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Toronto, Canada

312 Adelaide Street West, Suite 301
Toronto, Ontario - M5V 1R2
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The Official Student Guide to Grocery Shopping

Written by Nicholas Duarte

Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris for CouponSnake

student guide to grocery shopping

Whether you’re a hardcore foodie or just looking for sustenance in between classes, you gotta eat something. And if you’re on your own for the first time, your parents aren’t gonna be there to help you out. Here’s everything you need to know about grocery shopping on a student budget.

Do you love food? I mean, do you really love food? Enough to go down the rabbit hole and watch those overhead cooking videos? For hours on end? You know the ones I’m talking about…the ones with the beautiful cheese PUUUUUUUUULL at the end.

Cooking and eating food can be a lot of fun. But grocery shopping, on the other hand…not so much. There are a number of factors to take into consideration when you go grocery shopping. It’s all about knowing that you’re buying what you need, in the right amounts, and for the right price.

Plan out your meals before you actually go grocery shopping.

This is the most important part of grocery shopping and I’m going to come back to it regularly.

You know that every day you need to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I try to make the same thing for breakfast and lunch each day. It can get a little boring, but it allows me to buy my supplies in bulk and gives me some quick food options. When planning your food for the week, ask yourself some of these questions:

How much time do I have each day for cooking?

This is important when you take into account class schedules. If you have evening classes, making an elaborate dinner every night probably isn’t very feasible. Instead, plan out meals that you can eat in class. Salads, sandwiches, wraps, and yogurt are some great options and you can find more here. You shouldn’t skip a meal just because you have class (and trust me, eating in class is not a big deal). The more you plan, the easier it will be to stick to a healthy eating schedule.

How much prep time do I need?

The actual cooking may be quick, but remember that cooking also requires prep and clean up. Factor these into your schedule. Certain foods take a lot of prep time while others can be very messy and will require more extensive cleanup.  

How many meals can I get out of this item?

This is where those food questions from math class come in handy. A box of Kraft Dinner is about $1.50 and makes 1-2 meals. A box of pasta, on the other hand, can make anywhere from 2-5 meals depending on your appetite. It’s also about the same price as Kraft Dinner, making it a better bang for your buck.

How can I make sure that I’m eating healthy?

Remember to work some essential items into your diet. Fruits and vegetables are important. It’s definitely easier, and cheaper, to live off of things like ramen and cereal, but you’re going to need a balanced diet if you want to function at your full potential. When it comes to fruits, apples and bananas are very cheap and can make for some really simple snacks. As for vegetables, buying a couple tomatoes to put on sandwiches, or adding things like spinach or mushrooms to pasta are small ways you can incorporate them. You can find some great tips for how you can eat healthy during a busy semester, here.

Make a list and stick to it.

I’ll admit, I can be a pretty impulsive shopper when it comes to food. I love to cook…I suck at it, but I love it. I’ll often go to the store and find myself wanting to try cooking some new dish that requires me to stray from my list of essentials. If you’re anything like me, having a physical list of items you need to buy will not only remind you of what to get but also of what you don’t need to get. This will save you both time and money.

Purchase a notepad and keep it in a readily accessible place in your apartment. On the front of your fridge is always a good location. Anytime you realize you’re running low on a particular item, jot it down on the notepad. Even jotting in on your phone will work. This will help you avoid those annoying moments when you come home from the grocery store and realize that you forgot something.

Create a budget.

Having an idea of what you’re willing to spend each week will keep your shopping habits in check. Personally, I set my cap at about $50 a week. This gets me enough food to make breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day. The amount you’re willing to spend may differ but the important thing here is consistency. Do your best to stick to this number and be willing to adjust it if you’re finding that it’s not sustainable. As I mentioned before, making a weekly grocery list and planning out your meals will help you keep this number consistent.

Plan for weeks that will exceed your normal spending limit.

This is usually caused by having to purchase various items that you don’t need to buy each week (toilet paper, shaving razors, shampoo, condiments, peanut butter, spices, etc.).

You’ll find that there’s usually one week every month when you’ll run out of three or four of these items at the same time. This may run up your grocery bill by an extra $20-25 that week. Don’t be alarmed. Just remember that you’re usually buying for the entire month in this case, so that money is going to good use.

Keep in mind how many mouths you’re feeding.

Take into account how many people are going to be eating each food item. When I started living on my own I would often find myself throwing out food because it would spoil before I could eat it. It’s another reason to plan out your meals at the beginning of the week.

Freezing your food is one way to get around large quantities of food spoiling. However, it certainly has its drawbacks. Frozen fruit and vegetables last longer but you’re giving up some of the freshness in favour of shelf life. Freezing bread is a great way to make sure that it lasts longer, but it also means defrosting it before every use. Buying frozen, pre-made meats is also an option, but you should take this suggestion with a grain of salt…literally because items like frozen chicken nuggets are often packed with sodium and preservatives.

Grocery shopping on your own will definitely take some time to get used to. Your purchasing habits are going to be in a constant state of flux as you try to accommodate your work schedule, dietary goals and budget. However, planning out your grocery trips using the tips above will help you enjoy buying food, just as much as eating it. Okay, that might be a stretch, but at least it’ll be less stressful and take up less time so you can get home and watch more of those cheese pull videos.

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