How To Shop At Costco As A Single Person

As a longtime Costco member and single-person shopper, I can certainly relate to the predicament of giant-sized food portions expiring long before my ability to consume them. Add to that the wrangling of supersized produce portions, army-sufficient condiment containers, and cheese blocks the size of a countertop toaster — all onto a boat for the often-choppy ride to my tiny island off the coast of Seattle. So why do I still faithfully do the Costco run on a regular basis, loving every minute of it?

It's because Costco shopping is an adventure, with secret branding, tasty samples around every corner, and prices so low that common sense triggers a deeply ingrained buyer's impulse. However, that doesn't have to mean endless tuna sandwiches or gorging on 3-pound bags of tortilla chips. Even a single-person household comes out ahead with some forethought and portion planning, bypassing the potential for food waste or buyer's regret.

There are some very good things and relatively bad things for a single person to buy at Costco. It all comes down to quantities, shelf life, your cooking skills, and the versatility of those products you're itching to take home. Will those fresh bulk-bakery items, 10-pound bags of apples, or family-sized trays of steaks work in more than one dish, and are you creative enough to sufficiently utilize what's perching so prettily (and largely) in your fridge or pantry? Here are some insights on single-person Costco shopping, and which products work — or don't.

Rotisserie chicken, a good cluck for your single-person buck

First up is the cult-classic star of the Costco deli, a rotisserie chicken. It's famously one of the most affordable take-home dinner items, served piping hot and ready to go. But let's face it; a single person isn't likely to eat an entire chicken in a solitary sitting. The USDA recommends consuming cooked chicken within three to four days, even when sufficiently refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. This makes leftovers a reality — a very delicious one when planning ahead.

As you carve up the Costco rotisserie chicken for dinner, go ahead and cut sandwich-ready slices for next-day lunches, or dice some dark meat and veggies for a nutritious, comforting pot of soup. If taco night is on your weekday menu, pre-cooked chicken gives a major head start. Just shred some leftover chicken, sprinkle with taco seasoning, and slide into a corn tortilla. Alternatively, turn it into nacho heaven, or sizzle up a chicken quesadilla. Both are good opportunities to use that gargantuan bag of shredded Mexican cheese you might have slid into your Costco cart.

Other ideas for rotisserie reinvention include chicken pot pies, casseroles, burritos, and chicken salad. The key is careful planning to avoid food waste, which can also mean utilizing your freezer. For easy identification, head to the kitchen tools aisle of Costco to find affordable freezer-friendly glass containers with see-through glass lids and silicone rims. Freeze in single-portion sizes to avoid excess thawed food.

Frozen Costco food for quick pull-out portions

While it's obviously possible to freeze portions of anything you purchase, the source buyers at Costco make it pretty easy to follow their lead. Yes, the bags of frozen food at Costco are supersized, but freezing extends the shelf life of countless items, making them a long-term solution for readily available food at home. Many items, such as burritos or mini pizzas, are frozen in ways that allow removing single portions as needed.

Compared to buying in-season blackberries, peaches, Brussels sprouts, or broccoli, you'll have year-round access at much lower prices when snagging a big frozen bag of them at Costco. Since many fruits and vegetables are frozen at just-picked flavor heights, they can even be fresher and more nutritious than ones traveling long distances from field to market to home kitchens. Freezing does alter the texture, but they're ideal for making quick smoothies, glazes, purees, and berry pies.

The same accessibility and affordability applies to Costco favorites such as frozen burgers, plant-based alternatives, and salmon or tuna patties. Just thaw out a patty, along with one of the 18-pack buns you froze from the bread section, and dress it up for a quick meal. Seafood from Costco freezers, including shrimp and fish, also makes it easy to pull out single servings. Those large frozen quantities also facilitate impromptu outdoor barbecues for neighbors and friends.

Costco pantry staples and snacks have extended expiration dates

Pantry items at Costco are another thumbs-up for solo meals, mainly because of the extended shelf lives of canned and packaged foods. Many of them come in multi-packs rather than one gigantic can or bag, meaning you aren't opening large portions of food that will start to deteriorate once exposed to air. For example, canned Spam from Costco comes in eight-packs of 12-ounce tins, allowing users to open a single tin as needed. Similarly, a 28-ounce jar of organic peanut butter, about the same size as supermarket versions, comes in a two-pack — just open one at a time as needed.

