Healthy College Grocery Shopping: Your Guidebook

Hey there, college friend!

Finally, you’ve made it to your upperclassman years where you get the privilege of choosing to stay on the meal plan or buying your own groceries. If you’re like me and you want some good quality food and control over what you’re eating, but also don’t want to spend a whole lot, then you may be in a bit of a conundrum when it’s time to hit the store. But don’t worry, there’s always a way, you just have to be strategic. Buying your own groceries can be fun and empowering, you get the bonus of being able to know exactly what you’re eating, where it came from, and it’s always on hand so you don’t have to take huge chunks of time out of your schedule to hike over to the dining hall.

I’m going to break it down more simply below, but let’s get to the science of it all first. There’s a reason all of those “hippies” and “granolas” are eating what they’re eating and have much better skin and bods because of it. They know that nature as nature intended is best for your health. That means not only buying food that is good for our bodies, but good for the planet. They really go hand in hand. To see what’s in my pantry/fridge scroll down. But first, read these lessons about the major food groups below, in order of what you should be eating the most of, to the least of:



When buying produce here’s what you should really keep in mind:

A new report issued by the President’s Cancer Panel recommends eating produce without pesticides to reduce your risk of getting cancer and other diseases. And according to the Environmental Working Group (an organization of scientists, researchers and policymakers), certain types of organic produce can reduce the amount of toxins you consume on a daily basis by as much as 80 percent.

The group put together two lists, “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Clean 15,” to help consumers know when they should buy organic and when it is unnecessary. These lists were compiled using data from the United States Department of Agriculture on the amount of pesticide residue found in non-organic fruits and vegetables after they had been washed.

The fruits and vegetables on “The Dirty Dozen” list, when conventionally grown, tested positive for at least 47 different chemicals, with some testing positive for as many as 67. For produce on the “dirty” list, you should definitely go organic — unless you relish the idea of consuming a chemical cocktail. “The Dirty Dozen” list includes:

CLEANPrint this out and take it with you grocery shopping. I’d recommend if you’re going to buy anything on the left hand column that you buy organic. That way you can dodge the unwanted pesticide full bullet!

MEATS, EGGS, and CHEESES: You are what you EAT eats!

Do you like dairy? Meat? Eggs? Then please for crying out loud do your body justice and eat it only if you know how it was produced. Not only are factory farms horrible for the poor animals who get treated terribly, but they’re horrible for the planet. Waste from the factories leads to water pollution and soil erosion. Fossil fuels (coal, minerals, natural gas) that are used to keep these factories going cause ozone problems and have led to climate change. Fact, no funny hippie business. Factory farmed cattle are more prone to diseases because they’re shoved in tight areas and caged hens and chickens are treated brutally with no room to fly or graze. As a result antibiotics are pumped into their systems and thus, when you eat those chickens you’re consuming antibiotics too. And hormones pumped into chickens in order for them to grow bigger more quickly…you’re consuming those too.

What can you do? Well, to be honest, even if you buy organic there is a lot of funny business out there. HOWEVER there are a handful of really great organic food producers who do it in an environmentally friendly way, and that means friendly for the animals, planet, and you!

The Cornucopia Institute will help you out with the confusion. (keep reading…)

ONE THING YOU SHOULD KNOW: JUST because Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are known for their health food presence, does not mean everything in their store is healthy. For example, you’ll notice that TJ’s and WFood’s BRAND organic eggs got a mere 1 egg rating by the Cornucopia Institute, whereas they sell many amazing organic, local brands in their stores. Trader Joe’s for example, sells both non-organic and organic strawberries. That means, you could go there hoping that the only difference is a couple cents when you buy conventional, but the difference is really a whole lot of pesticides and non-sustainable growing methods. BUY ORGANIC BUT KNOW YOUR BRANDS.

