10 Tips for the Single Grocery Shopper

Super solo shopping and dining can be a cinch.

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Just one mouth to feed in your house? I remember those days fondly sometimes. Like when I have a hungry husband and two testy teens barking, "What's for dinner?," the minute I walk in the door. Or when my groceries total $200, and it's only been a few days since my last shopping trip.

I hope you're celebrating your singleness by feeding yourself well (and by "well," I mean with health in mind most of the time). Many singles say it's a challenge to shop and cook for one. Recipes are usually designed with a family in mind. You buy bread in loaves, cereal in large boxes, and eggs by the dozen.

On the other hand, frozen entrees, yogurt, and some frozen desserts are available in single servings. Fruit and vegetables can also be bought by the piece instead of the pound.

The grocery store truly can be a treasure trove of food opportunities for the single person. Here are 10 tips for super solo cooking and dining:

1. Freeze extra bread. Whenever you buy whole-grain bread, sandwich rolls, or hot dog or hamburger buns, take out what you need for the next few days, and freeze the rest. When you need more, just take it out of the freezer an hour ahead of time. Breads thaw quickly.

2. Smoothies are, by design, single servings. Keep frozen fruit and yogurt or light vanilla ice cream on hand for a last-minute smoothie. They're great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a snack.

Embellish the Soup

3. Canned soup is an easy meal for one. Some canned soups are better than others in flavor and nutrition. Find the ones you like and keep some in the pantry. You can embellish them by adding frozen or fresh veggies, or topping with green onions, fat-free sour cream, freshly shredded Parmesan, and etc. Make soup a meal by grilling a slice of whole-grain cheese bread, or serving a roll or whole-grain crackers on the side.

4. Pasta is a perfect entree for singles. If you use fresh packaged pasta or tortellini/ravioli, boil what you need and freeze the rest. If you use dry pasta (try the new whole-wheat blends!), boil as much as you need and store the rest in your pantry. Another option is to make two servings of pasta and have the leftovers for lunch the next day. Cold pasta salad makes a lovely lunch, or you can microwave leftover pasta for a hot lunch. For easy sauces, try bottled marinara, store-bought pesto, or just a drizzle of flavored olive oil and some shredded Parmesan.

5. Throw together a lunch or dinner salad. Those triple-washed bags o' salad make salads a cinch! Buy a bag of the spinach or romaine salad greens for the most nutrition, then add any or all of the following:

  • Dried fruit.
  • Roasted nuts.
  • Fruit. Try fresh berries or pears, or a can of mandarin oranges.
  • Ready-to-go veggies like cherry or grape tomatoes; sugar snap peas; sliced, shredded or baby carrots. Or slice up some cucumber, zucchini, or bell pepper.
  • Canned beans (kidney, black, or garbanzo). Just rinse and sprinkle them on top. You can even buy 8-ounce cans, the perfect size for a single serving.
  • Cheese. Buy it pre-sliced, -shredded or -cubed, or cut it yourself.
  • Water-packed tuna. Just open a can, drain the excess water, flake, and toss it in.
  • Cooked shrimp. Get them in the frozen section, or buy fresh from a grocer you trust.
  • Sliced turkey, roast beef, or roasted chicken from a nearby deli or supermarket deli.
  • Light salad dressing. Keep bottled favorites in your refrigerator, or just drizzle a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the top

Better Frozen Entrees

6. Frozen entrees are an easy alternative. The trick is finding those that are both tasty and higher in fiber and nutrients. This might require going to a nontraditional grocery. I have found interesting options at Whole Foods markets, for example. Here are some of my frozen picks:

