A Grocery Shopping Guide: What Students Need to Know

A previous New Paltz student shops for a pasta night with her friends, scouring the cheese section of Adams Fairacre Farms. Photo courtesy of Nola Storms

In our later years of college, many of us will move off campus and exit dorm life. This newfound sense of freedom and independence however, will come with a cost. 

Without the meal plans that you have been relying on for the past two or so years of your college experience, you can be in for a rude awakening. How do I budget my groceries? How do I buy enough for the week? How do I cook

Here is everything you need to know about the challenges of cooking and grocery shopping, including some quick and affordable meals and recipes.

How much should you spend?

Many students are working part-time while also attending school. Balancing a work and school life can be tough in itself, but adding another element of independence while providing for yourself like cooking can be a challenge for sure. 

Personally, budgeting for my groceries was something that I struggled with the most; I’m trying to save as much money as I can, but it can get tricky when you’re faced with aisles and aisles of food in Tops or Shoprite.

I asked some of my peers what they spent each week and the general consensus was around the same. Katie Yurek, a senior at SUNY New Paltz lived on campus from freshman through junior year, and is now living off campus without a meal plan for the first time.  “I spend around $100 a week on groceries,” she said. “Once I learned what the basic items I needed each week were, I was able to kind of work from there.” 

Key ingredients to have for your kitchen

So, what does it take to make a solid home-cooked meal? My first week at school I decided to make pasta and realized I had no salt while I was boiling the water. Why salt? Because it adds flavor, and helps the sauce and pasta stick together. The smallest things that have always been in our cupboards and pantries growing up are not there anymore. 

The most important ingredients to have are spices like basil, cumin and oregano, fruits and vegetables, pasta and rice. Having these basic ingredients provides a wide variety of meals to cook on the fly or when you haven’t gotten a chance to plan anything ahead for the week. 

“On Fridays I have a late class, so when I get home I just want something quick and easy.” Sarah Martin, a third year education major at SUNY New Paltz said. “I usually go for some type of pasta or rice with vegetables because those are simple and quicker in terms of prep time.” Sarah Martin said. 

How to shop for one person

The most important thing to keep in mind is the longevity of the items you’re purchasing. Fruits and vegetables don’t have the longest shelf-life, so buying small amounts of them is a must. Keep in mind how much you typically eat at home, and go from there.

I’ve found that getting items such as starches and dry foods that are non-perishable is a good tip. Potatoes and onions have much longer shelf lives than many other vegetables.

Another important note to take into consideration is space. Buying more than one week’s worth of groceries could result in a lack of room for your roommates’ food, and nobody likes a fridge hogger.

Meal ideas

Pasta: There are a plethora of shapes of pasta and ways that pasta can be prepared, so you won’t get sick of it. Buying different sauces like pesto or alfredo as well as tomatoes can be a good way to change things up. Tip— 9 minutes is always the perfect amount of time to let your pasta cook! 

Stir fry: Having rice on deck is great for this reason. If you have leftover meat that needs to be used up or veggies that are about to go bad, slice it up, season it, and throw it all in a pan and you have a really quick and easy meal. 

Potatoes: This vegetable can also be made in many ways. Frying, mashing, and baking are the simplest ways to go. Making baked potatoes in the microwave is a great hack that I’ve definitely been using a lot recently! Also, potatoes are very affordable and yams, for instance, are healthier starch than straight pasta. 

For my gluten-free friends, Health and Nutrition, a grocery store located in the Tops shopping center in New Paltz, has a wide selection of gluten-free options. Some brands that make variations of some ingredients for staple meals include: Jovial (gluten free pasta), Lundberg Organic (gluten free rice), Wholly Gluten Free (pizza dough).

Ava Paciariello

Ava Paciariello is a senior at SUNY New Paltz. She will be graduating in the spring with a degree in journalism. Ava interned for Cheddar News, where she wrote scripts, gathered elements and helped write news hits. In the future, Ava aspires to be an entertainment journalist.

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