Many supermarket foods are packaged for families of four or more. But in a household with one or two, storing large amounts of food in the pantry doesn't always make sense.

With fewer people to consume the food, extra edibles may sit on the shelf longer and lose some of their quality. Smaller households may also have less storage space, or use some pantry space to store nonfood items. The good news is, an increasing number of food manufacturers are recognizing the demand from empty nesters, seniors, singles and others for foods sold in smaller serving sizes.

Some of the foods currently available in single-serve sizes include diced fruit, applesauce, pudding, gelatin, cookies, graham crackers, potato chips, pretzels and juice.

Less Is More

These handy, portable packages can be used for cooking, too. Need crushed cookies, pretzels or graham crackers for a small-scale dessert? Use a miniature package to avoid having leftovers.

Instead of buying a large jar of applesauce for baking, choose single-serve cups. Each serving contains about half a cup, the same amount used in many lighter recipes that substitute applesauce for some of the fat.

If you're planning a creamy fruit dip for one or two, turn to a single serving of pudding and combine with a little whipped topping. Single servings of juice are just right for blending a fruit smoothie…and small bags of potato chips can top a pared-down casserole.

Considering Costs

Convenience does come at a cost, however. When you calculate an item's unit price, it's often higher for an individual-sized package than a family-sized one. These tips can help keep your costs down:

  • Check supermarket flyers and newspaper ads for coupons and bargains on small-sized packages. Buy when the price is right, and plan your meals accordingly.
  • For foods you eat often, go ahead and buy the larger packages. You'll save money, and the food won't go to waste.
  • Have a friend or family member in a household of one or two? Consider purchasing economy- or family-sized packages and splitting them.

How Long in the Pantry?

Shelf-stable foods are safe to eat indefinitely; that's why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't require an expiration date on them. But flavor and nutritional value can deteriorate if a product sits on a shelf for an extended period. To lengthen the life of canned and other shelf foods, keep these tips in mind:

  • Store in a cool, dry place away from temperature extremes. Avoid keeping food above the stove or under the kitchen sink.
  • Don't buy badly dented or bulging cans. Avoid dusty packages or those with torn labels; they may be old.
  • Before buying a product, look for a "best if used by" or "use before" date. Buy only what you plan to use within the recommended time. Don't panic if you don't see a date stamp, though. Regulations vary nationwide, and many states do not require date stamps on canned goods.

To keep track of the age of items in your pantry, use a marker or pen to write the purchase date on canned goods each time you shop. The chart below will help you determine when it's time to "use it or lose it."