Why Pantry Management?
Food waste and money waste are a big deal for Americans. When we waste food, we waste our money and the resources that were used to grow that food. Pantry management can help everyone to both save money and take better care of the resources we have.
Pantry management isn’t just about your pantry. Pantry management is about food storage in general, including your fridge, freezer, and any other place you might be storing food. Keeping it organized means less food wasted and more money in your pockets!
Saving Money with Pantry Management
The NRDC says that American families throw out approximately 25% of their food and beverages each year. That costs the average family of four $1,365 to $2,275 every year.
In fact, two-thirds of all the food we throw out could have been eaten before it went bad. An average of 3.5 pounds of food per person is thrown out each week.
In addition to wasting energy to produce the wasted food, your discarded food probably goes to the landfill. Once buried in the landfill the food rots and produces methane, the second most common greenhouse gas.
The NRDC reports that the UK estimates that if food scraps were removed from landfills, the greenhouse gas reduction would be equal to removing 20% of cars from the UK roads.
Pantry management isn’t just about knowing what food you have to cook. It is also about making sure you eat the leftovers. It is planning out your meals so you don’t have more food prepared than you can eat. It is also making sure you buy what you eat and not more than you can eat or process before it goes bad.
When you eat all the food you buy, then you can save that $1800 a year. When your pantry is organized, you save time because you already have all the ingredients you need on hand and cooking becomes easier. Less restaurant food means more money for you!
What do you Like to Eat?
Pantry management starts with a food audit. What do you like to eat? What do you throw away? Get a notebook or a spreadsheet and start writing down what you eat and what you toss.
Think about what meals you like to make, and determine what ingredients you use regularly. Creating a list of common foods you buy is helpful when you are thinking about how best to store them in your home.
Write down what you throw away and why you did. Did you buy too much? Did you forget the leftovers were there? How could you have used it before it went bad? How could organizing or planning have helped?
What do you cook regularly? When you organize your food, would it make more sense to put baking supplies together in a cabinet, or spices in a better location? Should snacks stay together, or leftovers be kept where you will see them?
Write down when you have to run out to the store to get something you need. Or when you have to substitute something because you are out of an ingredient. Pantry management is about making sure you have what you need before you start to cook.
Once you have a good idea of what you eat and what you waste, then you can move on to cleaning out your food storage.
Clean out the Pantry and Fridge
Begin your cleaning by taking everything out of your pantry, fridge, or freezer. Throw out things that have gone bad. Donate things you won’t eat but are still good. Compost foods when you can. Write down what you get rid of.
Don’t automatically throw out expired foods. The FDA says that date labels are not regulated and the labels don’t mean food has automatically gone bad after the date. Going by food product dates accounts for 20% of consumer food waste.
Keep auditing your food when you clear your pantry and fridge out. What has gone bad? Why? Think about ways you could have used it better. If you didn’t like it, don’t buy it again. But if it was something you enjoy, better pantry management and meal planning could have saved you from throwing it away.
Write down what you are going to keep so you know what you have. You can use that as a base of how you want to organize your food, and as a beginning inventory to keep track of what you have.
Add to your inventory a list of what you should have regularly, based on meals you cook and foods you eat. With a big list of foods you eat, you can better see what you need to buy each week and be ready to stock up when there are sales.
Take your inventory of things you like and your list of things you wasted, and start thinking about how you can improve your pantry management.
Make a Pantry Management Plan
Now that your food storage spaces are empty, evaluate them. Are they working for you? Is there enough space? Are shelves accessible? Do you need new containers to hold foods?
Consider making your spaces look more inviting. Paint and new shelves can go a long way. At a minimum, scrub out your storage areas and set up better zones to keep things organized in the future.
What containers do you already have? What containers do you need? Look into baskets, buckets, bins, canisters, cereal containers, and glass jars. Look around the house for options before buying new.
Set up shelves or zones to keep your foods together. In your fridge, you may want a zone for leftovers. In the pantry, an easy to access location for healthy snacks could be useful. Your freezer may benefit from bins as well, especially if it is a chest freezer.
Containers you can see into can be great so you can easily see what you have. Labeling them means family members will know where to find things and where to put them back.
If you don’t have enough space, look for unconventional spaces. Use kitchen cabinets, basement corners, dining room shelves, or a dedicated root cellar. Separate long term and short term storage. If you stock up on something that lasts, put the extras somewhere outside of your regularly used pantry area.
When buying larger amounts of foods, rotate what you buy. That means using up the oldest first, and putting the newest in the back. If something you like is on sale you can buy more. Then rotate what you have and make sure you have a plan to use it up before it goes bad.
Take your grain products and freeze them for a few days before putting them in the pantry to kill any potential insect eggs. In a warm environment, oil goes rancid, so don’t buy too much if you can’t keep it cool. Learn how to best store your favorite foods so they stay good as long as you need them to.
Make sure your fridge is at 40F so things stay good longer. Have zones for prepped healthy snacks and for leftovers so you make sure you eat your food.
Once you have evaluated your spaces, put things back in the zones you have set up. Admire your work and think about how much money and time you’ll be able to save now that you can find all your food.
