Preparing and Shopping for Your Own Food

If you are doing your own cooking some or all of the time, keep the following in mind when planning what to make and what to shop for:

Back to Basics: Your body needs more than 50 nutrients to meet its physical needs. To get these nutrients, eat a variety of foods every day. 

Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta supply carbohydrates, vitamins (especially B vitamins), iron, and fiber. For the best nutritional value, select whole grain products. An easy tip: make sure “whole grain” is the first ingredient. 

Fruits and vegetables are a valuable source of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Aim to include at least one serving of food high in vitamin A (leafy dark green or deep orange/yellow fruits and vegetables) and at least one serving of food high in vitamin C (citrus fruits, tomatoes, strawberries, and bell peppers) per day. 

Milk, yogurt, and cheese contain calcium, protein, and vitamins (especially vitamins A and D), important for energy and strong bones and teeth.

Meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts provide amino acids, vitamins (especially B vitamins), and minerals (especially iron) that are important for energy metabolism, cell repair, and growth. 

Fats, oils, and sweets in small amounts help with the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K and are important for cell membrane structure. Foods in this group should comprise the smallest part of your diet. Fats and oils occur naturally in meats, dairy products, nuts, nut butters, seeds, avocados, and olives. 

You will want to locate the nearest grocery store(s) and see which ones have the best selection for your needs. 

  • If you are choosing an off-campus apartment or house, the location of the grocery store is an important consideration. 
  • If you don’t have a car, will you be able to walk to the grocery store? If so, consider investing in a rolling cart to help you get your groceries back. 
  • If the grocery store isn’t close, and you don’t have a car, look at options like Uber/Lyft, and /or scheduling a shopping trip with a friend with a car. Some schools provide van/shuttle service to nearby stores for loading up on groceries and other supplies.
  • Your school might have a convenience store located on campus with popular (and easy!) options for cooking in a residence hall. You may even be able to use your dining plan to purchase food and other items in the store.
  • Don’t forget to bring your reusable grocery bags or buy some on your first trip and remember them the next time you shop!

Eating Better on a Tight Budget

Eating nutritiously is possible, no matter what your budget may be. To make it easier, use basic shopping tips—check online or your local paper for sales and coupons, shop in stores that use unit pricing (this makes is easier to compare prices), and read labels carefully. In addition, try some of the ideas below and check with your campus health center for more tips.

  • Comparison shop, especially for your dietary staples. Check out different stores and brands.
  • Take advantage of sales, but only for products that are healthful and packaged in useful quantities.
  • Buy in bulk, but only those products you can store properly before they go stale or spoil.
  • Avoid impulse buying—use a shopping list and don’t shop when you’re hungry.
  • Cut back on alcohol and expensive, processed snacks and convenience foods.
  • Don’t assume that “natural” or “organic” foods are inexpensive or high in nutritional value.
  • Consider taking a standard vitamin and mineral supplement in addition to — not as substitutes for — balanced meals. 
  • Try to avoid vending machines. Nutritious snacks and juices are generally less expensive in grocery stores.
  • Make your own casseroles, stews, desserts, and salads.
  • Use less expensive protein sources — more legumes and less meat, frozen rather than fresh fish, and chicken parts rather than chicken breasts. Mix cooked legumes with leftover meat and poultry.
  • Choose fresh and frozen vegetables more often than canned vegetables, but compare prices between fresh and frozen produce to get the best buy.
  • Spend time finding inexpensive local restaurants that serve nutritious meals. Choose to eat half of the entree and take the other half home to eat for lunch or dinner the next day.