How A Pantry Audit Can Level Up Your Meal Planning

An Ink+Volt meal planning pad on a marble counter, next to a berry scone and a yellow lemon with green leaves attached.

Our pantries can often be organizational afterthoughts.

Sure, they may be nice and tidy, but do you really know what’s in there? Maybe a few bags of pasta, some canned vegetables, some half-eaten boxes of cereal? Could you make a meal with what you currently have on hand?

A well-audited kitchen pantry (and refrigerator, for that matter) can help you create the best meal plans because you’ll know what you have, which items you use frequently and what you need to put on the grocery list. Instead of starting from scratch when you begin to plan out your meals each week, try a pantry audit. It’s the beginning of effortless planning, shopping and prepping, no matter what’s on the menu. 

Before you get started remember to grab a pen and notepad, so you can easily keep track of your work. Taking photos can also be really helpful and a before and after comparison is pretty gratifying. Also have any containers you plan to use ready.

In a lot of ways, this is like re-organizing your pantry. But when you’re mindful about it, keep notes and think about meal prep, you start to naturally organize your pantry in a way that’s most helpful and conducive to your meal prepping.

Then, when you’re finished and you can easily plan out your meals, grab the Ink+Volt Meal Planning Pad. Just like an organized and easily accessible pantry, it’ll keep you on track and eating the best meals. 

Here’s how to get started with your pantry audit. 

Step 1: Take everything out

This sounds intimidating, especially if you live in a household with multiple people and have a pantry stocked with lots of items, but it’ll really help you to know what you have, what’s expired and what you need. Without taking everything out, it’s easy to miss certain items or take shortcuts later on in the process. 

After you’ve taken everything out of your pantry, wipe down all of the shelving so it’ll be clean when you put everything back. Don’t worry too much yet about sorting, everything doesn’t have to have a place.

Do this every couple of months, or at least two or three times a year. You’d be surprised how much can accumulate if we let it.

Step 2: Check and sort 

Now that you have everything out in the open and ready to inspect, go through all of the items. All of them. Assume nothing; check everything.

Look for spoiled items or items approaching their expiration date. Anything that’s bad, toss it. Look for recycling notes on packaging, so you can dispose of things as responsibly as possible.

Another good thing to look for is food that you know, deep down, you're never going to use.

It's okay that you'll never get to that package of quinoa! Be honest with yourself, and if there's still a good chunk of time before the expiration date, donate this food to a local food bank where it can feed a person in need, rather than languishing in your pantry and getting thrown out in a year.

Along the way, keep notes of things that your pantry is lacking or that you need to re-stock. Our pantries are mostly places where we keep shelf-stable items, like pasta and beans, so it's easy to lose track of where we have excess or are close to running out.

Realizing you’re missing one or two ingredients for a meal can be such a bummer, but if you keep on top of knowing what you have, you’ll rarely run into this problem. Consider posting a list of your pantry inventory on the door to update in the months between audits, so you can keep easy visual track of what's about to run out.

Step 3: Make a plan

Great! You’ve gotten to the part where organizing becomes easy (and kind of fun, if that’s possible). 

Think about grouping foods together that make sense. Pastas and rice are natural pantry buddies. So are canned items of all kinds, although you may want to divide up soup and beans from veggies. For some ingredients (flour, sugar, etc.) you may want to ditch the packaging all together and opt for clear or well-marked containers. You’ll be able to store more and make it more accessible. 

In this planning stage, you may want to refer back to some of your most frequented recipes and note which ingredients you use the most. Make those the easiest to get to. The same goes for healthy staples. If you want to reach for dried fruit instead of sugary snacks, put those front and center. You’ll be more likely to snack on something that’s right there.

Tallying what you have and creating categories, especially if you have a large pantry, is helpful here. Organize like with like; make it easy to do a visual scan of the space to see what's needed and where essentials are.

This is also a good time to get your spice rack in order! Kits can make finding and sorting all of your spices easy, and remember that most spices need to be replaced every couple of years to maintain flavor and freshness.

Step 4: Restock the pantry with logic and ease in mind

Got a plan? Great! Time to put everything back in the pantry. Stack items neatly, but don’t pack them in too tightly. The goal of a well-audited pantry is that you can easily see what you have and you can quickly grab what you need. 

Put taller and less frequently used items behind smaller items. You might even buy a clear storage bin or two for collecting similar items; for example, you could create a bin of baking supplies (sugar, flour, chocolate chips) or a bin for all your dry pastas. Storage bins should always be clear so you can instantly see what's inside and nothing gets lost or duplicated.

Keep in mind that a pantry is, in a sense, a living object. You'll be adding things every time you grocery shop, so it's important to leave space for new things to be added. In addition, don't pack anything in so tightly or so far back that you can't get it out later, especially if it's a frequently used item like olive oil.

Step Five: Upkeep

Pantries are a lot like our clothes closets. They can get out of hand quickly if we don’t stay on top of them.

Effortless meal planning is possible when you don’t have to dig through several shelves. 

Plan to make a mini-audit each week while you’re making your meal plan. This can even help you become more creative in your meals. Maybe you’ll be inspired to incorporate that extra bag of black beans or remaining cup of oatmeal. 

There are so many helpful tools on the web that you can plug your ingredients into and it helps you make a meal. It’s an easy and creative way to keep your meals new and exciting.

Mini-audits are the perfect time to make sure snacks are stocked, ingredients are plenty and you have an adequate grocery list for the week ahead.

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