A sure-fire strategy for keeping an organized pantry inventory

My husband has told me many times over the years, “Lisa, you always manage to make things more complicated than they need to be.”

When we have friends over for dinner, I want to make ALL NEW recipes for multiple dishes. Before we go on a vacation, I want everyone in the family to have ALL NEW outfits! If we need to make a major purchase, I will research it to death until I’m so confused that I don’t care what we buy!

image by Suus Wansink

image by Suus Wansink

When I decided to create an inventory of my food pantry, I tied myself up in knots just trying to figure out how to organize it. What categories should I use? Should it be a paper/hard copy inventory or should I use Excel? (I am NOT proficient in Excel. At all.)

After much, much thought, I decided to not re-invent the wheel and I used the same categories found on Shelf Reliance for their food products. I figured that the people at Shelf Reliance must have spent a lot of time determining these categories, and if they work for Shelf Reliance, they’ll certainly work for me and my humble inventory.

I also decided to use Excel. I created a separate page for each category (see below) and then entered the name of the food, the size of the container, and how many I had on hand.

Boy, was I surprised to find out that we have 15 #10 cans of freeze-dried bananas.

See what happens when you don’t keep an ongoing inventory? You will almost certainly end up with too much of one thing and not nearly enough of another.

You might like to check out the categories used by Shelf Reliance* or another food storage company as an assist when setting up your own inventory or reorganizing what you have.

Yes, it’s  important to know what you have so you don’t repeat my banana mistake. I’m not working on making sure that I have a bigger variety of fruits and plenty of recipes that call for bananas!

By the way, I saved my Excel inventory and have it stored in Dropbox as well as a printed hard copy here at home. There are issues with saving documents in Dropbox, but I can’t tell you how many times Dropbox has saved my bacon.


  • Grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Meats
  • Dairy
  • Beans (I separated beans from meat.)
  • Desserts
  • Drinks
  • Basics
  • Entrees
  • Survival supplies (candles, matches, etc.)

Am I missing any categories? What organization system are you using?

* I am an  independent consultant with Shelf Reliance and earn a percentage from any sales derived from my Shelf Reliance website.

There may be links in the post above that are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission, which does not affect the price you pay for the product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

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  1. says

    I would also do one for spices and another for condiments. I end up buying a ton of repeats in both of those categories.
    I’m working on organizing my pantry and creating an easy-to-use inventory is one of the goals on my project list. Using the Shelf Reliance categories is brilliant! I’m almost ashamed that I never thought of that, especially since I’m an independent consultant for them!

  2. TxPurl says

    Don’t forget to stock and inventory your non-food items as well. Soap, shampoo, deo, etc. If you make your own, inventory your raw materials. When SHTF, you don’t want it to be because you ran out of toilet paper!

  3. Adrian says

    Maaann! I was just finishing a detailed blog post on this. Which was best, gave paper inventory lists, using bar code scanner databases and all of it. wow.. *sniff* lol I guess I’ll be putting it out later then..

  4. annie says

    I use an address book plus a running list on my refrig. of things that needed to be added.I try to update it every time I take out or add to. I also check out the accuracy about every 2 mo.

  5. Patricia says

    Hey, tried your link to ShelfReliance and my computer stopped me…. could you recheck your configuration – ‘cuz if I buy anything from them – I’d like for you to get your credit!!! LOVE this blog and the Facebook page…

  6. says

    We use an iPhone app called ‘Prep & Pantry’. It stays sync’d between our devices so we always have access to our inventory when we’re out shopping. We don’t use it for our “regular” groceries, just our stored goods. It has a Check In & Check Out feature so we always know how much we have of everything (food & non-food) and there’s very little typing since it uses your device’s camera to scan the product UPC. You can also generate a report in Excel friendly formats if you like to keep a paper backup. You can even set a minimum item threshold and it will give you a shopping list of stuff you don’t have enough of or things that will expire soon. Did I mention that we like it a lot? LOL

  7. K says

    I’m not familiar with dropbox….Is there somewhere else we can view the excel spreadsheet template. I have a worksheet from one of the LDS sites….But, I’d like to see others’ options as well.

