If you're living on your own for the first time, you might find grocery shopping to be an unexpected challenge. You may have to adjust your shopping (and eating) habits to better suit your solo lifestyle. However, not only is this easier than you might expect, but it can also be fun to create a grocery list for one person that minimizes food waste while maximizing taste. Below are some tips for how to grocery shop for one.
How much should a single person spend on groceries?
Whether you're buying groceries for one person or 10 people, you should always have a budget in mind. An average single-person household spends an estimated $200 to $400 on groceries per month. However, this can vary depending on certain factors. For instance, certain dietary requirements, such as being gluten-free or dairy-free, may have higher costs. Additionally, if you're also shopping for pet treats and food, your costs will increase. Your grocery bill can also be affected by other details such as where you choose to shop, if you have a store rewards card that nets you extra savings, or if you regularly clip coupons for the best deals.
How to grocery shop for one
One of the most important things you can do when creating a grocery list for one is to keep a running tab of what you have and what you need. An easy way to keep track of this might be to stick a magnetic notepad to your refrigerator and write down items as you run out of them. You can also keep track easily on your phone's note taking app. Making sure you don't have multiples of perishable items will help prevent food waste.
Another way to prevent food waste when buying groceries for one person is to buy shelf-stable items like rice, oats and pasta in bulk and only buy fresh produce and meat as you need it. Your freezer will also become your best friend, as you can use it to store and keep fresh that extra chicken breast, alongside just about anything else you won't be eating that week.
An easy way to figure out what you'll need to purchase, without overbuying, is to map out a meal plan for the week. Pick a few recipes to make and plan out each meal so you'll know exactly what to buy. It might also be helpful to choose recipes that use some of the same fresh ingredients. So, if you use half an onion in a recipe on Monday night, you can use the other half on Wednesday for lunch before it goes bad.
A grocery list for one
Your exact shopping list will vary depending on your preferences and diet, but here is a general guideline on what should be on a grocery list for one.
- Greens: Pick up some greens that you can eat both cooked and raw, such as spinach. Use it raw for a nice salad or in a morning smoothie or cook it in a stir fry for some extra nutrients. Fresh greens usually last about a week in the fridge.
- Crunchy vegetables: Carrots, cucumbers and bell peppers can be eaten as a satisfying snack or cooked in recipes. Vegetable expiration varies by type.
- Onions: You can pick whichever variety is your favorite or whatever is on sale. Whole onions are good for up to three months, while cut onions can be stored in the fridge for up to a week.
- Garlic: It goes in everything and stays fresh for months with the peels on.
- Fresh herbs: Adding a fresh herb or two to your grocery list can help add great flavor to your dishes and can be frozen in oil. (A trick is to use ice trays for pre-portioned cubes to throw in soups or dishes.) Fresh herbs can stay good in the fridge for two to three weeks.
- Lemon or limes: One or two lemons help add flavor to plain seltzer or water and can be used to kick up dishes or salad dressings. Whole lemons and limes can last up to a few weeks in the fridge.
- Easy-to-eat fruit: Easy to eat fruits like apples, oranges and bananas are great for when you're working from home or want to grab a healthy, on-the-go snack. Fruit expiration varies depending on the type.
- Avocados: One or two avocados help add a bit of healthy fat to any meal. Plus, they can be used for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, or can be eaten as part of a quick snack. (Chips and guacamole, anyone?) Ripe avocados last three to five days in the fridge.
Eggs and dairy
- Eggs: You can hard boil some as snacks, make an omelet for breakfast, or bake yourself something sweet. There are now a few egg-less “egg" options to explore as well. Eggs remain good in the fridge for three to five weeks.
- Half-and-half: Whether using it as creamer in your coffee and to thicken up soups, sauces and curries, some half-and-half always comes in handy. It's good in the fridge for seven to 10 days after opening.
- Mild cheese: Cheese can be used in many ways, like in a breakfast scramble, for a midday snack or on a sandwich. Mozzarella, cheddar or jack are all versatile options. Cheese expiration varies.
- Butter or an oil-based alternative: You'll need it to flavor dishes, prevent things from sticking, butter toast and more. Butter is good in the fridge for up to three months.
- Meat, fish and meat alternatives are largely a personal choice but don't be afraid to get more than you think you'll need. This food freezes well, staying good for up to a year.
As we mentioned above, there are a lot of products that you can buy in bulk to help save money (and skip a few extra trips to the grocery store):
- Extra virgin olive oil (or another neutral oil of your choice)
- At least one type of vinegar (balsamic, apple cider, red wine, etc.)
- Coffee beans
- Canned tomatoes or other veggies
- Canned or dried beans
- Nut butter
Learning how to grocery shop for one is a skill with a learning curve, so don't worry if you don't get it perfect on the first try. A few weeks of practice will help you figure out which things you need to buy on a regular basis, how often you'll cook and what types of meals and snacks are most convenient for your lifestyle. Once you get that down, you'll find creating a grocery list for one person isn't as hard as it might initially seem.