.

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