Friday, October 3, 2008

Freezer & Pantry Inventory

The thing I love so much about Amy Dacyczyn's The Complete Tightwad Gazette is that unless you have reached the transcendent state of Frugal Grand Master, it pays to re-read this tome every six months or so. There are so many valuable tips in this book that a neophyte frugalist cannot hope to absorb them all. But that's okay, because in making the transition from spendthrift to frugalite, incremental change is the way to go. I got serious about frugality about two years ago, and while the bulk of lifestyle changes came within the first year, there are still a few tips I can implement in my life.

I posted not too long ago about having an extra chest freezer, and the importance of keeping track of what's in it so as to not to fall into the trap of wasting food. Well, it just so happens that on my most recent read through of The Complete Tightwad Gazette I found Ms. Dacyczyn's discussion of how to inventory one's pantry and freezer and develop a game plan for eating through what you've got. It helped me solidify my vague plans for clearing out some stuff that has been in that freezer too long. And now that the garden harvest is really winding down, it felt like the right time to take stock and see how we're going to use stuff up.

Ms. Dacyczyn recommends doing a complete physical inventory, which I accomplished with the help of my husband. We went through the chest freezer, the kitchen freezer, my home canned foods, and the rest of our large pantry. In the process we only discovered a few items that I had no idea were in there. I made a list and grouped foods together by type, such pork, fish, vegetable, baked goods, etc, along with their quantities. Dacyczyn wrote all this out long hand on some old computer print out paper; I put it into an excel spreadsheet.

Next I picked a timeframe for eating all this stuff up. April of next year seemed like a good terminus date, as we'll be looking forward to the first garden harvest by then. In the spreadsheet I assigned a column to each month, and distributed the foods among these next seven months. So at a glance, I can now see when each food will get eaten, and what foods we need to plan around each month. I didn't bother assigning a month for food that I have no concerns about. For instance, we have ten pounds of butter in the freezer, but I know that we'll simply go get some when we run out of what's in the refrigerator. Same goes for dried pasta, our homegrown garlic and homemade bread. So they didn't even make it onto the spreadsheet. I included only stuff that needs to get eaten up and won't be unless we specifically make a plan. For this month I added those fresh foods we've recently gleaned, harvested, or still have coming in from the garden. These need to be eaten up or stored in some way before they spoil.

To give you an idea, here's a list of this month's "accounts edible," as we call it:

Stored food:
Ham steaks, 2
Leg o’ lamb
Marinated turkey tenderloin
Salmon filets, 2

Borsch, 1 quart HG, HM
Stuffed peppers HG, HM
Stew, pork w/prunes or mahogany beef HM

Sage-cheddar biscuits HM
Chocolate-zucchini cake HG, HM
Blini HM
Scallion pancake dough HM

Sage pesto HG, HM
Kale, blanched HG
Roasted corn
Corn cobs
Apple Butter HG, HM

Phyllo dough

Tomato sauce – 2 quarts HG
Salsa – 1 pint HG
Amy’s organic chile, 1 can
Salsa, store bought - 1 can
Canned veg – bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, baby corn
Tomato soup
Soup beans HG
Beef stock

Fresh foods:
cream cheese
apples HG
pears G
chard HG
potatoes HG
kale HG
pumpkin HG
leeks HG
ground cherries HG

HG = (partly or fully) homegrown, HM = homemade, G = gleaned

This is just my list of what foods need to be used up, not a complete list of everything we're going to eat this month. But having both the spreadsheet and this month's list of need-to-eat foods printed out and tacked to the pantry door reminds us of what we've got and prompts me to plan our meals accordingly. The meat and fish are substantial enough to provide for leftovers; many leftovers in the cases of the meat. So I can see at a glance that I need to tackle one large piece of meat each week, and mull ideas for the leftovers.

If we should reach the end of the month without eating through all these foods, I can rejigger the spreadsheet to assign them to another month. We'll see how it goes. The obvious thing from going through this exercise is that we don't need to do much grocery shopping for the foreseeable future. We'll be concentrating on using up what we have rather than acquiring more food.

Last night we started off with a dinner of ham steak accompanied by cheesy polenta with sauteed onion and chard. It was pretty good. We're mulling the possible uses of leftover ham and cheesy polenta.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree about re-reading's kind of like you have new eyes every time!

Anonymous said...

Boy that dinner looks TASTY!!