Over the years living as a single person, I’ve always found it a challenge financially and mentally to cook and plan groceries for one. I’d like to think that after six years on my own, I have mastered the art of grocery shopping. Whether you adopt one or all of my simple tips and tricks, it is possible to work your way to a cheaper, healthier grocery list.
The Freezer is Your Friend
This is one tip that I have recently picked up on, and boy is it life-changing! I have started freezing the majority of my leftovers for the past month, and it is a great way to save money. There’s nothing like walking in the door, popping your food in the oven and having dinner ready 15 minutes later. I have been able to cook less meals in a week, and buy less ingredients at the grocery store because of my freezer. I freeze everything:
- Leftover vegetables
- Cheese I can’t go through in a month
- Grab and go breakfast sandwiches
- Components of other meals (such as cooked shredded chicken)
- Whole meals like lasagna
One of my best tips for freezing is to choose the right container, and label properly. You don’t want food to sit in the freezer for more than a couple of months, so I usually write what the food is and the date I froze it. I buy dollar store tin foil containers that are ready to slide right in the oven, or I use glass containers for soup and sauces. One more thing: if you made a bomb ass sauce for a meal and there’s some leftover, DO NOT let it go to waste! Freezing leftover sauce is great way to bring added flavour to another future meal.
Look Over What You’ve Already Got
This is the biggest thing that people need to be doing before doing any meal planning. Oftentimes your pantry, fridge and freezer are good sources of leftover staples that need to be used up sooner rather than later, such as:
- Canned beans, like chickpeas
- Bagged, dried legumes like lentils
- Pastas, rice, quinoa, etc.
- Jarred tomato sauces
- Dairy products like milk, sour cream, cheese, etc.
- Frozen meats
- Fresh produce that will go bad in a few days
Make an inventory of the things that you have on hand that you can still use. Before you go out and make that Thai Green Curry Chicken that you have to buy 5 different ingredients for, maybe take those peppers that will go bad in 2 days, and make some quick Chicken Fajitas! Let what you bought last week factor into what you will make this week. Guaranteed to save you tonssssss.
Check What’s on Sale
I have to admit, I don’t really do this – in part because I’m lazy, and also because I get bombarded with grocery store flyers at my condo. If we’re being honest here, I just get frustrated with the sheer amount of paper stuffed in my mailbox and I end up throwing them all out. Okay, that’s my confession of the day.
Whenever I go home to Hamilton, my mom always makes a point of going through the flyers on Saturdays and checking out what the deals are on fresh produce, meat, seafood, pantry staples and frozen fruits and vegetables. At least five to six items usually perk her eye and she will make a list of what’s on sale that she intends on buying, and how that will factor into the meals she will plan for the week.
My motto on grocery store sales is a bit different from hers, though I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s better or more efficient. When I see something on sale, I will just grab two or three of the items and if necessary, freeze what I won’t be able to get at right away. For me, it’s usually bars of cheese, club packs of chicken breasts, pounds of ground turkey, or tubs of Greek yogurt. When broccoli goes on sale for 40 cents off, I don’t usually go out of my way to spring for it. But if your thing is grabbing deals on produce, you could save a noticeable amount if you go through flyers like my mom and plan accordingly.
Look at Your Calendar
I know that most meal planning gurus (okay, you’ve got me, I’m not a guru…) will tell you that you can plan to go grocery shopping only once a week, and that you can find ways to never go out to eat, etc. I’m not going to be that Debbie downer though. I mean, sometimes life and your cravings get in the way. There’s no shame in going out to eat, especially when you know that on Friday nights you really value picking up that rotisserie chicken, or laying back with a pizza.
The way that I get around this is looking at my calendar and seeing what I have planned for the week. At the moment, I mainly work from home and attend grad school twice a week. Outside of my day-to-day schedule, I know that I may be going out for drinks on occasion after work with friends, or I might have a media event to attend.
In this case, even if you don’t make dinner plans but know that you will be out during the day or evening within your schedule that week, you can plan accordingly – whether that’s going to be grabbing takeout on your way home from that after-work event, or whether it’s grabbing something from your freezer to put in the oven. In any case, don’t buy more groceries than you know you’re going to eat.
If you know realistically that you’re only going to feel like cooking four nights out of that week, then only buy four nights’ worth of groceries. You can always go back to the store mid-week if plans change, and the bonus with that is that you will have extra-fresh produce the whole week!
One of the best pieces of advice I can give about planning your grocery list is being realistic and flexible about your schedule, and your likes and dislikes. Don’t be one of those people who prepares Tupperware lunches and dinners for an entire week based off an idea you got from Pinterest, and then be sick of the same old chicken breast and sweet potato combination after about two days.
The same goes for leftovers. If you know that you only like your stews or casseroles when they are made fresh, and you despise them as leftovers (no matter how you’ve tried to reheat them!), then make sure you’re not going to be making a big batch that will later go in the garbage. To combat this, I love the idea of making single-sized versions of things you might be craving (but won’t eat as leftovers), like this single-sized French Onion Soup recipe.
Find Some Inspiration
Spend time looking through cookbooks and hunting for recipes on Pinterest and online. Some weeks you can just get into a funk and really not know what to buy, and novelty has a funny way of working with the human brain. If you can find new recipes that use up some ingredients you already have on hand, then why not use them to save you from buying more food that you most likely don’t need?
If you’d like to get more into meal planning this year and developing a cheaper, healthier grocery list each week, then I’ve got you covered even BEYOND this article. All you have to do is subscribe to my weekly newsletter (you can unsubscribe anytime), and then download what I use to plan my grocery list: my free weekly, printable meal planner! There are tons of slots for you to list the groceries you already have in your house, as well as an area where you can write down what you have planned for that week.
It’s super easy and straightforward and really helps me stay on track. Download yours here: