I get so many questions about grocery shopping in general, but more specifically how I grocery shop for clean, healthy ingredients without spending my entire bank account. I am aware that a lot of the brands and products I eat are more expensive than average, but that’s what I chose to spend my money on! Everyone has their “thing” that they shell out money for, some people buy $300 shoes, and I buy $3 protein bars. It all evens out over time, right?
I do prioritize quality over quantity, but that doesn’t mean that I want to spend $100+ a week to get the products that I want. I do need to preface this post by saying that while I am a college student, my parents pay for the groceries that I purchase. This is not the case for every student, but it’s an agreement that my parents and I came to when I was a Freshman. That being said, while I am not on a personal budget, I don’t want to waste money. I try to shop smart and only buy things that I need. The store will always be there, so if I run out of something, I make the time to go back and grab the things I need to replenish. It’s super convenient that my gym is in the same shopping center as a Kroger! Throwing away food is wasteful and not eco-friendly or sustainable, plus there’s no point in buying things that you’re not going to eat!
I do a full grocery shopping trip once a week, usually Sundays. I typically shop at Trader Joes and Publix, and sometimes stop into Fresh Market for specialty items that they don’t carry at either of those. Fresh Market tends to be more expensive, so that’s why I don’t do a full grocery shop there. I have in the past and I legitimately spent $12 on a bag of grapes when desperate times called for it. That price was ridiculously expensive and you better believe I ate (and savored) every single one. I know a lot of Instagrammers shop at Whole Foods, but whenever I go to Whole Foods it’s usually just for the hot bar (which is SO good), because everything they sell there I can buy other places for less. We don’t have a Sprouts near me, but if we did, I’d probably shop there because they have awesome deals and everyday prices!
I used to spend a TON of money on groceries- think in the $65-$85 range and that was for one week for one girl, and during that time I was also on meal plan at school. I know, so unnecessary. I noticed when I would do that, I would have a lot of excess food that I didn’t end up eating (may have had something to do with the unlimited meal plan). Even when I moved into my first apartment and went off meal plan, I was still wasting a ridiculous amount of food each week. I started trying to see if I could limit the amount that I purchased to a more realistic amount of what I would actually end up eating during the week.
If you overbuy when you do a huge grocery haul, especially with produce, it can be easy to forget about those little zucchinis in the bottom of the veggie drawer. Then when you find them three weeks later, they are shriveled up and gross, so you have to throw them out and that sucks! It’s basically throwing out the money you spent on them. Even with the lessened amount that I buy right now, sometimes I still don’t get to all of my produce. Some weeks I have a few things that go bad, and other weeks I go through my produce super quickly and need to go back to the store for more. This usually happens with things that go bad quicker when you have them for more than a few days at a time like lettuce, it really just depends. There are also the items that you don’t need to buy every week, like salad dressing, olive oil, spices, etc. that tend to be super pricey. The salad dressing I buy is around $10 and olive oil can be as much as $15-$20. On weeks when I buy those, the total price of my groceries goes up, but they tend to last me awhile.
When I posted that I usually spend on average $40-$50 on groceries for the week, people were intrigued. Keep in mind, I am only purchasing items to feed myself. Also keep in mind that as a food blogger, I do receive a lot of products gifted to me, so that also contributes to the lessened weekly bill. I wouldn’t say that I receive “weekly staples” in the mail, usually pancake mix, protein bars, and other things that sit on my pantry shelf for awhile. Oh, and when I plan to make recipes for Instagram, it also makes the bill go up because I have to buy things that I may not typically have, but I will either share those with my roommates or freeze them to eat later, so they aren’t necessarily in my “weekly staples grocery cost” either.
I tend to purchase mostly produce and proteins for the week, with a few packaged goods. Packaged goods are usually more expensive than whole fruits and vegetables (except for sumo oranges, those things cost $$), so buying less of those also contributes to the lower bill. I still buy packaged granolas, rices, and pastas, but because I switch up my meals each week they tend to last longer and I don’t need to buy them every time I go to the store. I also keep a ton of food in the freezer, so things like Veggie Burgers, Cauliflower Gnocchi, frozen fruit for smoothies, frozen vegetables, bread, and other items like that are always there if I want them, and I don’t need to purchase them weekly because my storage space is limited.
