You may be tempted to buy cheap, prepared meals, like ramen noodles or frozen microwaveable meals. But that’s what leads to the “freshman 15.” Don’t be overwhelmed by the prospect of preparing meals when you’re already a busy college student. Here are some tips on how to grocery shop:

  1. Make a plan. What meals or snacks do you want to eat over the coming week? Write those items down on a list! I keep a magnetic notepad on my fridge so when I use up an item, I can easily and immediately add it to the list. You could also keep a list on your phone with a “notes” app, so it’s with you at all times as you think of things to add. AnyList is great because you can share it with roommates so if someone’s stopping to pick up a few things, they know what the house needs. Here are some ideas to start your list.

  3. Be money smart. Look through the sale ad of the store you plan to visit, and plan your meals around things that are on sale. Some people recommend reviewing grocery store ads for several places and then traveling to 3-4 stores to get all your groceries at the cheapest price. But I’m not a fan because it burns gas and ain’t nobody got time for that.
  4. If you have a little cabinet storage room, buy staples that have a long shelf when they’re on sale: pasta, oatmeal, canned foods – you get the idea. And buy the store brand – it’s usually cheapest and you’ll quickly learn are only a few generic brand products that will truly taste weird (I can’t buy generic salad dressing or coffee – ewww).

    Have less meat. As a Midwesterner, this is my constant struggle: I grew up with a meat, potato, and vegetable at nearly every meal. But meat is expensive, and you can have protein in your meal in other ways. Think beans, eggs, quinoa…pairing these with a meal involving pasta, chili, or many Asian food dishes can give you those missing protein nutrients in other ways.

    Stop getting snacks at the gas station. Buy your case of pop or crackers or chips in a larger quantity at the grocery store and split them into reusable bags or containers for your snacks.

    Also, if you’re really willing to put in a little more time to find discounts, use a coupon app. I love the Ibotta app, where you earn cash back on purchases. I usually earn under $1 each week, but my persistence has so far led to me receiving a $25 Target gift card. Here’s a great blog post I found about how to grocery shop on a budget.

  5. Eat good stuff. Wasting your money on cheap, junk food like chips, cookies and boxed mac & cheese (which I LOVE, and it pains me to admit how terrible that yellow powder is for me) just makes you even more hungry – and fat. Healthy things are usually not in the center of the store – focus on the perimeter, which is where you’ll also find produce.Fresh fruits and veggies are most affordable during spring and summer months. But fruits that are typically affordable year-round include bananas, apples, and oranges. Affordable vegetables include carrots, celery, tomatoes, and lettuce. Also, frozen fruit and veggies are almost as healthy as fresh – and they won’t go bad. There’s nothing worse than throwing away food you just didn’t eat in time. And to avoid throwing food away…

  7. Learn how to buy produce. If you’re not sure how to buy fresh food, or even how to cut it (I learned how to cut a pineapple a few years ago, and it was fairly easy – and now I know I can’t live without fresh pineapple in my life), find a how-to YouTube video. Here are a couple tips to get you started:
    If you want to wait a few days to eat it, buy an avocado hard to the touch. A ready-to-eat avocado is soft to the touch. But a squishy avocado is too far gone.
    Green bananas will need to sit a few days until they’re ready to eat. Don’t be afraid to separate bunches of bananas (yes, it’s perfectly fine) so you have a mix of ready-to-eat yellows and some wait-to-be-eaten greens.

  9. Don’t forget breakfast. That may involve “adult” cereal (cocoa puffs and fruit loops just don’t provide stamina for your day), oatmeal with fruit, or granola & yogurt (not the fruity kind that is really more full of sugar – try Greek yogurt or read the label and look for fewer grams of sugar and more grams of protein). Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? So remember to add it to your list.


What other grocery shopping tips have helped you saved money or eat healthier?