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Grocery Shopping For One: A Skill Teens Need to Learn

Once upon a time, my son’s typical daily food intake consisted of Froot Loops, milk, some carrots, and a healthy helping of Sour Patch Kids. While he did eat the rainbow, I’m pretty sure that’s not exactly what the doctors were envisioning.

Now, for the first time, my son is preparing his own meals as a rising college senior with no meal plan. To help him out, I enlisted him as my sous chef a few times so he could learn and observe. I also shared the idea of cooking enough for two meals so he could have leftovers.

But I neglected one key skill for cooking solo: teaching grocery shopping skills. The last time my son accompanied me to the grocery store was when he was too young to stay home alone, so when he called for some tips recently, I wasn’t surprised.

Here are some of the realizations I had as I talked my son through his shopping experience:

Grocery Shopping for One: 3 Tips

1. There’s nothing like real-life experience.

If you want your teen to successfully navigate a grocery store, watching “Guy’s Grocery Games” on the Food Network won’t cut it. Perhaps I enabled my kids too much by doing all the menu planning and grocery shopping, but suffice it to say that most kids operate on a need-to-know basis. Send them to the store with a list so that they can learn the basics—or even better, give your teen the occasional task of planning, shopping for, and preparing meals. Also, be specific about what you’re making—my son may know he wants chicken, but he doesn’t know what kind to buy (breasts versus thighs, etc.).

2. Food does not last forever.

The first time he went grocery shopping for one, my son bought two bags of green beans. He likes this vegetable and considers them budget-friendly and easy to cook. When he shopped again one week later, both bags were still in the fridge. This led to a discussion about expiration dates, the pros and cons of fresh produce, and the lesson that frozen vegetables are your friends.

3. Food storage bags are essential.

The most important item may be reusable food storage bags. Maybe you can’t eat storage bags, but you can use them to marinate chicken breasts, pack leftovers, and portion food for the freezer—all essential for maximizing your haul, especially when you are grocery shopping for one.

Looking for more ideas to teach your teen life skills?

Right now, my son is texting me from the store about what size plastic bags to get, whether to buy buns, and if he should try making salmon. in fact, I just received this text: “Gonna hit you with some questions when I get home. They might be stupid.” I’m ready for them.

Jody Podl

Jody has spent her life around teens, as a teacher and as a parent of three.

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