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Grocery shopping for one is a struggle.
I should know. Some weeks I’d buy too much food – only to throw away 70% of it at the end of the week. Other weeks I’d make one meal and begrudgingly eat it every single day. Not ideal. Yup, it took me years to master the art of buying food when I was a household of one.
Yet, wasting money on groceries isn’t just a problem that plagues the solo shopper. The average family of four wastes $1,600 per year on uneaten food. And, Americans waste nearly one pound of food per person, per day. That adds up to $165 billion of food that goes uneaten.
While food waste is a problem for a number of reasons, it can be a big problem for your bank account. Ever wonder how much money you could you be saving?
Luckily, we’ve got you covered with some easy ways to shop smarter and avoid food waste.
Get into the planning
You’ve heard this before, for good reason. Meal planning is the key to not buying more than you need.
But meal planning can also be more difficult when you’re planning meals for one. That’s because recipes rarely have a serving size of one. You’ll typically see recipes for family meals serving upwards of four people.
So, when you’re meal planning, opt for food items that you know will freeze well. And, if you you don’t want to be stuck eating the same thing all week, make sure it’s something that you can easily pop into the freezer and enjoy eating later. For ideas, take a look at this list of 33 meals that freeze well.
Another clever idea is to pick two or more recipes that use the same core ingredients. Brianne Bell, a registered dietician and food blogger, suggests doing this to avoid eating the same meal all week. For example, she buys a whole chicken and roasts it. For her first meal, she’ll eat roast chicken. Next, she’ll shred the remaining chicken to use in salads and sandwiches for the rest of the week. Planning meals around the main ingredient of chicken ensures nothing is wasted.
Utilize your freezer
Before you head to the fresh produce section of your grocery store, take a stroll down the frozen food aisle. The produce you’ll find there contains roughly the same level of vitamins and minerals as fresh fruits and veggies, making this a healthy and smart option for the solo shopper. Relying on frozen produce also means you’ll never have to throw away a sad carrot again.
If you do end up with fresh food that you’re not going to eat before it spoils, Bell suggests freezing it before it goes bad. And you know how frustrating it is when you just need a few basil leaves for a recipe but you have to buy a large bunch? Bell advises throwing those in the freezer as well. Just chop them up, put them into an ice cube tray, cover with oil and freeze.
While freezing is a great option for the times when you do end up with more than you need, not everything freezes well. The Kitchn breaks down the foods that don’t freeze well. So, if you’ve stocked up on cucumbers and lettuce, don’t plan on relying on your freezer to help you with the excess.
I used to steer clear of the salad bar in a grocery store, assuming that it’s always going to be the most expensive option. But more often than not I’d get to the end of the week and find a half-eaten bag of spinach that I needed to throw away.
Turns out, the salad bar and bulk food aisle may hold the keys to your shopping for one success, says Mary Weidner co-founder of meal planning app Strongr Fastr. Rather than picking up a bag of spinach when you only need a little, the salad bar and the bulk food aisle may be your best bet.
“Just last week, I bought some spinach, quinoa, spices, dried berries, olives, and sliced nuts- all in the exact quantities I needed for about $3.50. And had no food waste for the week,” says Weidner.
But don’t stop there. If you need some meat, food blogger and recipe writer Jim Mumford suggests that you head to the butcher counter to get the exact amount you need, rather than picking up the family-sized pre-packaged meat.
“Most pre-packaged meat is well over a pound, and not ideal for one or two meals. The butcher at the counter is willing and happy to cut something down, even a roast or a tenderloin,” says Mumford.
If you want to skip the hassle of the store altogether, Bell advises that fruit and vegetable deliveries can be a smart option. Oftentimes, you can get just get what you need delivered straight to your door.
Make it social
Need to buy something that you definitely won’t eat all on your own (like that loaf of bread)? Get a little help from a friend. Figure out the things you both need to buy and split it. As a bonus, you can use this strategy to take advantage of the buy one, get one offers you see in some grocery stores.
If you’re really feeling social — and have a friend with similar food preferences — why not split groceries and cook some main meals together? If you’re making a recipe that serves four, you won’t have to worry about whether it freezes well or whether you’ll be able to handle eating it all week. You’ll each end up with two servings and have some fun while cooking.
Are you ready to solo shop?
Shopping for one can be a little tricky. But, by following these tried-and-true tips, you’ll be on your way to saving money without wasting food. Are you ready to take a new approach to shopping for groceries?
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