Grocery shopping is rarely a fun activity, except for resident student foodies. Most students on the other hand view grocery shopping as a cumbersome chore, or even as an intimidating and confusing task. If you don’t know how to shop smart for a student budget, you can leave the grocery store with foods that contain little nutritional value having spent more than you would have liked. As a part of our new blog series, The Student Kitchen, UeaT is tackling student’s biggest culinary challenges. Today we’ll let you in on everything there is to know about smart grocery shopping for the student budget!

Grocery shopping isn’t all about the list. You’ve got to keep in mind your budget, dietary preferences and restrictions, and how you’ll use your ingredients during the week before they go bad. Keeping these tips in mind will help you have a successful grocery shop.

  1. Set a budget before you go to the grocery store and stick to it: You are the allocator of your own funds, so it’s up to you how much you want to spend on groceries a month. Since everyone’s budget is individual, these tips should help anyone save on groceries.
  2. Make a shopping list and stick to it: We’ll get to what thrifty ingredients can go on your shopping list later, but preplanning what groceries you intend to buy will help minimize waste and impulse spending, and can allow you to track your expenses more easily. On that note, save your receipts and track your spending to see if there are unnecessary items you can cut from your diet. Also remember to check if your grocery store offers student discounts on certain weekdays.
  3. Don’t shop while you’re hungry! This one’s obvious: who hasn’t been that person who impulse buys a box of granola bars to eat while they shop because they’re waaay to hungry to wait?
  4. Avoid pre-prepared items, as they’re often more expensive, and eat in-season fruits and veggies! Eating in season is much cheaper since the items are more readily available. If it’s Ontario produce that’s even better. Take a look at our article about in-season produce here! Buying meat at the butcher’s can also help you save money and reduce waste by only purchasing the meat you want to use.
  5. Finally, don’t be afraid to buy off-brand items! They’re often the same thing as the name brand, except in plainer packaging and less expensive. Discount grocery stores are by far your best bet for deals. If you live far from a discount grocery store and have a lot of roommates, splitting the cost of a car can be as cost-effective as taking transit.

The Student-Friendly Grocery List

This list isn’t necessarily what you’ll want to buy every week, but it contains inexpensive options for every cupboard staple! Note that these items may not always be as inexpensive as sale items- prices do fluctuate!

Affordable Vegetables:

Remember to buy loose, in season fruits and veggies, since these will be by far the cheapest option!

Carrots, Tomatoes (whole tomatoes or cherry tomatoes), Lettuce (can substitute for kale, which can be cheaper!), Cucumbers, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Onions, Garlic bulbs, Celery, Spinach

Cheap fruits:  Apples, Oranges, Bananas, Strawberries

Protein/Dairy:  Milk, Eggs, Yogurt (yogurt cups can be an inexpensive and portable protein), Sliced deli turkey, ham, Chicken breasts and thighs, Fish filets (salmon, tilapia), Beef (flank steak, ground beef), Pork (pork chops, pork tenderloin medallions), Tofu

Rice and beans are a really inexpensive, nutritious alternative to meat, which can be pretty expensive. If you do buy meat regularly, try shopping at the butcher’s, where you can select only the cuts you want and enjoy markdowns.

For the Fridge: Fresh lemons (you can use this in lieu of salad dressing), Unsalted butter, Dijon mustard
For the Pantry: Sliced bread, Tortillas, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, spices

Keep in mind that you can find deals by shopping around. While your local grocery store may have the best deals, farmer’s markets can be fun places to get inexpensive produce. Here’s a list of year-round markets! Chinatown is also a great place for cheap produce.

If you’d like to dig a little deeper, here are some additional tips to eating healthy and smart!

Dufferin Grove Organic Farmers’ Market
875 Dufferin St. – Thursday. 3pm-7pm, year round

Evergreen Brick Works Farmers’ Market
550 Bayview Ave. – Saturday 8am-1pm (9am in the winter)

Toronto Botanical Garden Organic Farmers’ Market
777 Lawrence Ave. E. – Thursday 3pm-7pm (2pm-6pm in the winter)

The Stop’s Farmers’ Market / Wychwood Barns
76 Wychwood – Saturday – 8 am-12pm (1pm in summer)

 St. Lawrence Farmers Market
92 Front St. E. – North Farmer’s Market: Saturday 5am-3pm

Sorauren Farmers’ Market
South end of Sorauren Park – Monday 3pm-7pm

So how do you shop smart on a student budget? Tell us by commenting below!