How to grocery shop in college

This story ran as part of a VCU Student Media Center summer special publication, The Compass, which serves as a guidebook for new students.

Iman Mekonen, Spectrum Editor

Grocery shopping can be hard, especially if you’re on your own in college for the first time. There are so many options, making the experience overwhelming and sometimes dreadful. Although it’s extremely easy to steer clear of the healthy foods and go straight for the junk, you need to do what’s best for your mind and body.

The school year is already tough, so your grocery shopping shouldn’t be. Here are some tips and tricks to guide you through the grocery store aisles to make sure you aren’t spending any extra time or money.


Where to shop: 

Kroger at 901 N. Lombardy St. is a little bit farther from campus, but it’s the perfect distance if you don’t want to travel far and need a bigger selection. There’s a section for produce and a pharmacy in this traditional grocery store. This option is perfect if you’re looking for a cheap and nearby option for some weekly shopping. Just be ready for crowds, as it’s the only grocery store within reasonable walking distance of many Richmond neighborhoods. 

Illustration by Lindsey Hart

If you’re looking to stretch your paycheck, Aldi at 927 Myers St. or Lidl at 4700 W. Broad St. are your best options. These pared-down grocery stores don’t offer a ton of name brands, but most shoppers end up spending a fraction of what they would at other stores. 

Target at 5401 W. Broad St. has a great selection not just for groceries, but for anything you might need for your dorm. The location has produce, clothes, electronics and a pharmacy. It’s the farthest of the bunch, but an easy 15 minute ride with the GRTC pulse to the Willow Lawn bus stop.  


What to shop for:

The key to shopping for food in a college dorm, or in general as a college student on a budget, is to buy items you can use in a number of ways. For example, bananas can be a snack on their own, a topping to cereal or oatmeal, or a smoothie ingredient. Other examples are eggs, potatoes, pasta, rice, fruit — such as strawberries, blueberries, grapes and apples — and meat, like chicken, fish, ground beef or black bean veggie burgers. Buying frozen veggies is more convenient than buying fresh individual produce. 

If you decide to start cooking, your first shopping trip will be the most expensive because you’ll have to buy all of the necessary base items and condiments. Some items to consider are hot sauce, peanut butter, parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and olive oil. You should always have some food in your dorm or apartment, preferably non-perishable. Some examples are ramen — for emergencies — applesauce, instant oatmeal packets, cereal and granola.


How to use your groceries:

If you don’t have a meal plan (or are tired of eating Shafer every night), you can meal prep for the week for a healthier and more affordable option. To do this, you will need to cook some kind of grain — pasta, rice or quinoa — pair it with a protein, like beef, chicken, fish, black beans or falafel, and vegetables, such as raw or steamed red peppers, asparagus or broccoli. Doing this at the beginning of the week saves you time when you might not be able to fit cooking into your schedule. 

Overall tips:

  1. Don’t shop when you’re hungry. You will end up buying too much and spending an unnecessary amount of money on non-essentials.
  2. Comprise a list of what you absolutely need and your favorite ingredients to cook with prior to your shopping trip. This will help you stay organized and on track.
  3. Go through your fridge once a week to clean out any old leftovers and make sure you don’t buy duplicates. 
  4. Purchase reusable containers. You never know when you might need to take some food to go or when you’ll need extra storage space. 
  5. Keep your pantry and fridge organized. Keep the most-used items on the shelves for easy access. A clean and healthy fridge is a clean and healthy life, right? 

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