So you’ve moved out of the dorms and settled into your first apartment, equipped with your own room, private bathroom, and full size kitchen… however, the only action your kitchen has seen thus far is making the occasional microwavable meal consisting of mac and cheese and leftover takeout. Shopping for groceries is intimidating to many students, but here are a few tips to optimize your Wegmans, Trader Joe’s, or Tops shopping experience, while maintaining a budget and making healthy choices.
- Set a budget – and plan on going to the grocery store about once a week. If you can last an entire month (or two) on a single grocery run, then it is likely you’re purchasing processed goods instead of whole, real foods. Figure out how much you are willing to spend on food per month, and then divvy this amount up by the number of times you’ll hit the grocery store – and stick to this number.
- Shop the perimeter of the store, except for a few staple items. The perimeter of the store shelves the fresh items – milk, eggs, produce, yogurt, and fresh meats. Take a detour into the inner aisles when grabbing dry items like rice and quinoa, condiments like salsa and mustard, or for frozen items such as berries, fish, or veggies.
- Know which foods have a longer shelf life than others and buy these in bulk; for the other items, buy these weekly. Fresh fruits and vegetables will need to be eaten relatively soon after their purchase date, so buy only what you think you will eat in a week. Buy cereal grains and nuts in bulk to save money, but stick to only two to three avocados per grocery haul.
- Have a snack before shopping. The cardinal rule for grocery shopping is to never shop hungry. When your stomach is growling, suddenly the bags of candy down aisle 4 look much, much more appealing.
- Avoid pre-packaged snacks, pre-sliced fruits and vegetables, or pre-seasoned These items are convenient, but they’re often much more expensive than the their whole or unseasoned versions. Buy large bags of nuts and dried fruit and portion them out into baggies yourself, cut an entire cantaloupe or other fruit into slices and store in a Tupperware, and buy seasonings to add to your meats. The price of these convenience items is not worth the small save in time they offer.
- Browse recipes before planning a grocery trip and make a list of the required ingredients. This may sound obvious, but you’re more likely to actually prepare and cook a meal from a recipe if you plan for it ahead of time. Don’t get stuck without the ingredients necessary to cook yourself dinner and end up ordering Chinese delivery for the third time in one week.
- Find inspiration from these time-saving staple items:
- Plain Greek yogurt – Buy the large 32-ounce containers rather than the individual cups to be eco-friendly and save money. Stir in frozen fruit, nut butter, or your favorite nuts and dried fruit to make a quick breakfast.
- Rotisserie chicken – Pre-cooked meats are a great option for quick meals without the hassle of defrosting, seasoning, and cooking meat.
- Eggs – Buy a dozen and hard-boil half for an easy grab-and-go snack.
- Nut butters – Peanut, almond, cashew, you name it. Slather it on apples or bananas, blend it into smoothies, or dip celery sticks into a jar of it for a filling, heart-healthy snack.
By Julie Kameisha