Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Grocery Shopping for One

I get a lot of questions about what I actually eat and how I grocery shop for the week. I think grocery shopping is a little bit of an art and a science, but after much trial and error I've figured out what works for me. 

My basic approach to grocery shopping for one is to figure out 2-3 "recipes" for the week (I use the term "recipes" loosely, because sometimes it's just chicken and a veggie), and then I stock up on my snacks and other essentials. To be completely honest, I usually pick recipes based on 2 things: what I'm craving, and how many ingredients I'll have to buy. Often, I'll choose "recipes" that I can eat multiple days in a row, and just vary them slightly throughout the week. In all, I probably spend about $50-60 a week shopping, maybe slightly more on weeks I'm stocking up on high ticket items like protein powder and laundry detergent.

Taco chicken chili (only 8PP or 366 calories for all of this goodness!)
This week I'll be eating:

  • Buffalo shrimp and bell peppers over brown rice
  • The remnants of my taco chicken chili (a la Skinnytaste)
  • Simple chicken and veggies. 
I don't nearly have the time/patience to coupon-clip, but pre-seasoned chicken breasts have been BOGO at my grocery store a lot lately, which explains why I've been eating a TON of chicken :)

My buffalo shrimp will be almost this exact dish, except with shrimp instead of chicken
Before shopping, I'll take inventory of the fridge and cupboards to figure out what I need to make my recipes throughout the week. Often, I'll work backwards from what I already have in order to meal-plan with some existing ingredients. The buffalo shrimp, for example, will be made with a pound of frozen shrimp I had leftover from a few weeks ago, brown rice I already have, and Frank's Red Hot that I also already have. If inspiration and/or motivation to cook are lacking, my go-to recipe is chicken or fish (tilapia is my favorite) and veggies, which almost always means green beans or broccoli. Simple, easy to cook, and very few ingredients required!

Typical grocery haul.
Next, I'll figure out what other ingredients I need throughout the week for breakfast and snacks. Before starting the Chicago Achiever's Project, I ate the exact same oatmeal for breakfast every morning, so that was easy enough. Now that I'm focusing on increasing my fruit/veggie and protein intake, I've been having smoothies for breakfast every morning. I try to stockpile extra frozen fruit (mixed berries, usually) when it's on sale, or even fresh fruit I can freeze myself if there's a special. I put yogurt and/or protein powder in my smoothies for extra nutrients. I also always always have bananas around, both for smoothies and snacks.

Eating cukes off paper plates since '89.
For snacks I always keep the same staples around:

  • Hummus
  • Tzatziki sauce
  • Carrots
  • Cucumbers
  • Green bell peppers
  • Apples
  • Better'n Peanut Butter
  • Yogurt
  • Almonds
  • String cheese

I don't buy all of these every week, but usually stock up on whatever I'm running low on, or whatever I'm craving. I've very much learned that failing to plan is planning to fail, so I always keep healthy snacks around. Keep your schedule in mind when snack-planning! For example, I'll bring a protein bar on Tuesday nights to munch on between the gym, Chicago Achievers Project meetings and home (since I won't get home until 8:30pm). Figure out when you'll be snacking, and what will work best for your schedule and eating habits.

So, that was a long-winded explanation for how I grocery shop! My disclaimer is that grocery shopping in the city is its own kind of beast. For example, I don't buy milk (so heavy to lug home, and I don't drink it anyway), or juice (again, heavy), and it's hard to buy big fruits like watermelon for the same reason. But if you adjust these tips to fit your own likes/dislikes, I think these general rules can work for everyone.

If I had to pick my top 3 grocery shopping tips, they would be:

  1. Make a plan. Some people need to plan every single meal throughout the week (props to those people, I'm not that organized!), or others just plan a rough idea of what meals to make. Either way, do not go grocery shopping without a plan; it's a huge timesuck, and you'll probably get home with a mishmash of random ingredients, of course missing that ONE thing you actually did need (not that I speak from experience or anything).
  2. Avoid the temptation aisles. As a general rule, the perimeter of the grocery store is usually filled with the highest quality ingredients: meals, fruits and veggies. The inner aisles are full of Chips Ahoy and bad decisions. If you can't trust yourself, don't go there. If you say no to tempting foods in the grocery store, you only have to say no once. If you bring the dangerous foods home, you'll have to say no every time you're in the kitchen.
  3. Don't shop while hungry! Unless you like tempting fate. If you shop on a full or semi-full stomach, you'll be much less likely to impulse-buy.
What are your best grocery shopping tips?


  1. I keep meaning to try Better'n Peanut Butter. Is it actually as good?

  2. I shop for 1 also and like you don't plan every single meal out. I just walked to the store a mile away yesterday. spent $25 wow walking with the groceries was challenging! I came home and weighed them-15 pounds of food. Crazy to think I use to be 55 pounds heavier!

  3. Thank you for sharing! I'm definitely going to have this post up when I make my very first grocery list coming up.