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Living Alone for The First Time? Here’s A Guide to Grocery Shopping

COVID-19 turned lots of freshmen and sophomores who would have otherwise been dorm dwellers into first-time renters, trying their luck out in the real world. While this change presents lots of newfound independence, that very independence can make it intimidating—especially when you realize you went to the grocery store and didn’t even buy the essentials, because you’ve never had to grocery shop or do meal planning for yourself.

It can be overwhelming to take on these new responsibilities. They become even more complicated with a roommate or two.

Regardless of the specific situation, there are guidelines that my roommate and I created once we moved into our apartment in September. Deciding to split the grocery bill every week, we realized that our food choices would have to become more like each other’s or else our system would crumble. Since that point, we have narrowed our choices to include a basic, weekly grocery list that we can both agree on.

When we’re preparing to make our weekly Sunday trip to Trader Joe’s, we (and by we, I mean she…) create a detailed list of the meals we want to make for the upcoming week. By actually thinking ahead and creating meals, we can avoid ending up with a bunch of random ingredients on Wednesday night with no plan. With classes and extracurriculars taking up so much of our time, not to mention the mental exhaustion of being on Zoom all day, the last thing we want to have to do is think of something to make when it’s already 7 p.m.

When we create the list, we deliberately categorize the items into which section they are located in at the store. There’s nothing worse than walking back and forth across the store fifteen times just because you didn’t look far enough down the list to know that you need cheddar and feta from the dairy section. My roommate actually taught me this trick—in my family, we prefer chaos.

To determine what to add to your list, try to think about your staples. Regardless of what you eat in a week, your first trip to the grocery store will need to include the basics—things like flour, sugar and other baking supplies. After that, consider things that are easy to cook like pasta, oatmeal and frozen meals.

My roommate and I rely mostly on fresh ingredients. She loves to cook, so we think ahead about what ingredients she will need. However, it’s always nice to have a frozen pizza on standby just in case we lose motivation later in the day.

One mistake we made (and continue to make) is our lack of snack and sweets purchases. When we’re at the store, we convince ourselves that we don’t need snacks or desserts, so we don’t buy them. That leads to a massive goPuff order later in the week when we’re desperate for ice cream—not good for our credit cards or our health goals! Going forward, we’ve decided to specifically allocate part of our budget for those things, that way we don’t end up binging later on.

Shopping for yourself is definitely an adjustment, but you’ll quickly realize what items you’re missing. There’s no shame in running to the store twice (or more) in a week, but it’s far from optimal when you have a busy schedule. By planning ahead and collaborating with roommates, you can ensure that everybody is full and happy!

Jenna Spray

Northwestern '23

Jenna is a journalism and legal studies double major at Northwestern University. In her free time, she enjoys binge eating dark chocolate and studying Italian in hopes that she can one day become an honorary Italian citizen. As a washed-up high school athlete, fitness is one of Jenna's passions, and her goal is to encourage more young women to get in the weight room. You can find her curled up in her bed watching Gossip Girl or using the squat rack at your local gym.
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