3 Tips on How To Grocery Shop Like an Adult

With enough sodium to preserve an entire cod, Ramen is a sorry excuse for food.  If your freshman 15 has held you hostage all the way through graduation, you likely have Ramen and his buddies, kegs and shots, to blame for the empty calories you’ve been loading up on for four years.


You’re not alone; everyone relies on crap food in college because it’s cheap and easy.  But now that the post-college real world is starting to set in, eating dried noodle product is just not going to cut it.  You’re going to need fuel not fluff and since those student loans don’t pay themselves, this culinary upheaval will need to be done on a budget.


Lesson 1: Nutrition Basics


Much of the confusion about how to feed yourself properly comes from the skewed, money-driven way that food has been presented to you. Diet companies are a business and look for ways to capitalize on the fact that a) everyone eats and b) Americans eat too much of the wrong shit. Spending any portion of your first real world paycheck on diet junk is a waste.


To eat well on a budget, you will need to consume a balance of real food in portions that alleviate your hunger and maximize the nutrition you get per dollar spent.  Think about basic nutrition in four sections:


proteins, produce, dairy and carbohydrates.


Your proteins, essential to building and maintaining muscle, amongst other functions, will likely be the most expensive and they include meat, beans, tofu, eggs and nuts.  Produce (fruit and vegetables) will vary in price depending on where you live and are vital to your diet as they supply your body with all kinds of vitamins and nutrients to keep it alive (also their high water and fiber content keeps you feeling full longer).


A great way to save on produce is to know what fruit and vegetables are locally in season as those things will be much cheaper (i.e. peaches in December will rob you of your wages fast).  Dairy, like milk, yogurt and cheese, provide certain vitamins and minerals, most popularly calcium to keep that sexy skeleton strong.  Dairy products can be expensive but you don’t need tons of dairy in your diet to keep your body happy. A full serving of cheese is 1 ounce, roughly the size of your pinky knuckle, so a small amount should last you a while.


Carbohydrates, like pasta, bread and grains, are complex sugars that provide your body with energy. Buy whole wheat varieties and eat them in the proper serving sizes.  They may cost more than their white processed counterparts, but in the long run, they keep you fuller longer and if you consume the proper amount, will hang out in your pantry for long enough to be worth the initial tiny investment.


Lesson 2: Supermarket Sweep


First, set a food budget based on a three meal/two snacks per day formula.  Plan to shop for the entire week at once (because certain items are often cheaper in larger quantities), then hit the market.


You should know, most supermarkets are not just happy-go-lucky food vendors.  Rather, they (and their partner food brands) are in the business of trying to entice you to spend as much money as possible on their products every time you pay them a visit.  For instance, more expensive brand name items are placed at eye level, with comparable cheaper stuff on the bottom.  You can avoid the pit falls by coming prepared with a list of items you need and by scanning the shelves to compare prices on similar items.


Now it’s time to tackle the list. Decide on the proteins you will want to cook for the week (tuna sandwiches for lunch, chicken breasts for dinner, maybe some chickpeas to roast for a midday snack?) and knock those out first as they are most expensive.  The amount of protein you buy should come out to about 25% of your budget.


Hit produce next since prices vary widely.  Spend about 50-60% of your budget on these colorful guys. Read up on how to tell if different fruit and vegetables are ripe so that you don’t waste money on inedible produce. Move on to buying your carbs and plan to spend about 15% of your budget here.  Buy a few different kinds, a bag of brown rice, some quinoa, whole wheat pasta and pita bread.


This way, you shop once and can reach for any of these whenever a carb is necessary to round out a meal. Move on to dairy, which should comprise about 10% of your budget.  Dairy is highly perishable and hard to freeze, so buy a little at a time and check expiration dates.  Throwing away a carton of expired milk is like tossing two bucks in the dumpster.  If you’ve got a few dollars and dimes left over, buy some interesting spices and herbs to add to your soon-to-be adult meals or treat yourself to a chocolate bar for old times sake.


