Grocery Shopping: What to get and where to get it

Online buying and delivery concept
Online buying and delivery concept

Having an effective grocery shopping plan is an art form. If this is the first time you’re living on your own, grocery shopping can feel intimidating, expensive and unorganized. This post is here to help you make your game plan for keeping your kitchen well-stocked on a college student budget. 


Knowing where to shop

College students should save money at every chance they get, so we want to choose a grocery store that offers the lowest prices. Several lifestyle blogs did the work for us, like Joyfully Thriving in The Cheapest Grocery Store—which analyzes the prices of items across Indiana. She found that Aldi has the lowest prices across the board, with Walmartat a close second. 

Aldi is a great place to buy your staples: home supplies like cleaners or toothpaste, canned goods, packaged snacks, and other baking or cooking essentials. The problems with Aldi are its limited selection and poor produce. Aldi keeps its stores small, which means it might be missing a couple items on your list, and while they do have a small produce section, many of it is at a lower quality. 

If after shopping for your staples and packaged goods at Aldi you find that you’re missing items on your list, your next cheapest option is Walmart. Walmart offers a much wider selection—especially with home goods and personal care items. If fresh, high-quality produce is important to you, produce sections at Walmart or Meijer may be a better fit. For the highest quality and more organic options, Fresh Thyme is your best bet—but is the priciest. 


The first grocery trip

Your first grocery trip after moving into your first apartment might be a shock, but there are a lot of kitchen essentials that you’ll need over a long period of time that need to be bought. It may seem like a big expense, but they’re called essentials for a reason. 

Even if you aren’t an avid baker or cooker, having a stock of basic spices and baking items is important, especially for a cozy night in for homemade pasta and chocolate chip cookies. You’ll also need the non-food essentials: paper towels, sponges, dish and hand soap, toilet paper. Aldi will have a small selection of these kind of items for a good price—especially spices and oils, which can get pricey. It’s important to buy your staples in bulk, that way your regular grocery trips can focus more on your weekly meals. 

Making a meal plan

The best way to make your groceries worth the money you spend, and to make them last, is to go into a grocery store with a meal plan in mind. This doesn’t have to be extensive or complicated, just 1-2 meal ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner—and what ingredients or items you need to last you 1-2 weeks. Here are a few simple ideas, sorted by meal:


-       Cereal

-       Yogurt and granola with fruit

-       Oatmeal (instant or homemade)

-       Eggs and toast

-       Banana

-       Avocado toast

-       Smoothie with frozen fruit and spinach

-       Packaged muffins or granola bars

-       Breakfast burritos


-       Deli meat sandwich

-       Grilled cheese

-       Peanut butter and jelly

-       Salad or salad wrap

-       Canned soup 

-       Pretzels, veggies or pita chips with hummus


-       Rice and choice of protein

-       Roasted vegetables (broccoli, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, asparagus) 

-       Pasta or ramen

-       Canned soup

For more meal ideas specifically tailored to college students, check out the 7-day College Student Meal Plan and Adulting 101: How to Meal Prep in College

Add your favorite snacks onto your list as well, like pretzels, chips, cookies, granola bars, to make sure that you’re well fed throughout a long day of classes or work. Finally, you will need something to drink every once in a while, so if you need a pack of sodas, energy drinks, cold brew or coffee, make sure to add it to your list as well. 


Sample grocery list

Everybody likes different food, so its impossible to create a catch-all grocery list for every college student living on their own for the first time. We’ve created a list of essentials to get your kitchen started, and the rest can be up to you.  Although grocery shopping on your own can be scary, now is the time for you to get anything that sounds good to you!

Meal essentials:

-       milk

-       eggs

-       cereal

-       bread

-       rice

-       tortillas

-       rolled oats

-       pasta

-       peanut/nut butter

-       yogurt

-       frozen fruit and vegetables

-       deli meat or your favorite meat substitute

-       canned beans and/or soup

Spices and Sauces

-       butter

-       olive oil

-       salt

-       pepper

-       garlic powder

-       onion powder

-       oregano

-       crushed red pepper

-       ketchup

-       mayo

-       sriracha

-       soy sauce

-       salad dressing

Baking needs

-       flour

-       sugar

-       baking soda

-       baking powder

-       cream of tartar

-       vanilla extract

-       maple syrup

-       honey

-       chocolate chips


-       apples

-       bananas

-       potatoes

-       broccoli

-       carrots

-       mixed greens

-       tomatoes

-       bell peppers

Home goods and cleaning

-       paper towels

-       toilet paper

-       dish soap

-       hand soap

-       all-purpose cleaner

-       toilet cleaner

-       glass cleaner

-       sponges


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