Last year as a freshman eating at the dining halls, I would always hear upperclassmen talk about how all they ever made for themselves was rice, pasta, mac and cheese, and of course ramen because meat and fresh produce are “too expensive.” I was literally dreading moving to an apartment and having to cook for myself. I thought, wow I’m going to have to live off of pasta and rice for the next three years. It made me super anxious because I thought I was just going to be bound to be super unhealthy and miss all of my favorite nutritious foods like peaches, spicy hummus and bell peppers, salmon, street-style tacos, and countless other food items that I was spoiled with when I went home mid semester last academic year because of the pandemic.
So as most college students do when they want to learn more about something, I did some research. I researched the average amount college students spend weekly on groceries, and found that on average, 60 bucks is sort of the middle ground between the wide range. That’s 240 dollars a month on groceries for one person. Keep in mind this doesn’t include going out to eat and the money you spend on happy hour drinks on the weekend. After I found how much we all spend on groceries for ourselves each week, I wanted to figure out how we could make the most of that 60 bucks and prove the rice and pasta college diet to be a choice, not the end all be all option.
Through hours of internet research, I found that the reason groceries can add up is because we pay for convenience. It’s convenient for us to grab the bag of lettuce that was prewashed, the hummus cups that are pre-portioned, the salad dressing that is mixed and made for you, the croutons that are baked and seasoned for you, the fruit bowls and veggie trays that are ready for you to eat instantly. Convenience is super appealing for us, but the fact of the matter is that we overpay for convenience when it comes to grocery shopping, when it really doesn’t take long at all to wash some spinach, make a basic salad dressing or pull the skin off the chicken. We all get trapped into impulse convenience purchases which gets us thinking that healthy foods are just “too expensive” and not a luxury that we have as college students. That is a total myth. I’m just going to go ahead and say it… the difference between the rice and pasta diet and the wholesome and moderation diet is laziness. If you make a meal plan, make your shopping list, follow the shopping tricks I have for you and stick to the list (meaning no impulse convenience purchases), you can eat whatever you want and not feel like a slave to the rice and pasta diet.
First things first, your grocery shopping budget needs to fit your finances, which typically should be no more than 15% of your monthly income. If you believe your budget for groceries is tight, I encourage you to look at your spending habits elsewhere. Do you spend five to ten dollars at your local coffee shop every single day? Might want to look at maybe limiting it to a couple times a week as opposed to every day so you can allocate some of that money to making your grocery budget more manageable.
So when you walk into the grocery store, the first thing I want you to have on your mind is “generic.” Generic can have a negative connotation, but really all it means is that they don’t spend so much money on advertising and branding so that they can provide you with products at a lower cost. Another word for generic is “in-store brands.” For example, if you shop at Super Target for your groceries, some of the in-store generic brands you should look out for in the grocery section include up & up, market pantry, and good & gather. You’ll want to keep an eye out for generic brands when you’re shopping for pre-packaged goods, such as condiments, yogurt, cheese, spices, frozen food, and really any type of food you would keep in the pantry like chips, pasta, canned food, bread, cereal, and so on.
When shopping for meat, there are a few ways to keep the cost down. First, look for frozen options. Frozen meat is cheaper because you have to de-thaw the meat yourself which takes time and is therefore less-convenient than purchasing meat that is not frozen. I like to stock up on No Name frozen salmon, burger patties, meatballs, and parmesan chicken. They are insanely easy to cook. All you have to do is take them out half an hour before you want to cook them, preheat the oven, and cook them for however long the directions tell you. It’s the equivalent of baking a frozen pizza. Takes little effort, is cheaper than grilling your own meat, and is absolutely delicious. If you can’t buy the desired meat frozen, buy it with the bone in and or skin on. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you trade cost for convenience.
When buying fruits, plan to buy simple fruits such as apples, pears, bananas and oranges fresh. They are less expensive than berries. I would recommend keeping the grocery bill down by buying your berries frozen. Root veggies such as carrots, turnips, and potatoes are cheap and perfect to add to your weekly shopping list. When buying leafy greens to make salads, make sure you DON’T buy anything “baby” such as baby arugala, and don’t buy anything prepackaged and pre-washed. Remember you pay more for convenience. There are many veggies you can buy frozen too, such as corn, peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and my favorite, edamame. Buying frozen veggies is also a great option because it lasts for forever in the freezer so you can stock up when there are deals.
Those are my tips for you on how to shop smarter at the grocery store and really get the most bang for your buck. A resource I would also recommend is to take a look at something called Imperfect Foods. It’s a business that collects all of the produce that grocery stores don’t want to put on their shelves because it looks funny or the packaging is damaged or outdated in some way, but the food is perfectly fine. Because of their imperfections, the business sells the products on super sale, getting even more bang for your buck. What’s super cool about them too is that they deliver right to your door, so you don’t have to worry about taking public transportation to the grocery store if you’re on a huge campus not within walking distance to a grocery store. They offer all options for all food groups, so you can literally get your grocery shopping done at one place which is super convenient.
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