Budget Grocery Shopping: College Student Tips

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When it comes to grocery shopping, college students and their parents have a difficult challenge. It is hard enough to find healthy, affordable food for the average family, let alone a college student juggling classes, a part-time job, and homework to boot.

Luckily, a few guidelines can shorten shopping time and keep grocery bills light, easing parents' worries and leaving more money for tuition and other expenses.

Re-Imagining Dorm Life

The cliché college freshman dorm is littered with empty pizza boxes and fast food wrappers: these foods are cheap and quick. But, while fresh produce can be pricey, shoppers can save significantly by researching which foods are in season in their area.

Items like squash, kale, and asparagus are all nutritious alternatives when vegetables like tomatoes are out of season. Local famers’ markets also provide in season foods, save on overhead costs, support the local economy, and decrease the environmental impact of students’ food.

Buy Smart: Buy Frozen

If the winter blues have you craving summer favorites or fresh produce is just too expensive, canned or frozen foods are always a good choice. Frozen vegetables are often picked and packaged at the height of freshness, not weeks before like the fresh produce. This will heighten flavor, increase shelf life, and pad your wallet.

Frozen vegetables can also be bought in bulk and used in multiple recipes, making them an even more economical choice. Basics like frozen corn, peas, broccoli or green beans make easy microwavable side dishes or add-ins to soup, stew, pasta, or stir-fry.

The Canned Advantage

Canned fruits can be a great alternative to fresh: just look for those packaged in water or natural juice, not syrup. Frozen berries are delicious during the cold winter months and can be easily added to smoothies or yogurt for a healthier dessert.

If you’re in the mood for juice, purchase the frozen concentrate and add water back at the dorm for a significant savings.

Canned beans provide a cheap source of healthy protein, much more heart healthy than cheeseburgers and more cost effective than frozen chicken breast; there is also no need to worry about growth hormones or antibiotics in beans.

Chickpeas can easily be blended into hummus, added to a salad, or mixed into a soup. Refried beans can be fashioned into burritos and black beans can make a healthy dip for baked tortilla chips.

Eat Well with a Little Help from Your Friends

College students can save by buying some foods collectively. Sharing a gallon of milk with a roommate prevents extra cost and early spoilage. The same idea applies to other dairy items like yogurt and cheese. Buy one large tub of yogurt rather than individual servings and watch the savings pile up.

Shopping: What to Look For

When it comes to more shelf-stable foods, stick to the basics and stay away from costly prepackaged foods and snacks. Here are a few shopping tips:

  • Buy healthy multigrain bread on sale and freeze or refrigerate the unused portion to prolong its use.
  • Quick cooking oatmeal comes in bulk and is very cheap; students can save significantly by adding their own honey or brown sugar to the plain oats rather than buying individual pre-flavored servings.
  • Peanut butter is another source of cheap protein that can be easily eaten on the go as a toast topping, sandwich base, or fruit dip, and it lasts for months.

The Bottom Line

While a trip to the grocery store may seem daunting, parents can equip their grocery shopping college students with helpful hints along the way. Remember:

  1. Stick to simple foods that can be used in a variety of ways.
  2. Consider frozen and canned versions of fresh fruits or vegetables.
  3. Team up with a roommate to lower costs.

By using these simple tools, parents and students can rest easy knowing they don’t have to sacrifice health or savings for education.


Web: Reinegel, Monica: “Are Frozen Vegetables Nutritious?” https://nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com/are-frozen-vegetables-nutritious.aspx

Web: Nutritiondata.com: “Quick, healthy, convenient, and nutritious food ideas.” https://www.nutritiondata.com/prestockedpantries/quickhealthy