Check out the Cornucopia Institute’s list of the best milk, eggs, and cheeses in the country:


  • Brand I ate for breakfast: We’re lucky enough to have Handsome Brooks Farms eggs in CT,  which you can get from Whole Foods, and they got an “Exemplary Beyond Organic” 5 egg rating 🙂
  • Don’t be fooled by: Trader Joe’s Brand, Whole Foods Brand, Eggland’s Best Organic, Land O’ Lakes, Horizon Organic.


  • I drink “Natural by Nature” when I’m home.
  • Brands I buy: Natural by Nature, Wallaby Organic, Stoneyfield Farms
  • Don’t be fooled by: Trader Joe’s brand, Horizon Organic, Archer Farms, Publix

Don’t eat meat?


The Best Dairy Alternatives:

An OK alternative that I don’t particularly fancy:

  • Organic Soy Milk (Soy mimics estrogen in the body, so if you have a history of estrogen-linked breast cancer don’t drink it) I have also found that it’s a migraine trigger for me, but many vegan friends I have swear by it. Note: make sure it is ORGANIC. Soy is one of the most heavily genetically modified crops in our country! Unless you’re buying organic there’s a 90+% chance it’s GMO.

Frustrated? Too many options? Good rule of thumb: if you are unsure of a brand, go for the organic brand closest to your home. That’s what I do when I’m out of town and don’t have the scorecards on hand.

What’s in my pantry at school right now:


What you see:

from Trader Joe’s:

  • Organic Olive Oil Sea Salt Popcorn
  • Organic Extra Virgin Coconut OIl
  • Salsas
  • Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips (blue corn has added antioxidants! :))
  • Quinoa Tortilla Chips
  • Coconut cream (for baking)
  • Almond flour and brown rice flour (for baking)
  • Baking powder (for baking)
  • High Potency Chewables
  • Soups: Organic Tomato, Fire Roasted Pepper, Carrot Ginger
  • Organic Teas: Peppermint, Ginger, and Green Tea
  • Sea Salt
  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
  • Olive Oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Organic Tri Color Quinoa
  • Organic Brown Rice Pasta (I’m gluten intolerant… and have been feeling amazing going gluten free!)
  • Chia Seeds
  • Carrot/Apple Fruit Crushers
  • Hazelnuts
  • Brown Rice Chips
  • Organic Peppermint Candies

from other stores:

  • Tuna fish
  • Whole Foods Happy Yogi’s (strawberry probiotic yogurt dissolves– for babies but they taste good to adults!)
  • Coconut Water
  • KIND Bars (they’re always gluten free, low glycemic, and perfect to shove in your backpack when you’re running low on energy and short on time)
  • Cliff Bars (I like the Chocolate Mint Builders Bars) As a snack though, they’re pretty hefty. Since they have 270 cals, 20 grams of protein and 20gs sugar, I cut them in half and eat only one half at a time… unless I missed breakfast, then I’ll eat it all.
  • Organic Seaweed (although, I have to admit, not my most favorite venture– I think I’ll stick with sushi…)

What’s in the fridge:

  • Applegate Farms Peppered Turkey (10.99 per pound at whole foods, but you’ll only need 1/2 pound per week)
  • Wallaby Organic Kefir :two bottles (one blueberry one plain)
  • Siggi’s icelandic yogurt (5 per week) I have blueberry, vanilla bean, and passionfruit
  • Organic Garlic Hummus (1 container should last 1 week and a half)
  • Olivia’s Organic Mixed Greens (1 box per week)
  • Jarlsberg Cheese 1/4 pound sliced from Whole Foods
  • Handsome Brooks Farms Organic Eggs
  • Broccoli
  • Almond Butter
  • 4 Avocados
  • Organic Carrots
  • Local Organic Blueberries
  • Grapefruits (2 big ones– they’re a pain to cut but so worth the antioxidants and taste. Love adding to smoothies)
  • 1 loaf Udi’s Gluten Free Whole Grain Bread
  • Organic Apples
  • Coconut water (high in potassium, great pre and post workout)

What’s in the Freezer:

  • 1 Udi’s Mediterranean Pizza
  • 2 loaves Udi’s Gluten Free Ancient Grains Bread
  • Freeze pack for my lunch box
  • 6 Organic Free Range Chicken Breasts (I froze them individually in their own freezer safe bags so they don’t get stuck and I don’t have to waste time thawing them) Plop right in oven!