I found that when I went mostly whole foods and plant based, my grocery expenses dropped significantly. I do still eat chicken and turkey, just rarely now, pretty much just when I crave it or when my parents make it at home. I’ve been buying more tuna and salmon recently, which also cost a solid $10-$15 when I buy them. Since I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, I don’t plan on cutting out my protein, so I roll with it. Like I said earlier, I would never cut down on my food/nutrient intake just to save a few dollars. Buy the chicken or the salmon, you’ll be hungry if you don’t and then you’ll eat more of your other food and run out of everything faster. Moral of the story: buy your protein people. Fresh proteins do go bad quickly, so if you’re worried about wasting your money on them, freeze some of the portions and then make them when you need them. This prevents cooked food from just sitting in your fridge when spontaneous dinners with friends come up. That way you’re not at dinner feeling guilty about wasting the chicken you made during meal prep.
The average cost of my groceries also doesn’t include things like protein bars, protein powders, and other superfoods. When I buy protein bars or protein powders, those can cost me anywhere from $30-$60… that’s more than a whole week’s worth of groceries! Those also last a long time, so it’s not like I am getting them every week or I would be extremely broke. I’ll talk about this later, but the expensive products I buy are typically things that are important to me, so although I ~could~ cut expenses there, I choose to get the brands that make me happy.
So now without further ado, I will share my tips and tricks on how to not spend your entire paycheck on groceries.
I’ve mentioned this on my stories before, but I always scroll through Instagram and save recipes made with ingredients that I don’t have. Whenever I go to the store, I either can’t find something, don’t feel like searching in different places for a ton of things, or look at the price and think “nope I don’t really need it”. I recently discovered Thrive Market, and it has been a HUGE game changer. At any store, products like Coconut Oil, almond flour, superfood powders, etc. are always top dollar. These things raise the grocery bill through the roof (talking to you Maca). I am still waiting for the food that is good for you to cost less than the food that is bad for you (sigh). I have bought items like Cacao Nibs as special treats, paying more, but only buying one or two of them at a time. Obviously the high prices aren’t enough to cause me to never buy them, but I feel like I have to pick and choose what I want and that limits my options.
I saw an advertisement for Thrive Market, and I was intrigued by the idea of buying all the healthy ingredients/products I need in one giant order. It’s literally like bundling all of the thing that I need/want without ever having to get up and actually go to the store. The best part about it was the savings. I saved $99.50 in total and I only spent $65, so the site definitely delivered on it’s promise. The prices on the site are already discounted, but when you sign up for their service for a year you can get $50 off your total purchase or 25% off if you sign up for 30 days. I was able to purchase all of the supplements, superfoods, flours, and other ingredients that I couldn’t afford in stores for a lower price and they shipped them to me in 2 days, so there wasn’t a huge lag time. I opened the box and it was like opening the wardrobe to foodie narnia, so I highly recommend trying out their site. I will be using all of these things for months, so I won’t need to be making frequent purchases on the more expensive items. I do however think that if you’re going to purchase the items from the store anyway, you might as well order them from Thrive and save money. Just food for thought!
- Organic Raw Cashews
- Organic Hemp Seeds
- Thrive Brand Almond Flour
- Baking Powder
- Gogi Berries
- Organic Cacao Powder
- Organic Maca Powder
- Organic Vanilla Extract
- Organic Pumpkin Seeds
- Coconut Oil
Total Bill: $65.50
Total Savings: $99.50 with the year subscription
Invest in Quality
As a college student, I am always on the go. Some days I am on campus for 6-8 hours and I don’t always have the time to bring multiple meals with me. While I try to eat mostly whole foods, I need protein bars in my life or I would be hangry during these busy days! I invest in quality protein and protein bars, so I don’t have to purchase them every week. I also want products that are filled with wholesome, plant-based ingredients and are also high in quality protein. These are my personal standards, so yours may be different, in which case the grocery stores have a good selection of clean ingredient products like Lara Bars and other products that are on the cheaper side.