  • Mini Bean & Cheese Taquitos (Whole Kids Organic) One box = 1 serving = 12 mini taquitos contain: 290 calories, 4.5 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 610 mg sodium, 54 grams carbohydrate, 11 grams fiber, 11 grams protein. Vitamin A: 8% Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), Vitamin C: 4% RDA, Calcium: 15%, Iron: 30%.
  • Cheese or Chicken Enchiladas (Whole Kitchen brand) One box of chicken enchiladas (2 enchiladas) contains: 310 calories, 8 grams fat, 3 grams saturated fat, 35 mg cholesterol, 610 mg sodium, 42 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 16 grams protein. Vitamin A: 20% RDA, Vitamin C: 6%, Calcium: 20%, Iron: 6%.
  • Sesame Soba Noodles (Whole Kitchen brand) with Tofu & Asian-style Veggies 1 bowl has: 230 calories, 4 grams fat, .5 grams saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 430 mg sodium, 35 grams carbohydrate, 14 grams protein, 4 grams fiber. Vitamin A: 25% RDA, Vitamin C: 8%, Calcium: 15%, Iron: 20%, folate: 20%.
  • Pad Thai with Tofu (Whole Kitchen brand)1 serving (bowl) has: 340 calories, 14 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 g trans fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 490 mg sodium, 9 grams protein, 3 grams fiber. Vitamin A: 25% RDA, Vitamin C: 25%, Calcium: 10%, Iron: 10%.
  • Amy's Pocket Sandwiches (in flavors like Soy Cheese Pizza or Tofu Scramble)1 pocket (Tofu Scramble) has: 180 calories, 6 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 520 mg sodium, 23 grams carbohydrate, 11 grams protein, less than 1 g fiber. Vitamin A: 4% RDA, Vitamin C: 20%, Iron: 4%.
  • Amy's Tofu Vegetable Lasagna 1 entree has: 310 calories, 11 grams fat, 2 grams saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 680 mg sodium, 41 grams carbohydrate, 13 grams protein, 6 grams fiber. Vitamin A: 60% RDA, Vitamin C: 35%, Calcium: 10%, Iron: 25%.

7. Healthful bagged or boxed frozen foods come in handy. Just use part of the bag or box for your single serving, then put the rest back in the freezer for another meal. Here are a few of my favorite finds from Trader Joes:

Chicken & Vegetable pot stickers (Trader Joe's brand) 1/3 of a 16-ounce bag, about 1 meal-size serving, has: 240 calories, 11 grams fat, 3 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 670 mg sodium, 24 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, 12 grams protein. Vitamin C: 6% RDA, Calcium, 2%, Iron: 10%.

  • Frozen Mini Cheese Pizzas (Bambino Pizza Formaggio) 1 mini pizza has: 250 calories, 8 grams fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 460 mg sodium, 30 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 15 grams protein. Vitamin A: 6% RDA, vitamin C: 4%, Calcium: 20%, Iron: 10%.

  • Frozen fried rice (Trader Joe's Nasi Goreng) 1/3 of a 16-ounce bag (1 serving) has: 130 calories, 0 grams fat, 0 grams saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 530 mg sodium, 28 grams carbohydrate, 1 gram fiber, 4 grams protein. Vitamin A: 45% RDA, Vitamin C: 8%. NOTE: You can add other foods to this, like chicken breast, tofu, scrambled egg, etc.

  • Amy's Chicago Veggie Burger with cheddar cheese (or other Veggie Burgers like Garden Burger brand) 1 burger has: 160 calories, 5 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 390 mg sodium, 20 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 10 grams protein. Vitamin A: 30% RDA, Vitamin C: 4%. Calcium, 8%, Iron: 10%. Note: this brand is available at Whole Foods and other markets; Garden Burger is available at many supermarket chains.

  • 8. Invest in "use as you go" sauces and marinades. Making sauces and marinades can take quite a chunk of time. So keep bottled or frozen versions on hand and just use what you need, when you need it. You can find some tasty bottled marinara sauces, and frozen and refrigerated pesto. For marinades or grilling sauces, try bottled salad dressings or marinades. Just keep leftovers in the fridge (or freezer, if you're using frozen types).

    9. Some breakfast items lend themselves to single servings. It's easy to whip up one serving of French toast, toasted bagel, omelet or scrambled eggs, hot or cold cereal, even hash browns. (Buy a bag of frozen hash browns with 0 grams of fat per serving, and heat up just as much as you need in a nonstick frying pan coated with a teaspoon of canola oil.)

    10. For other breakfast items (like pancakes, waffles, and muffins), make half a batch and freeze what's left. So instead of making pancakes using 2 cups of pancake mix, you'd use 1 cup of mix and cut the rest of the ingredients in half, too. If the directions call for 1 egg, add half of a beaten egg (2 tablespoons) or 2 tablespoons of egg substitute. If the muffin recipe makes 12 muffins, enjoy two for breakfast, save two for tomorrow's breakfast, and freeze the other eight for another time. Just pop in the microwave for 30 seconds to warm up, or take the frozen muffins with you to work -- they'll be thawed by your coffee break!

    Published August 25, 2006.

    Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, is the "Recipe Doctor" for the WebMD Weight Loss Clinic and the author of numerous books on nutrition and health. Her opinions and conclusions are her own.

    ©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.


    According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer

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