You’re on your own for the first time and along with washing your own dishes (what? No dishwasher?) there is the inevitable trip to the grocery store for what I like to call “single-serving shopping.” Grocery stores have done a good job of marketing large quantities of food, making it difficult for the solo chef to shop. But there are ways not to waste food, money or packaging. Read on!
Don’t shop when you’re hungry. You’ve heard it before, but how about also: don’t shop when you’re depressed, don’t shop when you’re stressed, and don’t shop when it’s that time of the month. Ever gone to the grocery store for milk and come back with tortilla chips, gummy bears and ice cream instead? The snacks either end up in the trash or your stomach. So save the cravings for midnight delivery.
Pull from the back. I used to work at a milk stand and we would always stock the freshest milk in the back so when customers pull from the case, they’re getting rid of the older stuff first. For food like eggs, milk, cheese, yogurt and OJ, grab from the back if you can avoid a scene of toppling milk cartons. It’ll last longer, especially if you’re one person and eating or drinking it more slowly.
Don’t shop for a “surprise guest.” Remember, you’re shopping for just you. It’s nice to have visitors, but not when they raid your cabinets. A bag of chips and salsa should suffice for the average study date and if not, suggest meeting at a cafe. Remember, your dorm room is not your grandma’s house. Friends don’t expect to be stuffed with tea and crumpets when they visit.
Make note of your cravings. If you notice that you crave a certain food a lot, make sure you stock your pantry with it. If you never really want to eat something (even if you think you should), don’t buy it.
Use the deli. Cheese doesn’t always come in single-wrapped slices or dice-size cubes. You can get smaller, fresher portions of cheese or cold cuts at the deli.
Buy meat in bulk. On that note, if you’re a carnivore – or you’re cooking for a guy all the time – the best way to keep meat fresh is to freeze it. So be a man and buy that five-pound pack of raw chicken! You can individually wrap the breasts in plastic wrap. Make sure they are airtight, then place them in a single layer in a Ziploc bag and freeze.
Buy your produce at a farmers’ market when possible. Check out www.localharvest.org to search for farmers ‘markets in your area. They are fresher, cheaper, better for the environment, and you can hand pick exactly what you want. Need one potato? That’s okay. One onion? Why not choose the size? One grape? Now that’s going a bit too far.
Count when you buy. You obviously don’t want to eat oatmeal every day of the week. So figure out how many servings are actually in the package and factor that into your spending. A can of old-fashioned rolled oats, a pack of six bagels and a box of cereal can be breakfast for almost three weeks!
Go shopping every week. Choose a day and make it your grocery day. Sunday works well. It’s a relaxing way to start off the week, especially if you go with friends. You don’t need to buy a lot every week, just enough to get you through classes, work outs, and assignments for the week. You’ll soon get into a rhythm.
Buy in bulk. It used to be just the co-ops and the international stores, but now mainstream groceries stores have bulk sections as well. So break out your Birkenstocks and fill a bag with rice or dried pasta. It’s cheaper, and for items that don’t go bad, why not stock up?
Alexia is a recent grad living in Lancaster, PA. She loves to travel, experiment in the kitchen, and shop locally. The best breakfast she’s ever had is Swedish Oatmeal Pancakes.