The biggest mistake almost everybody makes in meal planning is this:Not making a food inventory.
Why People Don’t Take A Food Inventory
- Maybe it takes more work. In fact, it takes a lot of work the first time. Not sugar coating the reality.
- Maybe it’s easier to buy more and throw stuff out without thinking about how to use what you’ve got.
- Maybe it’s more exciting to tackle new recipes than to use up leftover ingredients.
- Maybe the subscription meal plans are incentivized to churn out new shopping lists to justify why you should continue paying for the service.
Yup, you’re right. Those are all true. But you’re smarter than that…right?
Why Skipping Food Inventory Is A Problem
I bet you’ve got more food in your fridge than you think (unless your fridge is empty, in which case, why would you be reading a cooking website anyway? :P).
Buying more food is a waste of money, and it’s inefficient:
- You throw food out because it spoils.
- You spend more time shopping for groceries.
- Stuffing your fridge full makes it difficult to find the ingredients, thereby slowing you down when cooking.
The Solution: How To Take A Food Inventory
Go through all the places where you store food.
These are the most common locations:
- pantry, and
Ideally, this is a 2-person task:
- 1 person says what items there are
- 1 person writes down the items
As the note taker, the following is my preferred system. I note down the:
- Food Item – what is it?
- Quantity – how much do you have?
- Use By – how much longer will this item last for from today?
- Location – where is it? Fridge? Pantry? Freezer?
(This is optional. I like to categorize, for example, so I know whether the dumplings are frozen or cooked leftovers from last night.)
Pretty easy right?
Don’t be fooled!!!
Tips For Taking A Food Inventory
It sounds simple. And it is. But it’s not easy the first time.
Do it because of how life-changing this process of inventorying will be. But be prepared.
We made a lot of mistakes and got in a few squabbles as a result.
How to make your life easier
- The first time is the worst. The more food you have, the worst it will be. Block off time to do it. It took us 2 hours and we were exhausted after. So, reward yourself. Eat some ice cream or watch Netflix afterward.
- Throw things out if you’re not going to eat it ever again. Anchovies from 2 years ago. Olives from…no idea. Trash it all. These things only take up valuable space.
- Do it when you’re well-rested. It takes energy. One time, we tried it Saturday afternoon when we were exhausted from the workweek. I did it for 1.5 hours and felt like I got nowhere. I gave up. I looked at it with a fresh eye Sunday morning and knocked it out in 10 minutes. What was I doing wasting that hour and half the day before?
- For empty or missing food items you need to replenish, mark them as 0 days in the Use By column. That way when you sort it, you’ll remember to add it to your shopping list.
- Speaking of sorting, go with a spreadsheet. This is one of the rare times where paper slows me down. I like to filter and sort columns.
- For the Use By date, stick to the same unit of time, especially for perishables. I standardize to days. I like days because our food moves on a daily basis. I sort on the Use By column when meal planning to decide what ingredients to use first. Here is the cheat sheet for quick calculations:
- Eyeball the quantity. Quantities can be the exact weight on the package. Otherwise eyeball it as a handful, a bunch, a smidgen, a cup, a knob. This isn’t science.
- Don’t be perfect. Stick to good enough.