Just the two of us (we can shop well if we try).
Maybe you’re a young cook, newly committed to someone you care about. Perhaps you’re an experienced cook in a stable relationship.
Newsflash! Grocery shopping for two in a period of rising inflation and dwindling value—while ensuring your food is delicious, healthy, and easy to cook—takes a little finesse.
Turns out, there are a number of contributing factors that influence the way we shop, cook, and eat. The media, food manufacturers, recipe developers, fitness experts, and even your family have shaped the home cook you are today.
Once you recognize some of the patterns associated with your home cooking experience, you’ll be better equipped to shop smart, eat intentionally, and refresh your grocery game.
First, let’s examine what has shaped your perspective thus far.
Average Households in a Bulk World
Watch any popular cooking show today and you will see ranches, farms, and other multi-person dynamics that lull the home cook into thinking that, at any given time, they should be prepared to cook for a crowd. The media seems to think we all love to cook mass quantities. Not so much.
Did you know that the average household is only 2.51 people?
In fact, household size has been on a steady decline since the 1960s, with a staggering 34% of homes in 2021 at just two people. And yet, there is a big box store in every neighborhood, beckoning us to buy 5-gallon tubs of mayo.Why are we shopping like we’re stocking warehouses?
Ah, a complicated question with a multitude of answers.
First, Blame Big Food
Most of us are conditioned that the more we buy of something, the less we spend per unit. Basic economics aside, the typical consumer has been brainwashed by food manufacturers (AKA Big Food) to think that they should buy everything in bulk, from avocados to pasta.
If you’ve been cooking for a while, this code has likely become embedded into your grocery buying behavior for decades.
Next, Blame Cookbook Authors
Ever wonder why most American recipes are written for about 6 servings? If the average household has about two people, does this mean most couples are cooking triple? Are they in cahoots with Big Food?
Something’s not adding up.
Then, Blame Meal Planners
Fitness experts, dieticians, and even the government proclaim that cooking meals in advance, also known as meal planning, helps us lose weight, ensure proper nutrition, and save money.
What they never seem to tell you, though, is that meal planning is only as good as meal eating. Stated otherwise, it’s all about execution, baby! Most well-intentioned home cooks are meal planning their groceries right into the trash.
And, Don’t Forget Your Family
As kids, we are naturally observant beings. If your dad always bought a roast two pounds bigger than your family needed, just so he could make roast beef sandwiches the next day, chances are you’re not buying the tiniest roast in the pile.
After all, our elders figured this out decades ago, right?
What’s the Connection?
Cooking for two has inherent challenges:
We’re conditioned to overbuy. The recipes we find online and in cookbooks are written for households of 4-6, which make us overcook. When we overcook, we disguise it as meal planning.
But if we mis-plan, we are in jeopardy of wasting food. To avoid wasting food, we overeat. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat…
Ask yourself this: is bulk-buying, overcooking, and meal planning really working for you?
Nostalgia, habit, auto-pilot, routine—each is a potential barrier to rebooting your buying behavior. As a wise sci-fi character once said, “You must unlearn what you have learned!”
Break the Cycle
Now that you recognize the cycle, you have the power to break it. Here are a few tips to ensure your long-term success:
- Portion and serving size are not the same. Portion is determined by you and is the amount of food you choose to eat. Serving size is determined by the food manufacturer or recipe creator and is finite.
- Shrinkflation, the same price for less product, is real. The ingredients you often buy may already have shrunk. Check the weight.
- Learn the seasons. Seasonality of produce affects availability, price, and taste. The shorter the distance between the farm and your plate, the lower the carbon footprint and the fresher the product.
Shopping and Cooking for Two
Shopping and cooking for two in a period of rising inflation are within your grasp. It is entirely possible—and easy—to cook healthy, delicious food for you and your other half. Here are three steps to up your grocery game:
#1 Shop intentionally
Aspirational shopping (e.g., I really should be eating carrots) sounds good, in theory. But part of intentional shopping means getting real about what you will commit to eating. In advance of each grocery shopping excursion, decide which recipes are realistic for you to cook; then choose your ingredients accordingly.
#2 Cook FOR two
Until the bloggers, recipe developers, and cookbook authors catch up to us, the ball is in our court. We have to do fractions, hire math tutors, or at least find the calculator on our phone to recalibrate recipes from four to six servings down to two servings. Or, just do what smart couples do and invest in a few cookbooks for two.
#3 Eat as a team
When you’ve prepared a meal for someone you love, no matter how long you’ve been together, you should enjoy it together. This may be as simple as offering a bite to your partner in front of the stove before you leave for the gym, or as romantic as linens and candlelight under the stars.
But when it’s time to eat, let nothing, nor anyone, ruin your moment.
That’s nice, but…
The public perception is that couples have it easy: disposable income, unlimited time, and a life completely devoid of stress. The truth is, you and your significant other are battling a global, commercial framework that assumes your household is double its size. This means that controlling costs, and eating within your means, lays squarely on your shoulders.
Until the food and beverage industry acknowledges—and responds to!—the decades-long trend of dwindling household size, we have to recalibrate our buying behaviors at the grocery store, as well as our cooking practices at home.
Shop in the moment. Cook in the moment. Eat in the moment.