Sometimes Less is More

July 30, 2018 | Christine Hradek

couple grocery shopping

This month I challenged myself to investigate the pros and cons of individually packaged products. I see everything from pet food to cut veggies to medicine in individually-sized packages these days. Here is what I found as I looked at price, convenience, waste and some other factors related to individually-packaged foods.

  1. Price: My hunch was that the individual packages would cost more than buying larger containers. Interestingly, this is not always true. For example, I found animal crackers and graham crackers that had the same unit price whether I bought one large box or individual snack packs. Other items like salad dressing and baby carrots were up to 50% more expensive in the individual packages. If you would like to compare prices easily, try out the Unit Price Calculator in our Spend Smart. Eat Smart. App
  2. Convenience: The little packages are certainly handy. You can grab them for your lunch or a snack on the run with no trouble at all. It is also nice that individually packaged foods stay sealed in their package until you are ready to eat them, which reduces the likelihood of the food losing quality or going stale. Additionally, if you need to bring snacks to a children’s event, you can’t beat them for easy serving to many little hands.
  3. Waste: Individual packages often mean extra packaging and increased waste. I found this to be true and much of the additional packaging was not the type of plastic that my city will accept for recycling. This bothers me since one of my new year’s resolutions was to reduce the amount of single-use plastic I throw out.
  4. Some additional considerations: Small packages can help with portion control, which is a nice advantage. However, it is worth noting that some individual packages are larger than a single serving from the larger package. For example, the salad dressing I mentioned above came in little cups that were equivalent to 1 ½ servings from the full-size bottle. In that case, they may contribute to you eating more than you would have otherwise.

Overall, I think I will stick with buying most products in full-size packages. I will try to steal some of the convenience and portion control of the little packages by putting items for snacks and lunches in small reusable containers to start the week. Do you have any foods that you prefer in single-serve packages? Share with us on Facebook or Twitter!

Christine Hradek

Christine Hradek is a State Nutrition Specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She coordinates ISU’s programs which help families with low income make healthy choices with limited food budgets. Christine loves helping families learn to prepare healthy foods, have fun in the kitchen and save money. In her spare time, Christine enjoys cooking, entertaining and cheering on her favorite college football teams with her family and friends.

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