(Image credit: Jessica Fisher)

Whether you have an itty-bitty fridge freezer or a large deep freeze, it doesn’t help you a whole lot if you don’t know what you have. Often we forget about something so long that we end up chucking it. They say Americans waste 25 to 30% of the food they buy. Think of the resources – and money! – we could save if we never wasted food.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to keep a freezer inventory that works for me. It’s pretty simple and involves zero technology.

Sure, there are a few apps out there that will help you keep a kitchen inventory, but I’ve found that they typically work the best when you’re buying processed foods and can scan the bar code on the package. This doesn’t work for that batch of homemade Chicken Chili I made last week. I find the pen easier than the keypad.

How to Take a Freezer Inventory That Works

All you need is a piece of paper, a pen, and a few minutes of your time.

1. List everything you have in the freezer.

Sometimes it helps to pull things out. Organize while you’re in there, stacking like with like, if you can.

2. Count how many you have of each item and draw a circle for each one next to the item on your list.

These circles represent each individual item. You can make big and small circles if you have different sized packages of things. Got a single steak? Mark a small circle. Got a large pack of T-bones? Mark a large circle.

You’re basically communicating to yourself and the other cooks in the household the identity and size of every inhabitant in your freezer.

3. Each time you take something out of the freezer, draw an X through the circle.

Make sure to ask/insist that the other cooks do the same.

4. Consult your inventory.

Check in when you do your meal plan for the week and definitely before you go shopping.

Voila! Easy, peasy, right? Tack this paper to the side of the fridge or freezer and consult it often.

Love Your Freezer

Using the freezer wisely can save you time and money and help you cook better and smarter. Jessica Fisher, our guest expert this month, is the author of Not Your Mother's Make-Ahead and Freeze Cookbook and Good Cheap Eats: Everyday Dinners and Fantastic Feasts for $10 or Less, and she is one of the savviest people we know when it comes to the freezer. Follow along with her advice for making the most of your freezer and loving it more!

→ Read the intro to Jessica's column: Why My Freezer Is the Most Important Part of My Kitchen