  8. tharley says

    I use Excel and print a hard copy for our Inventory notebook. That way I can make additions and subtractions to the hard copy and update every couple of weeks. I have an Excel sheet for each of the following categories:
    Food and Water – Item, Unit, Total Quantity Needed, Have, Need (Total Quantity minus Have)
    Medical – same headings
    Kitchen other – same headings for items such as pots, matches, bleach, etc.
    Guns (and ammo) same headings includes cleaning and repair items
    Hardware – same headings includes batteries, clothesline, glues, plastic, lime
    Misc. – same headings for whatever doesn’t fit elsewhere like oil lamps
    Seeds – same headings
    Sewing – same headings
    Clothing – same headings
    Pets/Livestock – same headings – includes first aid items specific to animal
    Office – same headings -paper, pencils, tape
    Books – no headings – what we would like for our library
    Hygiene – same headings – dental floss, etc.
    Sources – headings are Name, Website, Receipt Book – this lets me have all sources handy for reorders and if I have a receipt – a checkmark is put in that column. Another binder holds the receipts and that way I can see if the prices have changed considerably.

    The whole thing took about eight hours to set up (due to frustration with Excel) but it works great. When I take off to a particular store I check what is still needed and if the item is on sale I may pick up one or two. Updates are fairly simple to make, generally just changing quantity on hand or adding something else too a list. I do not include items in use – the ball of kitchen string is not on the inventory.

    So far works great!

  9. countrygirl says

    Just got done doing this with ammunition and firearms. Totally showed me areas that I have missed, and areas that I have given too much attention.

  10. Jen says

    DH set up an inventory list by location in the house. I think I like this better as we can see what the totals are and we can specify the location within the individual categories.

    I’m going to have to find some time to redo ours.

  11. Judi says

    I found a great app for my android phone & tablet called “E-food storage”. you can SCAN your food in by upc lables as well as input manually! I’ve just started using it but so far so good.

  12. Linda says

    Inventory lists don’t work any better for me than did my numerous childhood attempts to keep a diary — I just can’t sustain the motivation to make daily updates, I tell myself I’ll do it as soon as I get a break in the day and then of course forget to do the update. The last thing I want to do when I come back from grocery shopping iis to update an inventory. Instead, I now have my kitchen pantry visually/spacially organized, i.e., all the canned meats go on one shelf, canned beans on another, assorted other canned vegies on yet another shelf and the same for canned sauces, gravies and condiments; boxed puddings and canned pie fillings…. The spices and dried herbs have their own section too. The bulk items such as rice, beans, pasta, various whole grains go in five gallon buckets in another area as do bottles of oil, #10 cans of dried milk, eggs, fruit, etc. and commercially canned butter and cheese. Cake mixes, baking mixes, pancake mixes, chocolate chips, nut pieces, candies and assorted other small amounts of expensive dried goods (such as morel mushrooms) are dry canned by me in pint or quart jars and stored in cardboard boxes with internal cardbard dividers to protect against breakage. When a pantry shelf is looking less than full to the brim, I know it is time to go buy more of that food type (yes I use the “older” cans first). When I use up a small food item that I dry canned, I write the item on my shopping list. When a food bucket gets down to half-full, it’s time to buy another 20 or 25 lbs of the item and this too goes on my shopping list. This less organized method works for me and does not depend on electronic devices or electrical or battery power – I don’t get any more technical than a piece of scrap paper and a stubby pencil.

    • H. (eyes wide open) says

      Hee Hee…Thank you Linda! I too use this very method. Being too organized goes against my very fiber.

      I have everything neatly stored with like items. When they get a little low I restock. I never make a trip to the grocery without getting a few random extra items for the pantry. If I get too strict with how many calories per day per person I have stored I would get too overwhelmed to be productive. I understand the need for some to have good documentation but it is not for me. I am just glad I have what I do and will continue to keep plugging away one acorn at a time. 😀

    • Jennifer G says

      This is how I track my stuff too. I do try periodically (quarterly?) to inventory my freezers. I have my upright that is part of my fridge and a small chest freezer where stuff gets lost.

