Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cooking in College

Not too long ago, my brother called me from the grocery store asking me if I had any ideas for quick and healthy items he should pick up. I think I rattled off a few thoughts, but I promised to put a little more time into it and this post is the result!
Craig is still in college, but he's living off campus so he's no longer on a meal plan and has access to a kitchen. I tried to think up a few goals for this list. The main goal I want to accomplish is to find a balance between convenience and price. Individually packaged ANYTHING is expensive, but oh-so-convenient. I tried to keep this in mind and find some compromises.
Welcome to the Cooking in College Series! Check back for future posts with shopping lists, product reviews, easy recipes and way to save.

Cooking in College- Grocery Shopping 101

When I first moved off campus, I lived in a city and I did not have a car. I actually used and ordered my groceries online, which was super helpful for planning/ budgeting purposes, but I promise you can handle in-store shopping without going crazy or breaking the bank.
Start with fruit because it's usually fairly easy to make some choices here. Your main goal should be to look for sales on special items like grapes, berries, kiwi and grapefruit that are fairly expensive. Generally speaking, bananas are super cheap, so make those a purchase on every trip. Apples are usually priced pretty well too.
As far as fresh veggies go, focus on what you like and what you will eat before it goes bad. It's always a good idea to grab a bag of salad to keep around. Baby carrots and celery sticks come pre-sliced at pretty decent prices. Grab a container of hummus for dipping (sliced bell peppers and grape tomatoes are also good for dipping.
Then head to the freezer aisle. Did you know that just about every vegetable can be found frozen? Some of my favorites: sliced bell peppers, zucchini, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, snap peas and corn. There is not an easier home-cooked meal to be found than pasta. Take some frozen veggies, toss them into a skillet with a little olive oil and you have a complete meal. You can also add them to soups and omelettes. [Avoid: veggies drenched in sauce and sodium]
I highly recommend frozen meats and seafood as well. You can stock up on chicken breasts, frozen peeled and deveined shrimp and frozen fish fillets. You can easily defrost one serving at a time in hot water. [Avoid: pre-seasoned or breaded cuts]
Next, plan the most important meal of the day: breakfast. Will you eat eggs with whole wheat toast? Oatmeal? Cold cereal? A PB&J? Yogurt? Plan on whole grains, minimal sugar and minimal ingredients. Try a peanut butter that's only ingredients are peanuts and salt. Full-fat yogurt without artificial sweeteners. Basic cereals like plain old-fashioned oats or bran flakes, then add bananas or frozen berries for flavor. [Avoidartificial sweeteners in yogurt and oatmeal; sneakily sugary cereals like granola, frozen breakfast sandwiches]
Plan ahead for when you are likely to overspend on food, or to eat something unhealthy (after a night at the bars, perhaps?) and plan for it. Stock up on thin crust frozen pizza. Try to choose plain cheese or veggie and avoid pizza's packed with processed meats. Tortilla chips and salsa and microwave popcorn are also easy late night foods. [Avoid: hot pockets/ lean pockets, pizza bagels, pizza nuggets, second and third degree burns]


Lastly, plan out your beverages. Best case scenario is that you carry a water bottle with you at all times and fill up at water fountains. If that's not you, buy a case of bottled water to grab and go. You can find a full case of water for the price of 1.5 bottles out of a vending machine. When it comes to something like soda, if you absolutely MUST buy it, purchase a set amount and know when you're going to indulge (for example, only on weekdays before that class with the professor who speaks in monotone). And buy coffee or tea if you drink it because that is a HUGE savings compared to buying it out every day. [Avoid: diet sodas/ teas with artificial sweeteners, gatorade (unless you're an endurance athlete), energy drinks]
And that's that! Not so intimidating. What are some of your grocery store staples?

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