After my workouts I have protein powder & collagen in some form- usually a smoothie, but other times a shake. I don’t include the price of my protein powder or collagen in the cost of my groceries for the week, but as I said before that’s because I buy in bulk so they last me longer and I wouldn’t really consider them a “grocery”. I wouldn’t exactly group these two powders in the same category as hummus and carrots, ya know? Anyway, I purchase Square Organics, Nuzest Protein Powder, and Vital Proteins online. They are a little more expensive than generic store brands, but because I don’t spend a ton of money on eating out or on weekly groceries, I feel better spending more on these. Like I said before, I am not super concerned about price when it comes to these particular items. I am more concerned about quality, and I do genuinely love all of them. All of these brands are worth the money 100%!
I don’t buy any other protein powder other than Nuzest or any other collagen other than Vital Proteins, and it’s easier to buy them online, but I do buy other brands of bars in stores! I like Vega Protein Bars, Perfect Bars, and RX Bars, which you can find in Kroger, Target, Publix, etc. I don’t have discounts on those and they tend to be just as pricey, but it’s nice to switch it up every now and then.
Don’t Go Without a Plan
When you go to the grocery store without a plan, it’s easy to essentially window shop and think “oh that looks good!” It’s not a bad strategy, but what ends up happen is you’ll get home with a bunch of food and won’t know what you can actually make with it. Before I go to the store, I always write down an idea of what I would like to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that week. You can scroll through Instagram, look on Pinterest, or just Google different recipes of things that you like for meal prep ideas. Obviously, I may not always stick to those exact things, but at least I know a base of what I CAN make with what I’m buying. Just because you meal prep for the week, doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind one day and want to eat something else. We aren’t robots, we have cravings.
Here’s a simple grocery list that I use when I go shopping:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Grape Tomatoes
- Bell Pepper
- Frozen Fruit/cauliflower for smoothies
- Veggie Burgers
- Canned Tuna
- Salmond/Chicken/Ground Turkey (depends on what i’m making)
- Egg Whites/Eggs
- Rolled Oats
- Chickpea Pasta
- Brown Rice
- Peanut Butter/Almond Butter (any nut butter)
- Almond Milk
- Salad Dressing
- Protein Bars
- Dark Chocolate
Keep in mind with any of these items, take an inventory of what you have in your pantry/fridge/freezer BEFORE you go to the store. This way if you already have something, you don’t need to rebuy it. This doesn’t include spices or anything that you would keep long term in the pantry like cooking spray. Also keep in mind this is a sample list and it’s subject to change based on what I am feeling for the week or what I have on hand! I find that Trader Joes overall has the best prices.
Only Buy What You’re Going to Eat
I think part of the problem of grocery shopping is that we buy food that we WISH we ate. Have you ever grocery shopped only to purchase a ton of healthy produce only to get home and realize that, no, you don’t actually want to eat that? I always do that with celery and then days will pass and I will keep looking at the stalks of celery and just have zero desire to actually eat them.
Yup, it happens.
I feel like this is true with diets and “detoxes”. When people go to the store they are shopping for the future person that they want to be. Sometimes we buy things that seem like a good idea at the time, but in the moment just aren’t appetizing. I can’t tell you how many times I spooned peanut butter out of the jar instead of eating broccoli. That’s real life! All that’s to say that you should definitely buy things that you know you like. Buy the dark chocolate, buy the pretzels and hummus. I don’t recommend going to the store and ONLY buying fruits, veggies, and protein. You could eat all the carrots in the world and it isn’t going to make your craving for a salty snack go away. I consider myself a clean, health conscious eater and I make SURE I have my snacks and the little treats I like on hand.
The human body is weird, you really never know what it wants, so it’s good to be prepared. Doing this saves you money in the long run, because snacks and stuff that go in the pantry/freezer don’t expire for awhile and that means you don’t have to buy them weekly either! That being said, if you’re buying snacks, don’t just disregard all the produce and other perishable goods and only eat snacks all day. Make sure you prioritize eating the things that will go bad to cut down on wasted food and wasted $$.