Keep your Pantry Looking Nice
Once your pantry is organized and labeled, keep it looking nice by cleaning it regularly. To stop you from running out of an ingredient or using food before it spoils, you may want to try keeping a running inventory of your food.
There are pantry management apps out there that you can use to keep track of exactly what you have at home. They can help you make sure you have what you need before you start cooking.
If there are ingredients you use regularly, consider buying more of them. Keep extras on hand and when you open a new bottle, put it on your list to replace. Don’t wait until the bottle is almost empty before buying a replacement, have it already waiting for you.
Plan a night or two when you eat leftovers for dinner. Or eat them for lunches each day. If you hate leftovers, consider cooking smaller meals. Try cooking something like a whole chicken, then using leftover chicken in something new the next day. For example, transforming roast chicken into fajitas makes it a new meal.
Learn more about how to store your fruits and vegetables so they last longer. Ethylene gas from some produce can make others spoil faster. Know what humidity and temperature requirements each food needs.
Meal planning is the best solution to make sure things get eaten and not wasted. In my home, I plan out each week ahead of time, keeping it flexible because real life brings changes.
A weekly meal plan for me means a pizza night, a leftover night, a restaurant night, and four meals to cook. I usually try to split these up, so we have chicken, vegetarian, beef/pork, and seafood meals. I keep a list of my recipes by what meat goes in them, realizing that it is easy to substitute meats or vegetarian options depending on the recipe.
Having a list of slow cooker meals can be very handy, as well as a list of meals that come together quickly or use leftovers in new ways. I also know which meals freeze well, so I often make more of those and freeze the extra for when we have a busy night and no time to cook.
With a regular rotation of specific meals, I can ensure that I have ingredients ready to go at all times, except for fresh produce. Plus I know how to substitute whatever vegetables I have on hand, depending on the season, or if I want to use canned or frozen vegetables.
When writing out my meal plan each week, I also consider what we have on hand. If there is too much frozen chicken, then I make a plan to use it up. If you have an inventory of ingredients on hand, then your meal planning can be much easier to do.
Knowing what ingredients are already in your house means that you will buy what you need and be able to take advantage of sales. With an efficient pantry management system, you can make sure you eat all your food and save money.
Advanced Pantry Management Tips
Having food on hand can make it easier to weather storms in life. Whether you have a job loss, or a health crisis, or a snowstorm, if you have food in your house, life can go on as normal.
Stocking up over time to a month or more of food can be a wise decision in uncertain times. Rather than going out and panic buying a bunch of toilet paper, bread, and milk, you can sit at home and know that you have food stored that you like to eat, and plenty of recipes to make with it.
With a pantry management plan, you can start buying more of the foods you eat every time you go out to the store. Pick an ingredient and buy twice what you normally would. Over time, small purchases add up, and you will have plenty of extra food that you like on hand.
When it comes to seasonal ingredients, learning how to preserve them can definitely increase your food storage. In fact, eating seasonally lends itself to storing lots of food because you want to store seasonal ingredients to last all year before they return.
A deep freezer and knowledge of canning and root cellar technology can go a long way to having several months worth of food stored in your house. The ability to buy a half or whole animal means saving money on quality meat. Any bulk buying can save money as long as you know how to preserve it.
When eating seasonally, make sure you have a list of recipes on hand that work well with seasonal ingredients. Recipes that work well with substitutions are a great idea as well. Simple soups and salads can go a long way. Stir fries and tacos are great for many types of meat and vegetable substitutions.
Seasonal pantry management means making sure you keep an up to date inventory of foods you have on hand. Meal plan from what you have stored. Use apps, notebooks, whiteboards or chalkboards to keep track. Regularly assessing what you use means improving your seasonal pantry management for the next year.
Especially with seasonal foods, keep track of how long things will last. Canning will last a year or more, but root cellar foods will not. Adding a “best by” date to your seasonal food inventory will ensure you use them up before they go bad.
On a budget? Use your pantry management skills to your advantage. Take your inventory and recipes to the next level by calculating how much each meal and ingredient costs. Then use that knowledge to plan out cheaper meals!
Spring Cleaning your Pantry
Especially for seasonal pantry management, spring cleaning is essential. Throughout the year you should audit your food storage and clean it regularly, but in the spring you need to start thinking about the food to come.
In the spring, clear out your food once again and start using up what you have too much of. Consider what you ate and what you wasted, so you can better plan for the upcoming year.
For seasonal foods, think about what you really enjoyed. Plan to buy and preserve more of that when it is in season. Make sure you have equipment for preserving on hand so that when you buy it you have what you need to save it.
In late winter or early spring, challenge yourself to eat only from your pantry. Make sure you use up your preserved foods so you are ready to start again in summer. Assess what is still there so you make sure not to buy as much of that this coming year.
Pantry management can benefit you and your family in many ways. Make it fun! Make it look nice so you keep it that way. Save money and the environment by making sure you don’t waste food.
An organized pantry will save you time as well. Less trips to the store means more time and money in your pocket. More food in your home means a cushion for emergencies.
Pantry management means less time spent on cooking as well, as you can plan ahead and have things prepped or cooking in the slow cooker when you get home. Or you can pull out a homemade frozen meal on busy nights.
Keep your pantry organized and your meals planned, and you’ll never have a night where you don’t know what is for dinner!