No matter how talented you are at cooking for one, when you live alone and are grocery shopping for one, you will ultimately end up wasting food. Several years ago, a neighbor and I decided to split a CSA and when it arrived on Friday, we were plenty excited about the daikon radishes, beets and seemingly endless supply of fresh basil. Come Sunday, when we were ready to cook for the week, our organic, preservative-free produce was shriveled and wilted.
We might as well have been throwing our $24 per week directly down the trash incinerator in our apartment building.
It’s hard to be a savvy shopper when you’re single or if you have different dietary restrictions than the rest of the people in your household. If your schedule is prone to late nights at work or spontaneous dinners out, you’ve probably thrown away more than your share of defrosted shrimp and salmon.
Simply put, shopping for one, or even two, is no easy feat. Next time you’re in the grocery store, follow a few easy tips for stocking a fridge, freezer and pantry that will leave you with all of the fixings for healthy meals without the waste.
Shop the freezer aisle
I’m not proud of it, but it happens. I pull my asparagus and zucchini out of the refrigerator to prep vegetables for grilling and sure enough, my asparagus are limp and brown and the zucchini looks more like a summer squash.
If you frequently cook vegetables with your dinner or even in your morning omelets, head to the freezer aisle. Frozen vegetables have as many (if not more) nutrients as fresh and are often individually flash frozen, so you can pull just as much frozen spinach or broccoli florets as you need from a bag, then stash the rest back in the freezer.
Frozen shrimp and individually packaged chicken breasts that you can stash in the freezer are also solid purchases — just remember to take them out to defrost in the morning if you’re planning to cook them when you get home from work.
Shop for prepared foods
If the thought of cutting up a cucumber a day to eat with your hummus sendings you running to the vending machine, then I’ll see you there. Some weeks, it’s worth it to spend two hours on a Sunday night preparing all of your fruits, vegetables and lunches for the week. Other times, it’s worth it to spend the extra dollar or two or three to buy pre-washed, pre-cut vegetables from the produce section.
If you can’t find the time to whip up a fresh marinade for your chicken or seafood, check out the offerings at your fish or poultry counter. Many grocery stores, even run of the mill markets, have marinated chicken teriyaki, salmon with mango salsa or shrimp kabobs that all you have to do is toss into the oven or on the grill. You’ll pay extra, but if you’re skipping the ingredients that you would have bought for a marinade or sauce, it will probably even out in the wash.
Shop the cheese counter
One of my personal favorite parts of the grocery store, the cheese counter is the universal solution for single people who let eight or 16-ounce packages of cheese spoil before you can use them. Most grocery stores have, in addition to the dairy aisle, a specialty cheese counter where you can pick up gruyere and mozzarella cheeses for pasta dishes, queso fresco and manchego cheese for tacos and fajitas.
Most cheese counters will even slice off small 2-3 ounce portions for pre-dinner snacking, which, if you’re anything like me, will keep you from eating an eight ounce portion of cheese while your pasta cooks.
You can apply this same idea to pretty much any specialty area of the grocery store. Look for miniature baguettes or sourdough rolls at the bakery as an alternative to full sized baguettes or stock up on modest portions of olives for snacking, pastas…or even more likely, martinis.
Shop the salad bar
Do you know how easy it actually is to make a quinoa salad when you have the cooked quinoa and all of your ingredients? Some people love the chopping, mixing and stirring, but if your quinoa usually winds up charred at the bottom of a pot, it’s worth paying the per pound salad bar price to get the salad you’re craving.
If you only need single or double servings of a perishable ingredient, buy it from your grocery store’s salad bar. I’ve foraged cooked quinoa, chicken breast, hard boiled eggs, black beans and even chopped vegetables from the salad bar and it saves time, money and possibly, sanity.