Shopping for one person seems like it should be easy. After all, it’s just you, right? You know what foods you like to eat. You know how to make them. You know your schedule for the week so you know how many lunches you’ll be packing, how many nights you’ll be eating at home and whether you’ll be entertaining. Why, then, do you always end up throwing away all that limp produce and a-few-too-many-days-old chicken? And, yup. The bread is stale. Again.
There are a number of factors at play here, but typically the problem starts at the grocery store. Because it seems so easy. You know what you’re out of and you may even have a vague idea of what you’d like to prepare for dinner. So you get to the store and begin to shop but soon enough things go awry.
You see that tomatoes are on sale so you decide to get a few extra. There wasn’t a plan to get bananas but they’re perfectly ripe and certainly look tasty. And what’s that over there on the day-old bakery rack? By the time you get to the checkout, you’ve purchased waaaaayyyyyyyyy more than you had intended. And guess what? Some of that surplus is not going to make it anywhere but the trash can.
Now, don’t beat yourself up too badly because it’s not entirely your fault. Grocery stores are in the business of selling you groceries. They pay people to devise a plan to entice you to buy as much as they can possibly entice you to buy. What you need is a plan of your very own.
Make a Healthy Meal Plan
The first step in conquering the grocery store is to make a healthy meal plan. It may sound complicated but it’s really not.
Remember how you sort of knew what you wanted to eat the last time you went shopping? Well, write it down. BOOM! Meal plan. At least for one meal, anyway.
And you don’t need to make 21 separate meal plans for the week. What are you having for dinner? You could make double and nuke the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. Or even triple if it’s something you really think you’d eat three times this week. Maybe you could make this Basic Overnight Oats Recipe for a few of your breakfasts. You get the idea.
Keep in mind that whole foods meal plans don’t need to be fancy. You don’t have to buy expensive food, have gourmet cooking skills or large blocks of time. Throw a piece of chicken and a potato in the oven while you microwave a bowl of frozen carrots. There you have it. Whole. Foods. Meal. That wasn’t so hard, was it?
Organize a Shopping List
Now that you have your meal plan created, it’s time to organize a shopping list. Yes, I do mean organize.
I’m sure you’re already familiar with the setup of your preferred grocery store so make the list in the order that you’ll be walking the store.
For example, list all your fresh produce items together, followed by seafood, meat and dairy. As you get to the “aisle items” part of your list, think about what items might be in the same aisle and list them accordingly. If you have to keep backtracking to get the items you forgot to get while you were there, you might decide it’s just easier to just get a can of spaghetti and a bag of chips for dinner.
If you take the time to read the shelf tags at the store (that list the items’ price per pound, ounce or piece) you know that size matters.
Generally, the larger the package, the lower the unit price. So, you might ask, does ever make sense for a single person to buy food in bulk in order to save money? The answer is a resounding…maybe.
The questions to ask yourself are these: How can this be stored and for how long? Do you have the space to store it? Will you use it all before its “time is up”?
One thing to consider is whether the items can be frozen. Things like meats/poultry and bread products can easily be broken down into serving-sized packages and frozen.
Many meats and poultry can be frozen for up to a year while bread products are best used within 3 months. Fish and Shellfish are trickier as items in the showcase are likely to have been previously frozen so refreezing might compromise the quality. The safer bet, in this case, would be to buy these items in the freezer section of the seafood department.
Many fresh fruits, vegetables and berries can be prepped (seeded/peeled and sliced/chopped) then spread in a single layer and placed in the freezer. When solid, they can be stored in airtight containers in the freezer for 12-18 months. While they will not retain the crisp texture they had when fresh, they will work perfectly well for cooking and pureeing.
This leaves the vast number of shelf-stable and refrigerated items that are available in larger “family size” portions but would not hold up to being frozen. This is where the expiration or sell-by date comes in. Look at the date and ask yourself if you will realistically use it all before then. If the answer is no, it’s better to opt for smaller or single-serve portions. You’re not saving money if you end up throwing the food away.
Frozen Foods Are Your Friend (or Buying Whole Foods Frozen)
What’s the first thing you think of when you think of the frozen food aisle? Pizza? Corn dogs? Ice cream?
A large portion of that part of the store is dedicated to processed foods. But if you look a little closer, you’ll find plenty of healthy choices there.
For a single person, buying whole foods frozen might be the answer to your prayers. Think vegetables, fruits, berries and bread. No prep. No waste. No muss. No fuss.
Be aware that there are pitfalls even in the healthy section of the deep freeze (who knew?). Avoid vegetables with added ingredients such as sauces or cheese. And don’t bother with the more expensive “steam in” bags as you probably won’t be cooking an entire 12-16 oz bag to eat in one sitting. Make sure fruits are packaged without added sugar or syrups. When in doubt, read the ingredient label. The only item listed there should match the picture on the front of the container.
On Your Mark…Get Set…Go!!!!!!
It’s time to take a deep breath, get out there and shop. You’ve got this.