How to Handle Grocery Shopping in College

Colleges have gotten better at feeding students. Your university food service program probably includes more dining options than a single, predictable, cafeteria menu. While the variety may make campus dining more bearable, it isn’t exactly mom’s home cooking. For a more satisfying eating experience during school, spend some time at your local grocery store and explore other creative ways to stay nourished.

Exploring the Possibilities

Your college living conditions influence what’s possible in the kitchen – if you have one. Dorm life can seriously limit your ability to cook, but savvy students still find ways to produce healthy fare. Be realistic about what you can do before setting out to the grocery store. With only a fridge and a way to boil water, dorm room staples may be limited to foods like granola bars, soup, fruit, hot cereal, pasta, and cocoa. If you’re shopping for the first time, look for inexpensive brain foods that won’t spoil easily and won’t zap your energy— trail mix, celery, carrots, or even avocados for something more substantive.

Introducing a microwave or slow cooker (check the campus rules) takes cooking possibilities to another level, giving you the tools to make dishes like chili, stew, casseroles, hot dogs, and even desserts. If you share a community kitchen or operate a hot plate in your dorm, then grilled and fried foods are also within reach. Use the burners to improve on college classics and make staples like popcorn, gourmet grilled cheese, pancakes, hamburgers, fajitas, and other familiar stovetop treats.

Pushing Boundaries

Living off campus with a full kitchen, there’s no excuse for not eating well. In fact, your biggest challenge might be keeping down grocery costs. Clipping coupons and watching for store specials helps stretch food dollars, but you’ll also want to share the cost. For memorable meals on a budget, band together with roommates and think big. A large pot of spaghetti, double pan of lasagna, and whole roast chicken are only a few of the cheap, easy-to-cook meals you can make. And when you need a break from the kitchen, consider these possibilities:

  • Take it outside. Your school might have rules against barbecuing, so it is important to check with your resident assistant before grilling outside your dorm. If it’s allowed, a small grill can be a game changer, accommodating fair-weather food options like burgers, hot dogs, and grilled pizza. Portable burners may also be permitted, giving you a stovetop option outside.
  • Go to the source. Food service jobs provide more than spending money. If your college plans include part-time work, landing a job at a restaurant can also keep your belly full. Most restaurants feed their staff at least once per shift, making these hospitality jobs ideal for hungry college students.
  • Get credit for cooking. Dedicating yourself to your studies doesn’t necessarily mean turning your back on tasty food. Depending on your major and your school’s curriculum, you may be able to earn credit for cooking (and eating) classes.
  • Find local food specials. Nearby food outlets compete for college business, so many offer student specials. Taco Tuesdays and other familiar menus can keep you fed, without draining your grocery budget.

Campus dining gets old, so grocery shopping adds variety. Your college “kitchen” may have limits, but with the right approach, even dorm cooking shines.


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