Use up food: 9 tips for a successful stock take

Picture of my kitchen cupboard with jars and bottles

How to make the most of what you’ve got

Start with a stock take, if you’re keen make the most of the food you have without extra shopping.

I’ve done several month-long store cupboard challenges before, aiming to cut costs by using up food in my cupboards, fridge and freezer. 

Previous post: How I cut our food costs to £44 a week

Now, thanks to the pandemic, it feels like everyone’s on a store cupboard challenge!

It’s a weird combination of feast or famine. 

We’re encouraged to avoid shopping and face empty shelves when we do.  Yet there is a billi0n pounds more food in people’s houses than there was three weeks ago, according to the British Retail Consortium.

Right now, staying at home literally saves lives, so it’s vital to make the most of the food we already have.

Whether you want to use what you’ve got, avoid shopping or cut food waste, here are my top tips for a successful stock take.

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Pinterest size image of cupboard contents for my post with tips for a successful stock take

9 tips for a successful stock take

  • Start by making lists
    • A list of the food you have. Go through your kitchen cupboards fridge and freezer, and anywhere else food is stored (fruit bowl? garage? cupboard under the stairs?)
    • A list of meal ideas. I jot down meal inspiration as I go along, so I can’t forget before I’ve finished.
    • A hit list of abandoned ingredients. The stuff that’s been lingering too long, because I didn’t know how to cook it, didn’t really fancy it, or needed something else to make it edible. Select the top 10 you need to tackle.
    • A shopping list. Note down obvious stuff you’ve run out of and extras needed to make meals.
  • Get the kids involved
    • Enlist slave labour and count it as home schooling. Get your kids to help make the food list and suggest meal ideas.
    • Note: this does risk your children drawing up their own stockpile shopping lists, majoring on biscuits, sweets, ice cream and variety pack cereal (voice of bitter experience).
  • Don’t bin perfectly good food!
    • Focus on ‘use by’ dates on food that goes off quickly, like milk, meat, fish and salad bags. Eating food after its use by date could make you ill.
    • However, ‘best before’ dates are based on quality not safety. Might risk a stale crisp, but you won’t risk your health. Most packaged foods (tins, jars, boxes, bags) are absolutely fine way beyond their ‘best before’ dates.
  • Pull fresh food forward
    • In the fridge, put anything that needs eating up fast at the front, so you don’t forget the half tin of tuna, remains of the cream or last night’s leftovers. Then check your fridge every couple of days, to remind yourself what needs using up,  and make it into meals.
  • Fill up your freezer
    • Concerned something might go off before you can use it? Bung it in the freezer – meat, fish, bread, leftovers, even grated cheese and sliced banana.
    • Separate big quantities into smaller portions, so you don’t defrost more than you need. For example, I freeze bacon rashers and ham slices in pairs, and divide up packets of mince,  fish, chicken pieces, sausages and pastry. Use ice cube trays to freeze milk, leftover wine (what?) or make cubes of chopped herbs in water. 
    • Once stuff is frozen, decant from boxes into bags, so it takes up less space and you can fit more in.
    • More freezer tips here.
  • Use freezer labels
    • Invest in sticky labels for bags and boxes that disappear into the freezer. Magic words like ‘bolognaise for 4’ will banish future UFOs (Unidentified Frozen Objects).
  • Sort out your shelves
    • Organise stuff on shelves, keeping similar items together, so it’s easy to see how much you’ve got. This can help cut both food waste and double buying. No point leaving the house for tinned tomatoes if you’ve already got five cans spread over the kitchen.
  • Keep food fresh for longer
    • Don’t let fruit and veg rot in plastic wrapping! For example, I keep onions and potatoes in drawstring bags in a dark, cool corner; put kitchen towel in the the bottom of the salad drawers in the fridge to mop up moisture and always transfer stuff from opened tins into plastic boxes or glass jars.
  • Stick the lists somewhere safe
    • After all your hard work, don’t lose the lists!
    • I keep a shopping list stuck to the fridge and add to it, so there’s less chance of forgetting essentials when I finally make it to the shops. Keep any meal plan handy too, with big stars by stuff that needs to be eaten quickly.

 

Now – over to you. What are your top tips for a stock take? How do you keep track of the food you have in the house, before it goes bad?

I’m planning further posts on making the most of food you have, with tips on meal planning and cooking, so watch this space!

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