I’ve long been aware of the importance of taking a notebook inventory of the contents of the pantry, which is why I felt confident that I didn’t have to do it because I “knew” I was keeping inventory quite accurately in my head by paying casual attention to what we had. Was I?
The last time we went grocery shopping my wife questioned why I was getting more tuna in oil (my favorite) as we already had plenty at home. I bought it “knowing” she was wrong. When we got home I had a big helping of humble pie having found 8 cans of it, forgotten about. That is when I recognized the need for doing a pencil and paper inventory of every food item we have. And guess what I found out! To the tune of “You can’t always get what you want” by the Rolling Stones: “You don’t always know what you got, but you might find out you don’t have what you need”.
I found cans that were to be used by 2009 (this is 2015), and some in places I didn’t know we kept food. Why did we have 7 cans of stuff that we only use twice a year? Why do we not have more than 2 cans of stuff that we use almost every week? What we realized was that we were using up a lot of storage space for items we rarely ever used, and some never (boiled peanuts?).
So we have developed a plan of action. We are going to set on the table all of the cans with “use by” dates that are expired and use them now. Last night I put together a meal from a can of crushed tomatoes, whole tomatoes, 2 cans of black-eyed peas, 2 cans of turnip and mustard greens, plus onions garlic, ham and ham stock doused with Louisiana hot sauce. We had enough for two meals and two quarts are going into the freezer, where we already do keep a good inventory, no really.
Next we are going to keep track of everything we have and how often we use it to avoid keeping a dozen cans of stuff we use once a year. Everything will get a stick-on label as we buy it with the purchase date. We will record what we use and that will go onto the shopping list and will be deducted from the inventory and added back on when restocked.
And we have to evaluate how we got into this situation where we lost control of inventory. In addition to failure to rotate our inventory, the culprit for us was the practice of “copy canning”, buying two of every one thing you use. This is not a good practice, here’s why. I use 1 can of anchovies a year. So after I use that can I go to the store and now I have 2 cans, enough for 2 years. Next year I use 1 can and go to the store and buy 2 more cans and now I’ve got enough for 3 years, and so on.
What should you buy? There are online food calculators but everyone has a food calculator in their own home. Just record what you use and and how often you use it and that is what you buy. Buy what you eat, store it, and then eat it – repeat as need be. Your shopping list will realistically reflect what you need, thereby avoiding embarrassing and unnecessary conflicts in the check out line with your other (or with yourself).