  13. charley says

    Linda…..I consider myself a very organized person. And I’m a list person. I love my lists. But my stocks are so varied that my pantry list would end up being a book. Instead, every catigory has its place. all soups on one shelf, veggies on another, condiments in one area, rice and pasta gets another area. tp all together in one place…..and so on. Since everything is on open shelves its easy to glance and see what I might need. I try to keep it organized and know where everything is. I don’t want to have the same thing in two different places. I go through everything periodically to recheck dates and pull out anything that needs to be eaten. That stuff goes onto it’s own shelf.

    BTW……one more family member has come on board the prep train!

    • Winnie says

      I envy you – my family thinks it’s hilarious that I prep. My daughter says that if anything bad were to happen, her local market would have enough to feed the town! (At a certain point, they know so much more than we do! Oh well, I’ll just continue to prep for her, too.)

      I cannot keep an inventory, just not hard wired for that type of efficiency I guess, but I do have shelving units that are stocked like a store is – all cans facing the front, oldest first, in neat rows. It’s hard for me to remember how much I have both at home and at our cabin, so last week I took my iPad and snapped pictures of my cupboards and shelves at the cabin. Took only a couple of minutes. Then when I was home I was able to sit at the table and look critically at my supplies and make up my grocery list without duplicating what I already have. Worked great, I may have stumbled on something that will really be a help to me!

  14. Ann Bailey says

    We’re twins separated at birth. My kids are off today and I want to get the house straightened so I made a chart of the house with lists of required tasks in each room. Sounds great and it actually helps me, I think in outline form, but my husband would have had the house cleaned by now and stuff put away. That being said, 13 years later and two kids, I can see some fruit from my labor, like shopping lists that I can type on my pc and read on my smartphone. Anyway, I am so looking forward to having this list so my family can also keep track of what we have or need.

  15. Shelly Smith says

    Hi! I enjoyed reading this page. My husband and I are in agreement that some basic prepping, at the least, is in order, and what with his military retirement approaching, we are trying to plan where to relocate. Since both of us have families that make it easy to not be lured to our respective home states, we really “could” move anywhere….We were wondering where prospective “preppers” go to learn or discern the best place to move to settle down for good. I am sort of wishing there were some analyst somewhere, or some app online or for the phone, lol, that would let us just plug in our “key words” of what parameters we’d like to be met, and then have the app spit out a few options of which locations might be good to fit our needs. How do preppers figure out where they want to move to? Thanks!

  16. Linda Flower says

    In reply to those who would like to have an extended “pantry” (shelf-stable extra foods) and built-in rotation system without making a career out of the project, here is what I’m doing:
    Get about 12 mid-sized storage containers (18 liters).
    Fill each with a variety of shelf-stable foods you use on a monthly basis.
    Each month, take the oldest bin into your kitchen pantry and create a replacement variety bin for storage.
    If you see that you are accumulating extras in your working kitchen pantry, don’t add those items to your new bins. The system is self-rotating and self-correcting as far as quantities you actually use. Suggested items to put in the storage bin:
    1 can tuna
    1 can chicken
    1 can salmon
    1 Pkg raisin
    Dry Yeast packets that have at least 1 year b/f expiration
    Jar Peanut butter
    Jar salsa
    Jar spaghetti sauce
    Can of Chili
    Dry sauce mixes (hollandaise, alfredo, etc)

    And that would be backed up with your long-term emergency storage items (rice, beans, noodles, freeze-dried meats, fruits & eggs) that you would rotate into your kitchen as needed or on a yearly basis.
    During normal times, you would bring one variety bin into the kitchen per month.
    During a crisis, each variety bin would be enough to feed two people for a week (12 bins in storage along with bulk items would feed two people for at least three months). Very easy.

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