Preparing Your Pantry, Fridge and Freezer for Meal Planning

Guest post from Lauren Mirecki

If you are just joining us, we have talked about the following:  benefits of a meal plan rotation, how and what recipes to collect for planning, logistics of your weekly schedule, making a realistic schedule, and setting up a visible menu plan/planning station.

It is now time to move on to a little bit of nitty-gritty-dirty work for our Meal Plan Rotation system. I did warn you — it will take a bit of work, but don’t shy away! The habits I am about to mention are probably habits you already have in place – and if you don’t…well, what are you waiting for?

In order to make the menu planning (whether you do it monthly or bi-weekly) easier, faster, and less complicated, we need to know what supplies we have in our cupboards, fridge and freezer. This requires, practically begs for, an initial clean-out, labeling and list-making.

We’ll start with the pantry. I have 3 in my house – one beside the fridge, one in the laundry room, and a cold storage room. The cupboards beside the fridge contain everything that I use on a regular basis – so we’re talking baking supplies, snacks, rice/pasta, sauces, spices, etc. Because our cold storage is so damp and cold, we can only keep canned goods down there – and since they take up so much space, it works well to have them out of the way. The laundry room is mainly snack foods, lunch fillers and cereals.

Whether you have your pantry all in one place or multiple places over the house, you need to know what exactly you have in there. And the best way to do that is to go through the cupboards/drawers/shelves, and look. Pull it all out. Yes, just go for it. That way you can see what you have multiples of, what may need to be thrown out, what is useless/expired and what you are short on.

Once you have everything out of the pantry, and if it isn’t already organized, start putting it back with like items together, writing down what you need to restock (you only need to do this once, so keep on reading!). Label spice containers on the top and with chip clips so you can easily identify what is in your cupboard. My top shelf contains the tall bottles (at the back) that won’t fit anywhere else, crackers and snack foods. The next shelf has baking items (like salt, cocoa, soda, powder, peanut butter, etc). The next has spices for cooking and baking. The next has even more baking ingredients (yes, I do a lot of baking). The last few are divided up for pasta and rice, also bulk bags, which I have for refilling containers.

We’re not looking to do a full-on organization of the pantry – you just need to see what you have and regularly keep in stock. Once you know what you have on-hand, make a list. Amy Bayliss has an extensive pantry essentials check list (which also includes fridge and freezer items) that I have laminated and hanging in my cupboard with a dry erase marker.

I also made my own extra lists for canned goods and things I may buy at certain stores (like Costco) on a regular basis. Keep these accessible so when you run out of something, you can check it off and aren’t scrambling around later trying to remember what that the item was that you ran out of last week.

The same process goes for your fridge – although this you should do every time you approach a grocery shop. When you are getting ready to do your shopping, clean out the fridge of all the food — throw away the moldy, never-going-to-get-eaten leftovers. Give every shelf a wipe-down with hot water and soap, making sure to pull out the drawers and clean them also.

When you are ready to put things back, do a little organization again – for example, top shelf in our fridge is cans, jars, small dairy, and eggs. Middle shelves are for leftovers (store in see-through containers so you can see through to what it is :D). The main area at the bottom is for drinks and produce overflow, while the drawers are for fruits and vegetables.

Organize like-items together in the doors – salad dressings, sauces, jams, and spreads. You should be able to see everything. That way you know what you have, what you’re lacking, and what needs to be eaten – which equals much less food wasted!

Use the kitchen-pantry essentials check-list to keep track of what you’re running low on, or keep a magnetic notepad on your fridge, so you can write it down and never forget it again! This will take a load off your mind when the planning comes around, plus you’ll know before you run out that an item needs to be replenished.

The freezer is much the same as the fridge.

Sadly, this disastrous mess that came out of my kitchen freezer was mostly food that needed to be thrown out.

Clear out the freezer — throw out food you’re never going to eat that has been in there for over a year or more (yes, it’s gone bad, I’ll tell you in case the freezer burn wasn’t enough to convince you). Keep ONLY baked goods, breads and the food items you are planning on using in the next couple of weeks in the upstairs freezer, unless you don’t have access to another freezer. Many people buy the mammoth, deep freezers and overstock them; but, unfortunately, they never get around to using up all that they have in them, so a lot goes to waste. We purchased a small, deep freezer from Costco a couple of years ago, and it has been fantastic for getting us through storing baked goods (especially over the holidays!). We also keep up to a month’s worth of meat, as well as our bulk bags of frozen veggies and fruit.

The point of having a meal plan rotation is to simplify – you want to simplify your shopping, simplify your fridge and freezer and cupboards — simplify and limit your time spent planning and bring back a sense of enjoyment to the whole process. If you can keep ahead of Mother Hubbard’s cupboards, knowing what you need before you need it, and resist the urge to over-buy and over-stock (even if it IS a GREAT sale, there are ALWAYS sales!), you will find yourself much more at ease and actually enjoying the planning and shopping process.

Your challenge then is to do the following:

Take inventory of what items you normally keep in your pantry – from baking items to spices to rice to canned goods and cereal. Organize the shelves, if it isn’t already organized, placing like items together as much as possible.

Clean out your fridge and inventory the items you would normally have in there – ketchup, maple syrup, butter, salad dressings, etc. CLEAN and organize so you can quickly and easily see what you have in your fridge.

Clean out the freezer and throw away the stuff that’s gone rotten. Clean and organize, keeping only immediate need foods in the fridge-freezer.

Use kitchenand pantry-essentials check-list or create your own to keep track of what items need to be replenished in your pantry, fridge and freezer

Come back next time to watch us put it all together!

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  1. says

    Love it! I’m not a great list maker/tracker, but the savings (of money AND time) are reforming me. And thanks for the encouragement–glad to know I’m not the only one that occasionally has to just clean out with a garbage bag!

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