Monday, November 05, 2012

Taking Stock

Priti asked me how (and how often) I keep track of everything in my pantry. It has been mere days since I moved into this new kitchen so it is a question that's very much on my mind.

Some people are very organized by nature and others struggle with it. Like most people, I'm somewhere in the middle. But I'm always looking to become better organized, especially in the kitchen, because if you cook on a regular basis, you save precious minutes every time if you're not working in near-chaos. Investing a little bit of time in organizing the kitchen yields good returns. You'll end up with more time to do meaningful things. Or in my case to watch more reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Whichever.

In the kitchen, stuff falls into two categories: the hardware (appliances, gadgets, tools, cookware) and the consumables (the edible stuff: everything in the fridge, freezer, pantry, spice racks etc.) Here's my approach to keeping track of the consumables. The principle is the oldie-but-goodie: A place for everything and everything in its place.

1. List all the places where the consumables will be stored. In my new kitchen, the list looks like this:

Main areas
  • Fridge
  • Freezer
  • Pantry (cabinet)
Smaller areas
  • Corner cabinet with built in Lazy Susan
  • Tiny shelf
  • Shelf in a closet outside the kitchen
For the average person, it is unlikely that you can keep track of more than 6-8 areas so don't spread out the consumables more than you need to. These areas will contain all the edible items in your home.

2. Designate what food goes in each area. Within each area, create zones where things are grouped together in a logical way. This way you know where everything is while you're cooking and also when something is running low or used up.

Main areas
  • Fridge: Here, I group milk, yogurt, beverages together. All the cooked (ready to eat) food is in one spot and all the ingredients (say, half an onion, or a half-used jar of pasta sauce or container of tomato puree) are all together. All the cheeses are together etc.
  • Freezer: Ditto- the prepared foods are all together and frozen veg are in one spot etc.
  • Pantry: This has zones for flours, lentils and beans, oils, noodles and pasta, canned goods, baking supplies (powder sugar, cocoa) and so on. 
Smaller areas
  • Corner cabinet with built in Lazy Susan: This has all my spices, plus cans of curry paste and the smaller baking supplies like vanilla extract and baking powder.
  • Tiny shelf: This has tea, coffee, salt and sugar.
  • Shelf in a closet outside the kitchen: Here I keep all the stuff I buy in bulk (like big bags of toor dal) from which I replenish the containers in the kitchen.
I'm describing all this just as an example. You'll want to group foods according to what's convenient and logical for you- for instance, by cuisine. But take a look at each and every consumable you own and make a conscious decision about where its home should be.

3. Know that you can only store as much food as can fit comfortably in the space available. The key word is "comfortably". If things are piling on top of each other, if you reach for one thing and other things come crashing down, if you have to remove 20 things to reach the last thing in the back, these are clear signs that you're crowding your space. Be honest with yourself. If you don't use something, use it up, give it away or toss it. It is simply leading to more waste by being there and cluttering your space. Consumables should be easily accessible or else they will never be used.

4. Keep pen and paper handy in the kitchen. Any time you're using the last bit of something, jot it down. This running shopping list will make sure you're stocking your kitchen on a continuous basis.

5. Before you go shopping every week, take a look at what you have on hand. Come up with meal ideas to use up anything that's been sitting around for a while (a big jar of tahini, in my case).

6. Twice a year (I typically do this in Spring and Fall), do a pantry eat-down where you try to consume a lot of the food on hand and do a thorough cleaning.

This post probably sounds very OCD but it is a system that works- it has worked for me for many years in different kitchens. How do you keep stock of things in your kitchen?


19 comments:

  1. Great idea, I might go through my cupboards today!

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  2. i started using the pantry eat down which i picked up from here and it works very well for me now. also, i used to buy everything in bulk and it would get wasted or go bad. now i buy according to our need rather than as tho there will be a food shortage soon. i paste a list of items in the pantry cupboard and update it as i use them up, helps with the grocery list

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    1. Yeah, that's something I've done too- buying too much with the false sense that I might not get it again.

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  3. Its pretty much the kitchen shelves and the store room I have next to the kitchen. I have lists of what I will run out of soon. That list and many others are stuck on my fridge. Then I have to do a list cleaning as well, because I have actually landed up buying the same spice twice, because 2 lists said I needed it !!

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    1. LOL yeah, that's the one downfall of multiple lists.

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  4. //How do you keep stock of things in your kitchen?//

    AHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!

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  5. Taking stock is indeed a very important part of 'kitchen duties'.Like you I also embark on cleaning the pantry exercise every quarter or so and re-stock.This helps in the creation of innovative dishes while cleaning up the pantry as well, not to speak of long unused items!BTW, love the way you converse with ease through your blog.Can relate very well to a lot of your posts.Best wishes.

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    1. Thank you- so glad you're enjoying the posts. And yes, the best dishes come from pantry clean ups!

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  6. Nupur,
    Thanks for sharing all those lovely tips with us.. You definitely are very organised and hence manage to whip up such a storm in your kitchen :)
    Would love to know how you plan your meals.. do u plan all meals for the week and go shopping accordingly or do u take stock of fridge and pantry and decide?
    I know you must be super busy with little Lila but was wondering whether you read anything interesting recently..any book recommendations?
    Lots of Love to baby Lila and Dale.....
    Best Wishes & Take Care

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    1. Rujuta- I tend to not plan meals, I think about what to make for dinner every morning. But truthfully I'd like to start planning weekly meals.
      Hope you enjoyed the "what are you reading" post. I'll have more posts on books all month.

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  7. Early morning sipping my cup of ginger chai ur blog is the first one I read and my cheeks and ears turned pink as soon as I started reading it. I couldn't believe your blog post started with my name and my question. :) Didn't know my request would be posted so soon and my name too. I feel the excitement of a silly teenager. :D

    Thanks a LOT for the tips! The hardest thing for me is to trash or give away what is not being used for long, something that comes naturally to my mom. I also need to stop buying on impulse and stick to my shopping list (I guess, I should visit Trader's Jo's less often!). I also love your idea of a pantry eat down, I have a feeling I need to do that every time a season ends so all the seasonal goods are finished off in time.

    - Priti

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    1. LOL You ARE silly :) Great idea to do a pantry eat down at the end of every season!

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  8. The pantry eat down is definitely useful..I try to do it every 6 months or so too. I keep my spices and nuts in the fridge or freezer and it keeps them fresh for much longer.
    It's great to see you post so often.

    It may not be a good idea for a post on a food blog but, I was hoping to hear about your cloth diapering experience. What works for the newborn stage especially. Which brands, kinds of diapers you recommend etc.

    -Anu

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    1. Anu- I've tried the freezer and fridge for nuts and spices and just feel like the taste suffers- just my personal experience.
      I'll definitely write about my cloth diapering experience in a post soon (when writing about an book about reducing plastic use).

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  9. Since you mentioned the jar of Tahini; I have some tips for you to use it. It can be used in a jiffy in recipes that require ground sesame seeds like some hyderabadi salan recipes or maharashtrian eggplant rassa. I got this idea from Chef Ajoy Joshi's Dum ka Murgh recipe that used Tahini. Similarly, it can be easily added to peanut based chutney's.

    You can also use tahini to make cookies.

    - Priti

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  10. I have a magnetic dry erase board on my fridge door. Whenever I notice some item getting over, I jot it on the board. And when I am making my grocery shopping list, I add those items in the list.
    I also clean/organize my fridge on a regular basis.
    -Swapna

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