A Solo Cook’s Guide to Shopping at Costco

What one Costco devotee buys and avoids on his coveted trips to the big-box store.

Published Sept. 20, 2021.

I love Costco. I’ve been shopping at my local store near Madison, Wisconsin, regularly for more than five years and, to me, there are few things better than a Saturday-morning trip, complete with copious product samples (at least pre-2020) and a cart full of items you never knew you needed. I also love that Costco pays employees a fair wage and has some of the best customer service around.

People typically think of Costco and other big-box stores as a necessity for large families. But as a single person who lives alone, I’ve found that it’s still worth the cost of a membership. However, there are some rules that you need to follow to make sure that you get your money’s worth and limit waste in your kitchen. Here's what I shop for—and what I avoid—on my trips to Costco.

Shopping the Pantry Goods Section

Costco carries many nut and seed butters that are sure to last as long as it takes you to get through them. Similarly, honey, agave syrup, and real maple syrup last for about a year once opened (and stored correctly), and the large-format bottles are cheaper than anything you can find in the regular grocery store. There are also pastas, grains, and oats that serve as a filling meal base, but you won’t have to worry about them expiring before you use them. If you consider alcohol a pantry good, Costco carries some of the best store-brand liquors for $15 to $20 less than the name brands.

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Shopping the Freezer and Refrigerated Sections

I never leave Costco without a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano. My Costco stocks the real deal, complete with Protected Designation of Origin seal and certification, for only $11.99 per pound! If stored correctly, it lasts for weeks in the fridge. Frozen fruits and vegetables are also a big hit. They are all individually quick frozen (IQF), so it’s easy to open up the freezer and grab a handful of fruit for my morning smoothie or cook up some vegetables as a quick side with dinner. Frozen appetizers and meal components are also a staple for single people. Costco stocks a wide variety of frozen dumplings, chicken tenders, and other items that make for a quick meal—especially if you have an air fryer (a single person’s go-to appliance).

Potential Purchases Based on Storage Space

There are a few items that I love to buy, but you have to be aware of the space they take up. I find Costco’s shelf-stable non-dairy milks, specifically almond and oat, really delicious, but they come in a pack of 6 individual quarts. I also really like to buy other items in bulk—canned tomatoes, jarred items (such as olives, pickles, and capers), and large-format sauces (such as barbecue, hot sauce, and Worcestershire)—but be aware of your cabinet limitations as many come in multipacks or taller-than-normal jars. Finally, their meat selection is exceptional and often includes USDA prime meat for a fraction of what regular meats cost in a traditional grocery store. However, the key is to have the space in your freezer in order to package in smaller portions. (We also recommend quick-chilling those smaller portions to prevent freezer burn.)

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Items I Always Avoid

Sadly, unless you’re able to commit to eating the same thing each meal for weeks, there are certain items that should be avoided. First, I always avoid spices. While they’re a good deal, no single person—or at least this single person—could possibly use a full quart worth of dried spices before they start to lose their flavor. One notable exception is saffron, which Costco carries in 1-gram jars for under $11—markedly cheaper than you can find anywhere else.

The next items I tend to avoid are breads, cereals, and chips/crackers. As a single person, or even a couple, it would be nearly impossible to consume these items before they stale. In a similar vein, I usually pass by the dairy section as it is incredibly hard to use the products before they spoil. Lastly, and most importantly, always avoid the salad mix or huge bags of produce. You may be able to get by buying apples, oranges, or other fruit that is relatively stable, but that salad mix will surely turn into a wilted mess in the back of your fridge before you can get it eaten.

Photo credit: Ramin Talaie, Getty

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