For many years, I was a stay at home mom who took on work as it came. This worked well for our rural lifestyle but when we moved to the "city" things changed. I worked part-time for a year or so and then was offered a full-time job. At this time, both my husband and I worked full-time so the household division stayed the same. In December 2010,my husband lost his job. He tried working but couldn't get anything permanent. He became a stay at home dad. This was a great opportunity for us but shifting the household duties to my husband wasn't as smooth as I had expected. One big problem we discovered was the kitchen responsibilities. The kitchen has always been my domain and I gladly passed it over to my husband. He's a wonderful cook and has his own plans for kitchen experiments. That wasn't the problem - I hadn't given up the shopping. Within a couple of months neither one of us knew what was in our refrigerator or pantry. During this time, my mom moved from the farmhouse she shared with my aunt to a place near us. The farmhouse has kitchen storage, a pantry off the kitchen, a pantry in the basement and more. She had created a second pantry in the basement (third for the house) and they had a broken freezer she called the dry storage (flour, etc protected from mice). My aunt had been getting a monthly senior food box for the last few years and my mom was a Costco shopper. When she moved, she had several truck loads of food she didn't even know she had. She mentioned doing a database so she could keep track of the food she had, shopping lists and sales/coupons. I'm not as tech-savvy as my mom but she had a point. When we moved to the city, I had written in a notebook everything we had in our kitchen. It was an ineffectual system because there was no real way to change the pages without writing them over and I didn't take the time to put them in the computer. So, I took time to go through all the food in our kitchen and list how much we had and where it was located. It wasn't a perfect list but a good start. Then I took some time to put all the food in an Excel file. I tinkered and came up with a great system. I created several columns - food item, areas they are and where I last purchased the item and for how much. The food items I broke down into several categories - Meat/Proteins, Dairy (and dairy substitutions), Grains/Starches, Vegetables, Fruit, Condiments, Misc and Spices. I put spices at the end because it was a much longer list than everything else. I, also, put a special little section at the end of the spices for my extracts. Then I created the columns - Refrigerator, small freezer, big freezer, left cupboard, right cupboard, pantry and misc (for those things that sit on the counter or the spice shelf). The last column for where I purchased and for how much was an afterthought. I had just done some shopping and in an effort to stay in budget I had written the prices on my list. I shopped with a calculator so I could keep track of how much I was spending - the prices were important because I would find better deals in various parts of the store (for example, I picked up bacon with the breakfast meats to find less expensive and better looking bacon in the meat department). I could subtract the price of the original item and add the new price so that my amount stayed fairly accurate. In the end, I spent less than my budget, missing one item on my list (not available) and picking up a handful of things not on the list that we needed (like bread). Adding those prices to my list helps me when I go to a different store. The prices might not stay the same next month but I have a better idea of what they could be. Now, the last note I would make is that with every item, I listed the number I had and attempted to make notes as to size. I printed the list out and attached it to a clipboard with a pen. It takes less than a minute to make notes about what we used during the day so that our inventory stays current. I have also made notes about foods I canned, foraged or was given, as well as things that I don't want to replace when they run out. This keeps things clear for both me and my husband. He can grab the list and see if we are out of something so I can swing by the store on my way home. There's no confusion about where the item should be. We can see that the new chicken was put in the big freezer not the small one by where we marked it on the list. Shopping days will mean being vigilant but it's not a hard task to prevent future chaos and lost foods.
If you are interested in a pdf example - let me know. I can't figure out how to post one here.