A Typical Day

Breakfast Options (choose one):

  • 2 eggs fried in olive oil with sea salt and crushed pepper and a slice of Udi’s Gluten Free Whole Grain Bread
  • Siggi’s icelandic yogurt with a KIND bar
  • Chia/Kefir/Fruit smoothie (avocado, blueberries, strawberries, grapefruit… depending on what’s on hand) (Think about buying a Magic Bullet– it saves you so much time!)

Lunch Options (choose one):

  • A salad with Applegate Farms Peppered Turkey, blueberries, balsamic or lemon vinaigrette (homemade obvi)
  • Turkey Sandwich on Udi’s gluten free toast with greens, hummus, jarlsberg cheese, and either a tomato or salsa
  • Open-faced avocado, tomato tartines (Just toast with olive oil, avocado slices, sea salt, crushed red pepper flakes and tomatoes)
  • Almond Butter Sandwich with banana on Udi’s Bread and an apple

Snacks (choose a couple per day (one in mid morning one in afternoon):

  • Carrots with hummus
  • Broccoli with hummus
  • Fruit Leather
  • Almonds
  • Apple
  • Organic Popcorn
  • Chips and Salsa

Dinner (choose one):

  • Chicken breast with broccoli and potatoes (spiced up of course– I do NOT like boring food)
  • Soup with quinoa and broccoli (oregano, goat cheese)
  • Brown Rice Pasta with Broccoli (stir fry in olive oil with some sea salt and tomatoes)

(I LOVE broccoli)

Dessert (choose one): 

  • Coconut Sorbet (Sharon’s is the best)
  • Local creamery ice cream
  • Siggi’s yogurt with a gluten free chocolate chip cookie

Other tips:

  1. Drink Water…. 1/2 your body weight in ounces. You’d be shocked how much more energy you’ll have
  2. Feeling constantly tired? Try an elimination diet– that’s how I found out I am intolerant to gluten
  3. Drink Organic, Fair Trade Coffee if you’re a coffee drinker. I’ve found that I don’t need as much now that I’m gluten free, in fact I haven’t had a cup since May (I used to drink 4 cups a day!) But, we all know how tiring it is to be a college student– I plan on bringing out the Keurig soon! Just as you’ve seen from above with fruits and veggies, coffee is full of pesticides. It’s best to prevent intaking pesticides from all aspects of your life. If you happen to live in DC, Port City Java is a chain that is USDA Organic! And you can literally taste the difference. My favorite though of all time? Blue Bottle Coffee in NYC. I never miss an opportunity when I’m there to grab a New Orleans Iced or a Cappuccino.
  4. If you drink coffee and have a Keurig, consider doing something for the planet and your budget and buy one of these
  5. Avoid processed foods at all costs. That means, if it comes from a box, bag, or bottle only consume if it has 5 ingredients or less and you can pronounce them all! Try this 10 day challenge
  6. Freeze extra fruits, veggies, and breads. Organic food is real, which means unlike those McDonald’s french fries I hope you’re not eating, they HAVE an expiration date. Save yourself a couple bucks and freeze extras. It’s going to save you time, waste, and money in the long run. 

There you have it. I hope this will encourage you to buy healthier food, and will eliminate some of that grocery shopping stress!

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Bon Appetit et Bonne Sante!


(c) 2013 Patricia Doheny

4 thoughts on “Healthy College Grocery Shopping: Your Guidebook

  1. This is WONDERFULLY helpful! Having just moved in to a house myself, I’m feeling totally lost in the grocery store and the kitchen. Your guidance is much appreciated!

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