Making (and Maintaining!) a Freezer Inventory

FI 1

By Rachel Zupke

I’ve got a chest freezer and love it.  But I don’t love how hard it can be to put my hands on the package of chicken thighs or the bag of frozen peaches.   I also find that I forget what’s in there and often come home from Costco with a giant bag of frozen blueberries when I’ve already got a bag in there.  I had tried my hand at making a freezer inventory two summers ago when our garden produced way too many green beans and I had hours on end to peel, slice, flash freeze, and bag peaches (August + teacher + no kiddo).  I wrote up a great spreadsheet and marked off how much of everything I had but then I never updated it.  And when I looked at the printout thinking I had a dinner’s worth of sliced steak in a neatly labeled freezer bag (which I did at one point), our beef stroganoff ended up being mushrooms and pasta with cream sauce.

Why you should have a freezer inventory

If my anecdotes haven’t convinced you to make a freezer inventory, perhaps these reasons will:

  1. Stay within your food budget: buy in bulk when items are on sale and freeze until you use them in a meal.
  2. Meal plan effectively: when you are planning a week’s worth of meals (how we roll), you know what you already have on hand.  This is really great if you used up a good portion of your monthly food budget (what we do) buying in bulk the previous week.
  3. Store with confidence: foods get eaten in a timely manner before they get freezer burned, too old to eat, etc.
  4. Avoid overbuying: you don’t purchase something you already have, especially if you need to stick to a food budget.

Making your freezer inventory

So how do you make a freezer inventory?  You could use ones that are already available (ones you can find online by googling “freezer inventory” or the ones I made which are attached here) or you could make your own.  I’ll walk you through how I made mine (time estimates after each step):

Step 1: Pull everything out of your freezer and write it down – both what you have and how much of it you have.  This probably means taking everything out for a few minutes so you can get to the bottom of the freezer.  If you realize there are things that you typically buy but you don’t have on hand right now, include them on the list as well.   You can put your food back in the freezer once you record the type and amount; the rest of the steps are all done on paper or the computer.  (15 minutes – when you’ll want your crawler to hang out in the exersaucer 😉 )

If you’re also using this as an opportunity to clean your freezer, put everything in a cooler/another freezer and take a few hours to defrost it.  For us impatient folks, take the pancake flipper to the ice to hurry up the process.  While you’re at it, toss anything older than a year or that you don’t see yourself eating.  Freezer burned ground pork, anyone?

FI 2

Step 2: Organize your written inventory into types of food.  I went with fruits and veggies; main dish; breads (muffins, pitas, etc) and breakfast; meat, poultry, and fish; treats, dairy, and other. (10 minutes)

Step 3: If applicable, organize within categories.  For us, that meant listing items “ready to bake or heat” separate from “sauces” under the “Main Dish” heading. (5 minutes)

Step 4: Designate typical sizes based on how you would retrieve them from the freezer.   I chose “1 loaf” for things like banana bread since you’re not going to leave half a loaf in the freezer (unless you stored it that way, of course).  For something like pizza sauce, I chose “1 cup” because I buy a giant can of pizza sauce and separate it into vacuum seal bags in 1 cup portions (I L-O-V-E my FoodSaver – no, there’s no affiliate link and I didn’t get paid to say that).  It really just depends on how you store things in the freezer. (10 minutes)

Step 5: Mark how many of each of the serving sizes you have.  In the case of whole chickens, I’ve got 4 of those (for now). (10 minutes)

You can use the “Comments” to note what kind of product you have: i.e. raspberry and strawberry freezer jam.

Total time: 50 minutes to an organized freezer!  And since the first step is the only non-paper/part, you can spread out the rest when you have time (or tackle it all at once, of course).

FI 3 done

Utilizing (maintaining) your freezer inventory

The key for maintaining a freezer inventory is to be consistent.  For me, that means having the list on a clipboard hanging right next to the chest freezer.  Whenever I get home from the store, I mark down what I purchased before it goes in the freezer.