11 Smart Shopping Tips for Small Households

Ever notice how the grocery shopping experience seems specifically designed to entice us to buy more? With all of the family-size packaging, buy-one-get-one sales and better deals for bigger quantities, food shopping can be particularly challenging for small households. Those of us who live alone or with one other person often end up buying and cooking more than necessary. The result? We either throw food away or get tired of eating leftovers for three days straight.
How can singles and couples manage their grocery purchases so they don’t buy more than they need? Here are a dozen ways to downsize your food shopping—and your food waste.

Have a plan.

It’s common advice, but taking the time each week to create a meal plan will help you shop more sensibly. When you’re cooking for one or two, it’s helpful to think of smart ways to reuse key ingredients. For example, tonight’s grilled steak dinner could easily become tomorrow night’s hearty steak salad. What’s more, having a menu plan will keep you from overbuying while you shop.

Cook from scratch.

Frozen, boxed and prepared foods from the grocery store commonly serve four people or more. If you’re a household of one or two, you end up paying for twice the food you need. Instead of using packaged foods, cook from scratch. You can easily scale down most recipes to serve one or two people (and shop accordingly).

Be careful with the coupons.

We’re all about saving money on groceries, but coupons typically entice us to purchase more than we need—or to purchase items we wouldn't normally buy. If you’re going to use coupons for food items, stick to pantry staples that won't go bad. Stock up and store them until you need them.

Accept the pricing tradeoff.

Larger package sizes are typically a better deal. You’ll spend more per ounce or per unit by buying smaller quantities. However, consider the alternative: purchasing more than you need and throwing away food you tire of or don’t use. Look for half-quantities or smaller package sizes: choose six eggs instead of a dozen, half loaves of bread, half-gallons of milk, and pints of ice cream instead of gallons (probably a good idea anyway).

Shop the bulk food section.

Many larger groceries and most specialty stores have aisles stocked with bulk bins of items like grains, beans and nuts. The bulk food aisle is the single-shopper’s best friend, because you can scoop out and purchase only what you need. Purchase dry goods like oats, pastas, nuts and spices from the bulk section. Sample specialty items like cookies and cereals by buying just a single serving, to be sure you like the taste, then, buy these in small quantities from the bulk bins rather than in too-big-for-your-household packages.

If you do buy big, buy wisely.

Go ahead and purchase certain items in larger quantities that will keep well. Frozen vegetables and fruits, dried pasta, beans and rice are all reasonable items to buy in bulk. Just reseal the package after you remove what you need. Keep a stash of bag clips, twist ties and zip-top bags on hand so you can preserve what you store.

Look for individually-wrapped items.

While many of us are conscious of the environmental consequences of unnecessary food packaging, individually wrapped items do serve a benefit for smaller households. Crackers, yogurt, snacks and cookies, for example, all come in single-serving packages and will help you scale back on food waste.

Shop the meat counter.

Beef and chicken are often pre-packaged in increments of one pound or more. If you need a smaller quantity of hamburger or a half of a single chicken breast, ask the butcher at the meat counter to wrap exactly what you need.

Take only what you need.

In the produce aisle, remove three bananas from a larger bunch, pull two tomatoes off the stem or ask a grocery employee to split that large bag of grapes in half. Obviously, this is only advisable for items that are sold by the pound (not by the package). Shop the salad bar for fresh lettuce or other fresh items if you can't get through a full bag in a couple of days.

Prepare beans and grains ahead of time and freeze.

If you buy a 16-ounce package of navy beans or brown rice and you only need a serving or two, then go ahead and prepare the entire package. Beans and grains store well in the freezer, and since they take time to cook, you’ll be ahead of the game next time you make soup or stir-fry.

Keep a soup starter in the freezer.

If you only use a portion of a canned product like tomatoes or vegetables, or have leftover cooked veggies of any kind, use large freezer bags or lidded containers to store these in the freezer. Place the container in a handy spot in the freezer so you can easily pull it out and pour in any unused veggies or cooking liquid—just keep adding to it, and mix it all up! Use it within six months as a base for homemade vegetable soup.
Shopping and cooking for one or two will always be a challenge in a world that seems to cater to large families. However, with a little creativity, you can stretch your dollars and still eat a variety of healthy foods each week.