Recent Trader Joes Haul
This past weekend I went to Trader Joes after Spring Break to restock my bare as can be fridge shelf & pantry!
- Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk ($2.69)
- Frozen Raspberries ($2.49)
- Frozen Wild Blueberries ($2.49)
- Kashi Go Lean Crunch ($2.99)
- 2 Organic Red Bell Peppers ($3.49)
- Grape Tomatoes ($2.69)
- Fresh Blueberries ($2.99)
- Baby Beets ($2.29)
- Zucchini Squash ($1.99)
- Shredded Carrots ($1.49)
- Organic English Cucumber ($2.49)
- 2 Sweet Potatoes ($1.58)
- 1 Yellow Onion ($0.79)
- Bananas ($1.14)
- Green Goddess Salad Dressing ($3.99)
- 2 Spring Mix Salads ($3.98)
Pretty cheap, right?
I’ll also make a list of the things I already had on hand that I will also be consuming this week, but didn’t need to rebuy:
- Hippeas Snacks
- Canned Tuna
- Square Bars & Freedom Bars
- Nuzest Smooth Vanilla Protein Powder
- Collagen Peptides
- Banza Chickpea Pasta
- Dr. Praeger’s Veggie Burgers
- JoJos Chocolate Bark
- Spices & Seasonings
- Birchbenders Paleo Pancake Mix
- Peanut Butter
Meals I plan to make with those items this week:
I usually workout in the mornings, so my breakfast is usually a smoothie! This week I’m so excited to be having some raspberry, blueberry, and beet smoothies with my usual protein powder, collagen, and almond milk! Sometimes I drink it as a smoothie, other times I add hemp seeds, goji berries, and coconut flakes with granola on top to make a smoothie bowl!
I normally eat lunch in a Tupperware on campus, so it’s easiest to do some kind of salad. This week I think I plan to do a spring mix base, with canned tuna, grape tomatoes, yellow onion, bell pepper, cucumber, and green goddess dressing with hippeas and fresh blueberries on the side.
I don’t have set times when I eat snacks, I can eat snacks at 9am, 9pm, or any time in between! This week I have the options of hippeas, granola & almond milk, banana and peanut butter, protein muffins, fresh blueberries, and protein bars!
Dinner this week are going to be a veggie burger with roasted sweet potato fries and steamed veggies/side salad! I always have club meetings and things at night, so dinners are always a little rushed and this is a really easy meal to make!
JoJos Chocolate Bark!!! Duh. Or another protein bar, it really just depends. Sometimes I will do fresh fruit & melted peanut butter.
Trader Joes Staples
Of course each week is different, so I am going to include a list of other favorites of mine that I didn’t buy this week.
- Vegan Kale, Cashew, and Basil Pesto
- Cauliflower Gnocchi
- Broccoli & Kale Pizza Crust and/or Cauliflower Pizza Crust
- Gluten Free Norwegian Crisp Bread
- Everything But the Bagel Seasoning Blend
- Chile and Lime Seasoning Blend
- Chile Lime Chicken Burgers
- Gone Berry Crazy or Gone Bananas (chocolate covered frozen fruit)
- Butternut Squash Zig-Zags
- Organic White Quinoa
- Liquid Coconut Aminos
So there ya have it!
That’s how I became a foodie on a budget! It isn’t super hard, if you think you spend too much on food and find yourself having food waste each week, try to think of where you can cut back (you’ll be okay, the store will still be there if you need to go back). In this blog post I talked about how I only spent $40 on groceries this week on new groceries. The large majority of what I bought will be consumed this week, and as you saw, I also have other non-perishable things on hand that I have the option of eating as well! Since I try to keep a mostly whole foods diet, pantry goods hang around for awhile, so I don’t need to buy them super often. They are there when I need them, which is convenient (and often)! Knowing me, I will probably not get to all of the produce this week, and whatever I notice that is starting to go bad, I will either make something random with or freeze it for future meals. You could always invite a friend over to help you finish off your groceries, which is more fun than throwing things away. I hope this helps you navigate the isles of the grocery store (but try to stay on the edges, that’s where the good stuff is)!