That's not to say all Costco pantry staples are available that way, including those mondo-sized bags of chips meant for large families — which inevitably end up inside single-person tummies. Fortunately, they also come in compact 1.5-ounce snack bags, sold in quantities of 30, 50, or 64. You'll still save money over standard supermarket prices.

Chips, snacks, crackers, candies, and nuts are designed to last a while, but check best-by dates to ensure they'll stay optimal for longer-term use. Staples such as white rice and dried beans will likely come in larger sizes at Costco but can last for at least a couple of years before losing nutrients or flavor. Not so for large bottled juices, condiments, or coffee beans, which generally need to be consumed more quickly for ultimate enjoyment.

Vitamins and health products at Costco

Vitamins, supplements, protein powders, probiotics, and myriad health enhancers land squarely in the "worth it" category for solo Costco shoppers. Compared to buying the same products elsewhere, the larger volumes available with a Costco membership keep the prices down. They may not be the best bet if you make a one-off purchase and only need a small amount. But for routine supplement use with reasonably long expiration dates, it's a no-brainer.

When buying things like pre-mixed protein shakes, they'll typically come in the same single-portion drink-box sizes sold at standard venues — but with a larger quantity of the drinks packaged for a lower per-drink price. For example, you might find 18 boxes of 11-ounce Orgain plant-based chocolate protein shakes for about $36 at Costco, amounting to about $2 per box. The same product sells on Amazon for roughly $2.50 per box. As long as you verify the expiration dates on Costco single-drink boxes, you'll be good to go, with some extra cash in your pocket. Some supplement drinks last longer than others; if in doubt, opt for protein powders, which can last up to two years after production dates, depending on the manufacturer.

For medications, such as pain relievers and cold meds, again, you'll be buying in larger bottles at Costco. This may not be cost-efficient if they expire before you use them. But they're still a lower per-dose price, so consider doing some cost-share buying with a neighbor or family member.

Costco household supplies optimize your budget

This part is not food-based unless you count having a clean and well-stocked kitchen as related. Regardless, it's definitely worth mentioning that household supplies come in handy, cost-saving sizes that ensure you never run out. That not only includes cleaning products but also kitchen supplies such as paper towels, napkins, paper plates, picnic utensils, campfire fuels, insect repellants for outdoor barbecues, and much more. Since these items seldom expire, even single shoppers save time and money by stocking up in large Costco sizes.

And let's not forget the bigger-scale supplies that have only secondhand links to food, such as the ability to arrive at Costco for grocery shopping. We're talking discounts on vehicle batteries, tires, and substantially lower gasoline prices. There's also the Costco optical department for discounted eye exams, glasses, and contacts, as well as large clothing sections and current electronics, some with Costco extended warranties and a Costco tech-support hotline.

All those things carry big advantages for single-person memberships, as they rarely, if ever, involve bulk buying. And they're available under the same roof as all those fresh, frozen, and pantry foods. Finally, there's the Costco food court. It hosts the famous hot dog combo: a quarter-pound all-beef hotdog and a 20-ounce drink for an unchanging $1.50, drink refills included.

What to leave behind when shopping at Costco

Unfortunately, shopping at Costco as a single person does have some limitations, mainly involving issues of freshness. That includes dairy products, which come in the same larger sizes as other foods, but expire much more quickly. Milk, eggs, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, and soft double-cream cheeses are all best left to family or business shoppers. Hard cheese is a potential exception since some last longer than other dairy products. However, once opened, introducing air and moisture, they'll start deteriorating, possibly sooner than you'll consume them.

Piled-high bins of field-plucked produce are hard to resist, but buying fresh fruits and vegetables at Costco generally isn't compatible with single-meal consumption. The portions are just too large for eating in a reasonable amount of time. However, with time and inclination, you can definitely blanch or directly freeze summer fruits and vegetables, particularly varieties such as blueberries, corn, peas, green beans, and zucchini. Otherwise, bypass things ordinarily eaten raw, such as lettuce, radishes, and cucumbers.

Buying meat at Costco is sadly questionable for single shoppers who aren't hosting a dinner or barbecue. The meat section brims with pork chops, steaks, lamb, and seafood — all in large quantities. But many are easy to divide and freeze the extra portions, including cutting a rack of ribs or forming ground beef into freezable patties. If you cook at home often enough, it might be worth investing in a vacuum sealer or standalone chest freezer — also available at Costco.