A Beginner’s Guide to Grocery Shopping

Let’s be honest, for some of us, the last time we went grocery shopping was with our parents and we could still sit in the cart. Now you walk into the grocery store and grab ramen noodles and coke because you don’t know what else university students eat. You feel a little sick. You probably have scurvy from lack of vitamin C. But you don’t know how to navigate the store! There are so many aisles, so many options, and so little money! Fear not, for I will be your guide on this journey.

Shop The Perimeter

The first thing you need to know is that all the best food is on the perimeter of the store. This includes all your fruits, veggies, bread, dairy, meat, etc. These are all the things you should be eating on a regular basis. In the middle of the store are the snacks and things you might need to buy once a month just to stock up. This includes canned goods, hygiene products, and instant noodles. The food found in the middle of the store isn’t food you should be eating on a daily basis. You can’t survive off of pasta and cans of soup. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Prepare It Fresh

Sydney, you say, I don’t have time to prepare food! I hear you. Making all your own food is such a hassle. You have so many other things to worry about (friends, studying, Netflix). You can’t be worrying about spending your precious time making dinner too! But what if I told you that making a sandwich takes less time than cooking a microwave dinner? And what if I told you that apples are a much tastier breakfast than coffee? I’m not saying you can’t eat things from a can, but wouldn’t it be nice to eat something fresh for a change?

Best Before Dates

There are some dangers to buying fresh food, however: It goes bad. Specifically, meat; be careful to check best before dates before you buy things and don’t forget to throw them out if they go bad. In fact, I recommend not buying meat at all unless you know for sure you’ll be cooking it within the week (or you can throw it in the freezer). Best before dates don’t just apply to meats though. Crackers, pasta, bread, pastries, anything perishable still have best before dates. It’s also very useful to know the difference between a best before date and an expiry date. Best before dates mean that the food may not taste as good or fresh after that date but that doesn’t mean it isn’t safe to eat. Expiry dates are the last date you can eat a product. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, only five types of foods expire: baby formula and other human milk substitutes, nutritional supplements, meal replacements, pharmacist-sold foods for very low-energy diets, and formulated liquid diets.

Sydney’s Snack Ideasfood-salad-healthy-lunch

Here’s a helpful guide to keep in mind, plus a few snack and meal ideas:


  • Apples (Can last 6-8 weeks if refrigerated)
  • Bananas (Once ripe they will last for 2-5 days on the counter)
  • Mandarin Oranges (Can last a week on the counter or two in the refrigerator)
  • Avocados (Buy them unripened and let them ripen at home. Once ripe they can last for 3-4 days on the counter or 5-7 in the fridge)
  • Tomatoes (Use them for sandwiches and wrap them in saran wrap and refrigerate after cut into. There, they can last up to 2 weeks)
  • Grapes (Wash them and put them in a bowl in your fridge so they’re easy to grab and put into a baggy for an on-the-go snack. They can last for 2-3 weeks in the fridge)
  • Berries (Wash them in their container and leave them in the fridge until you need them. They will last 5-10 days in the refrigerator. Or buy them frozen and use them as delicious ice cubes)


  • Broccoli (Boil it for 5 minutes, drain, and throw some cheese on top. It can last up to two weeks in the fridge)
  • Cucumber (Cut it up and sprinkle some salt on it. It can last 7-10 days in the fridge)
  • Celery (Wash it, cut it up, and store in a class full of water to keep fresh for weeks)
  • Peas in a pod (Great for a snack on-the-go. Last 3-5 days in the fridge)

Dairy (these products will have a best before date):

  • Milk (buy 1L or smaller containers if you don’t drink a lot of milk to avoid waste)
  • Yogurt (Yogurt lasts a long time and makes a great snack)
  • Cheese
  • Butter (salted butter lasts longer but be careful of how much sodium you’re eating per day)

Meat (for the carnivores) (these products will have a best before date):

  • Chicken (make sure you cook thoroughly as uncooked chicken can make you very sick)
  • Pork (seasoned and cooked properly, pork is delicious)
  • Beef (ground beef has to be cooked completely through but steaks can be pink/red in the middle)
  • Luncheon meats (great for sandwiches)


    • Goldfish/ teddygrams (throw a handful into a baggy for a quick snack)
    • Chips (don’t buy too often but a handful makes a nice treat)
    • Croissants (buy them from the bakery section and grab them on the go)
    • Bulk food and things like flour, nuts, or oats from bulk barn (They have student discounts!)
    • More information on how long food lasts can be found at websites like http://www.eatbydate.com/

Reap Those Student Benefits

The last think I will say before I go is to remember that everything costs money. Be aware of all the student discounts that are offered around campus (Metro: Tues, Wed, Thurs 10% off). There’s also a grocery option down the street (Freshco. at Dundas and Parliament). Try to buy things that are on sale whenever you can or buy the cheaper version (but, be careful with this because store brand cans of soup are… disgusting).

Now you’re ready. You’ll walk into that grocery store with confidence and grace. Or at least you won’t look completely lost. Don’t worry, friend, you’ll get used to shopping on your own eventually. What are your favourite go-to snacks or meal ideas? Share with us @RUStudentLife.