Lesson 3: Store to Save


The act of going to the supermarket is only half of what “grocery shopping like an adult” entails.  The other half involves a refrigerator, freezer and pantry.  Since you’ve invested a good chunk of money into a week’s worth of groceries, make sure you know how to properly store everything so it lasts to its full potential.


Don’t be afraid to freeze.  Some things, like lettuce and cheese, are a no-go for the freezer.  But other items, like bread, berries and certain vegetables, can be frozen if you don’t anticipate using them before they spoil.  The less you toss, the more you save.


This may seem like a much more difficult task than throwing a dry cage of noodles and a flavor packet into a pot of water, but it is definitely worthwhile.  It takes some know-how and practical experience, but shopping like an adult doesn’t have to be expensive.  Now, continuing to eat junk because it’s cheap, that gets expensive once your body realizes you’ve been abusing it with toxins and calls it quits.


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  • This is a great article, and one that everyone really should take to heart. However, I have to take issue with the statement above about pasta, bread, and grains being complex carbs. In fact, most of these are fairly simple carbs, and one of the reasons that you're not supposed to eat much of them as a diabetic or if you are on a low carb diet. They spike your blood sugar, which can only mean that the natural sugars in the food are being processed too quickly, thus more likely to be simple carbs.

    And I completely agree on spending 50% of your budget on vegis and fruits, mostly vegitables. In fact half your plate for each meal should consist of vegitables. You can even have them for breakfast!

  • Great post! My husband used to eat a big blue box of mac-n-cheese for a meal when I met him (yuck.) Eating healthy but not spending a ton is very difficult for me. I'm a snob about organic food 🙁 but I'm working on it.

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  • After graduating college and beginning my professional career, I ate ramen and tuna fish almost every day for lunch so that I could pay off my credit card debt. A pack of ramen was only about 10 cent and the tuna was essentially free for me. My mom had a ton of it.

    Nowadays, I'd say beans are one of the best diet staples for someone who wants to lose weight, eat healthy yet cheaply, and lose weight. Beans are sooo filling. I'm also a big fan of eggs, chicken breasts, and broccoli. As a matter of fact, I've packed on a few pounds and need to return to the tried and true items that keep me looking sexy without going broke.

  • YFS /

    Funny you say that about beans. I basically eat chicken, beans, more beans, tons of water and veggies in my diet. But, I'm doing it mainly for health reasons. I can't do Ramen, it's not filling and it has way too much sodium for me

  • I wish supermarkets would sell more stuff in smaller amounts aimed at people who live alone – I often end up wasting lots of veg when cooking for myself, as I never use it in the amounts they sell in time.

    (I know, I should use my freezer more!)

  • YFS /

    You should definitely use a freezer or if you have one a deep freezer. That should assist with the portion control issues.

  • Chris /

    Our family has also been eating a lot of beans lately. They are pretty cheap, and if you're willing to buy the dried beans in bulk, you can save another 70 percent or so. Visit a local Asian food market for really good prices.

    Also, we've turned to going to Aldi's to buy many of our fruits and vegetables. They are not always great, but they are usually as good as our grocery store. This week they had fresh pineapple on sale for 99 cents and the same exact brand of pineapple was on sale at our grocery store for $3.97. You can literally fill your fridge with fresh fruit and veggies for under twenty bucks.

  • Andrea /

    Got to read something so wonderful after ages. I feel grocery shopping is one of the easiest things that I have done so far. Just few points are there that we should keep in mind before going for it. Here goes those tips.

    Shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, dairy, meat, and fish are usually located. Avoid the center aisles where junk foods lurk.

    Choose "real" foods, such as 100% fruit juice or 100% whole-grain items with as little processing and as few additives as possible. If you want more salt or sugar, add it yourself.

    Stay clear of foods with cartoons on the label that are targeted to children. If you don't want your kids eating junk foods, don't have them in the house.

    Avoiding foods that contain more than five ingredients, artificial ingredients, or ingredients you can't pronounce.
    Andrea Jones

  • Natalia /

    Great article! I've done my shopping based on your suggestions today. Thanks very much!

  • URFinanceSimple /

    I'm glad it worked out for you 🙂

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