Cheat #1: Finding Your Essentials

cheats-for-cheap-eatsImage by Ryan McGuire via Canva

My freshman year of college was the first time I ever had to buy my own groceries. As a child, I would ask my mom to pick up my favorite foods whenever she made our weekly grocery store trip. As a teen, I became more interested in the foods I consumed and would tag along with her to the grocery store. Although I started making more trips to the grocery store, I never payed attention to the prices of certain foods, since I did not have to pay for them. So, it was quite a shock when my roommate and I made our first trip to the grocery store as independent college students. We ended up spending the majority of our paycheck on foods that were not only unhealthy, but also foods that did not even last us a week! This experience not only taught me the value of budgeting and planning, but also taught me the importance of buying essentials. I consider my essentials to be foods that are cheap, healthy, and can be stretched until my next grocery store run. After four years of buying my own groceries I have found my top five grocery essentials:


  1. Steel Cut Oats ($3.24): Typically a 24 ounce can of steel cut oats lasts me 3 to 4 weeks . I like buying large cans, as opposed to boxed packs of oatmeal, because it does not comform me to one type of oatmeal. With the can I switch up my toppings and create my own flavors! Steel cut oats are not only dorm friendly, they are also low in sodium and are a great source of whole grains and fiber.¹ The fiber within oatmeal helps keep you full since it takes the stomach a longer time to digest fiber.¹
  2. Frozen Fruit (3 packs for $9.00): I prefer to buy frozen fruit, over fresh fruits, because it lasts longer than fresh fruit. The three packages of frozen fruit lasts me about 2 to 3 weeks. Frozen fruit is a great staple to include on your shopping list because you can use it as a topping for cereal, yogurt, and oatmeal. Frozen fruit can also be used to make a different types of smoothies! Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries contain phoytochemicals and antioxidants which help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals.²
  3. Almond Milk ($3.99):  I am lactose intolerant, so I opt for almond milk as opposed to  cow’s milk. My campus’ dining commons provides free almond milk, but I prefer to have my own almond milk on hand. Most of my milk is used for my cereal but I also use it to make smoothies or acai bowls. Almond milk is a great alternative for lactose intolerant consumers because it is fortified with minerals like Calcium and Vitamin D. These two minerals are important for healthy bone function and growth!
  4. Peanut Butter ($5.00): I am a big fan of peanut butter and use it on almost EVERYTHING.  PB2 is a more expensive brand of peanut butter, but I find that it is a splurge because it is low in sodium, fat, and calories. Peanut butter is plant-based protien that provides a good source of unsaturated fats.³ Unsaturated fats are heart-healthy fats that are often found in some oils, nuts, and seeds.
  5. Plain Greek Yogurt ($4.98): Greek yogurt is the only type of yogurt my tummy can tolerate. I like to buy the 32 ounce jar since I use it in many different ways. Plain Greek yogurt can be used to make a low fat ranch dressing or as a sour cream alternative. It is also great to use in smoothies or you could just eat it by itself ! One 32-ounce jar equals about eight single yogurt cups. These singles are usually priced @$1.00 so you would save approximately $3.00 buying the large jar! Greek yogurt contains some of the same bone healthy minerals found in almond and cow’s milk.

Now that you have seen my top five, trying looking in your cabinets, refrigerator, and freezer and identify your top five essentials. Next time you go to the grocery store, try putting these essentials in your cart first before adding anything else. This way you can avoid making the same mistake as I did!



  1. National American Heart Association. “Types of Whole Grains” National American Heart Association. May 5, 2015. Accessed February 26, 2017.
  2. Barbean T, Bickford P, Casto B, et al. ” Berries Fact Sheet” Oregon State Univeristy Berry Health Benefit Network. June 2009. Accessed February 26, 2017.
  3. Willet, W. “Why is Peanut Butter if it has Saturated Fats?” Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publications. July, 2009. Accessed February 26, 2017.

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