Supermarket Smarts

Tips to use when grocery shopping for two.

Grocery shopping can be a chore, especially if you're stocking up for just two people. Supermarket aisles are filled with family-size this and economy-size that. Packages scream, "Contains 33% more!" but more isn't always better.

So you have to do a little detective work to make the most of your shopping dollars…and discover ways to reduce waste and save money. These ideas can help.

Before You Go

  • Plan your meals. A little planning will save you time and money in the long run. You'll be less likely to buy on impulse, and you'll cut down on waste. If you're on a special diet, you'll likely eat healthier, too.

    So take some time to come up with a menu for the week…or even two. (Don't forget to include snacks.) For some tasty menu ideas, visit

  • Make a shopping list. Jotting down a grocery list is time well spent if it eliminates extra stops at the store for items you forgot. Make sure your list includes the quantity of each item you need…especially if you're an empty-nester who hasn't quite kicked the habit of shopping for a family of four or more.

    Some people take the shopping list a step further and organize it according to the store layout.

    "I sketched out a layout of the store where I shop, writing down the food items I usually purchase from each aisle," notes Jodie Blanchard of Orangeburg, South Carolina. She even created a spreadsheet on the computer.

    "Now it's easier to make out my grocery list," she says. "The spreadsheet helps me remember what I need, and when I'm in the store, I don't have to go back and forth trying to find things."

At the Store

Each department of the grocery store offers downsized options for buying only what you need. Here's a tour:

  • Deli. This is the perfect place to get the two or four slices of cheese called for in a recipe or a small block of cheese you can shred yourself. (A 4-ounce block will give you 1 cup shredded.)

    You can also get a 1/4 pound (or any amount) of various sliced meats including pepperoni, salami, roast beef, corned beef and chicken. Delis also carry products like pickles, olives, dips and sandwich spreads.

  • Meat/Seafood. Get to know the butcher. At many stores, they will re-package items for you in smaller quantities. Some stores display individual pieces of meat in a refrigerated case, and you can buy as many as you need. Seafood can be purchased the same way.

    Remember, you can also purchase larger packages and divide them up for freezing when you get home. Make sure you wrap the meat airtight and place in a resealable plastic freezer bag. Write the date on the label of each package.

  • Produce. Most fruits and vegetables can be purchased by the piece. Keep in mind that some produce items, such as apples and carrots, keep longer than others. And some, like berries and peppers, freeze well.

    Another option is convenient bags of frozen fruits and vegetables, which allow you to take what you need and put the rest of the bag back in the freezer.

  • Dairy. Need eggs but not an entire carton? Ask your grocer if you can purchase a half dozen (half carton) of eggs. Or try liquid egg substitute. Each 4-ounce container is equal to 2 eggs, and the containers can be frozen.

    Also look for individual or quart-size cartons of milk and serving-size cups of cottage cheese. Remember, you can freeze packages of shredded cheese and sticks of butter.

  • Bakery. Instead of picking up a package of hamburger buns in the bread aisle, check the in-store bakery. Many have a bulk section where you can buy individual sandwich buns, dinner rolls and mini baguettes. You can also buy individual pastries from the display case.

More Good Buys

  • When possible, buy from self-service bins. Many stores have bins for not only bread and rolls but also for nuts, spices, trail mixes and granola.
  • When your favorite bread is on sale, don't be afraid to buy a loaf or two. You can store it in the freezer and take out individual slices as you need them. Thaw at room temperature or in the microwave.
  • The grocery store's salad bar lets you buy just enough fresh, cut-up veggies for that stir-fry…and you don't have to chop or slice! They'll cost a little more per pound, but it's worth it if you're in a time crunch.
  • Instead of buying a quart of milk or buttermilk whenever a recipe calls for one of them, get nonfat dry milk and dry buttermilk. They'll keep for a long time…and you won't have to cry over spoiled milk.

Check out your own supermarket for more smart shopping ideas. Knowing your options will help you make better food choices…and make grocery shopping a pleasant experience!