The Ultimate Grocery Store Shopping Guide For 20-Somethings

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Grocery shopping isn’t a sport, but maybe it should be. It’s a learnable skill. With practice, anyone can strut into any supermarket, make fast, wallet-friendly, meal-centric choices, and avoid all impulse buys. It can even be fun! Here’s how to shop for a week like a pro with about $50 ($2.38 per meal!) — assuming you already have some basics at home, like olive oil, spices, and garlic.

First, pick a supermarket that stocks what you want. Do you prefer organic foods? A big ethnic section? Next, stick to the store’s perimeter when shopping; perishable whole foods like dairy, produce, and meat are not only healthier for you than processed, packaged goods that line the interior aisles, but they’re also less expensive. All those bottled drinks, chips, and crackers add up quickly.

Here’s an aisle-by-aisle guide to food shopping like a pro, plus a weeklong sample menu based on our $50 budget.        
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
1. Fruits And Veggies
Begin shopping here, keeping a week’s worth of meals in mind. Gather any needed basics: onions, celery, potatoes. Some additional tips:

-If you like what’s on sale, stock up!

-For items not sold by weight, buy big (i.e. choose the largest cauliflower).

-Don’t select more than you will eat unless its easy to freeze.

-Avoid packaged produce; it usually costs more than unpackaged, plus by individually selecting, say, string beans, you can avoid rot and bruises. Don’t bother paying extra for pre-peeled garlic, pre-chopped vegetables, or pre-sliced apples.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
2. Frozen
A well-stocked freezer is a home cook’s best friend. No time to shop? You’ll still be able to throw together a meal. Some items — like peas — may actually taste better frozen versus fresh ones that have been sitting on store shelves. Corn, greens, berries (for smoothies and baking), and pre-made dough are best bets. Stock up on sale items you like.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
3. Refrigerated
Replenish any basics, like butter, and then think big; large yogurt containers cost less than small ones. Some other money saving tips:

-Choose blocks over shredded or individually packaged cheese.

-Cutting up a whole chicken is cheaper than buying parts. (Only want parts? Try thighs — they’re cheaper and tastier than boneless skinless breasts, plus you can use the bones for broth.)

-Non-meat protein like eggs and tofu are inexpensive and versatile. Avoid gimmicky stuff; artisanal marshmallows are tempting, but they’ll blow your budget!
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
4. Bulk
This is the spot to buy with abandon! The bulk bins are where you’ll save a bunch of money. Bulk dried beans cost less than packaged; the same goes for grains, cereals, and dried fruit. From shredded coconut to chocolate chips, bulk is where it’s at. If your local supermarket does not have a bulk section, consider shopping elsewhere. Health food stores often have bulk sections.
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
5. Staples
Make a list before entering the middle of the store and stick to it! Only deviate from the list for a price cut on a favorite staple. You’re on a specific mission here: get in, grab your pasta, peanut butter, flour, canned tomatoes, tuna, and get out!
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Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Sample Menu
Here's a meal list from our sample shop at a Super Stop & Shop New Paltz, NY. We spent $52.69, which is an average of $2.51 per meal. (Less if you include snacks!)

Monday
Breakfast: Frozen fruit smoothie
Lunch: PB&J
Snack: Apple and popcorn
Dinner: Pasta with broccoli and garlic, chicken

Tuesday
Breakfast: Oatmeal and fruit
Lunch: Leftover pasta
Snack: Popcorn
Dinner: Fried brown rice with two eggs and frozen peas

Wednesday
Breakfast: Frozen fruit smoothie
Lunch: Leftover fried rice
Snack: Hard boiled deviled egg and a mango
Dinner: Peanut noodles with 1/2 bag frozen spinach

Thursday
Breakfast: Oatmeal and banana
Lunch: Leftover peanut noodles
Snack: Mango and popcorn
Dinner: Broiled chicken, frozen corn, and remaining spinach

Friday
Breakfast: Frozen fruit smoothie
Lunch: Leftover chicken
Snack: Carrots with peanut butter
Dinner: Winter squash soup using chicken broth made from last night’s bones, served with bread or noodles

Saturday
Breakfast: Pancakes (flour and eggs), mango
Lunch: Grilled cheese, carrots
Snack: Popcorn
Dinner: Stir fry beef, Napa cabbage, and brown rice

Sunday
Breakfast: Oatmeal and fruit
Lunch: Omelet with cheese
Snack: Apple
Dinner: Chickpea and potato curry
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