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The Chic Chef: Fresh Grocery Essentials for College Students


The chic chef header

Hey girls! Many of you have left comments over the last few months asking for grocery list suggestions. To keep from writing a huge, intimidating list (and well, a very, very long CF post) I’ve broken it down into three categories – fresh refrigerator items, pantry staples, and freezer essentials. Today, we’re starting with the fresh refrigerator group.

Technically, all food is perishable, but this list focuses on the foods that are most prone to spoiling – ones that you will need to replace often. Many people call this perimeter shopping, because most of these items are found in the outer perimeter of your grocery store.

I know this is obvious, but since these items are fresh, mostly unprocessed, and contain few to no preservatives, these foods are the healthiest for you. Most of us are on a tight weekly grocery budget, so I tried to stay very price-conscious and stick to just the essentials. Of course, add or leave off items as you see fit.

Be sure to check back the next couple weeks for a comprehensive guide to pantry staples and spices, as well as a list of items that are handy to have in your freezer.

Let’s get right to it!

Meats and Proteins

Fried egg and bacon
Photo Credit: WikiCommons

  • Lean Ground Beef. This is always important to have on hand. Brown it and toss with spaghetti sauce, mix it with breadcrumbs and eggs for meatloaf or meatballs, form it into hamburger patties or Swiss steaks, or use it to bulk up vegetable soups. Freeze if you haven’t used it within a week or by the date listed on the package.
  • Chicken Breasts or Thighs. I prefer thighs, but go for breasts if that’s more your thing. Bake them, grill them, or boil then shred into casseroles or tacos. Freeze what you haven’t used in 4-5 days or what the package recommends.
  • Lunch Meat. For easy sandwich lunches.
  • Bacon. Render the grease and saute veggies in it. Use if for homemade salad dressings. Flavor other meat dishes. Fry it up for breakfast! I’ve never frozen bacon before, so I usually keep it wrapped really tightly and throw out what I haven’t used yet after about a week.
  • Eggs. For breakfast, baked goods, firming up casseroles, and a million other miscellaneous things. Eggs can keep for several weeks or even a month in your fridge. A quick way to tell if an egg is bad? Gently lay one in a bowl of cold water. If it floats it’s spoiled, if it sinks it’s still good!


Various types of cheese isolated on a plate
Photo Credit: ELLE

  • Milk or a milk substitute. Coconut milk is my favorite, but soy milk, almond milk, or Lactaid are possible alternatives. Always check expiration dates and look for the bottle that’s the farthest away!
  • Plain Greek yogurt. I usually buy a big container of plain yogurt so I can use it for both sweet and savory purposes. Mix it with honey or jam for breakfast, or with lemon juice, garlic, and herbs for a zesty sauce or dip. Again, check expiration dates!
  • Parmesan cheese wedge. It’s SO much tastier (and looks much fancier) than the processed variety that comes in a green shaker. Top off chicken, fish, or salads with it.
  • String Cheese or Babybel cheeses. A great snack to grab on the go.
  • Sliced American cheese singles. Because you never know when you’ll need a grilled cheese. Perfect for sandwiches, too!
  • Butter and/or Light Buttery Spread. I sub-in Brummel and Brown light buttery spread on toast, bread, meats, and sauteed veggies, but use the good, full-fat stuff for baked goodies.
  • Kefir Cheese. If you can’t find it at your regular grocery store, it’s worth the occasion trek to a specialty or health food grocer. This cheese (also known as labne) has less fat and calories than regular cheese, contains probiotics, and tastes insanely fresh and delicious. Use it as a healthy substitute for heavy cream, sour cream, or cream cheese in recipes. Use it smeared on crackers, dolloped in soups, blended with mashed potatoes or cauliflower, or topped on fresh veggies.


Berries in blender
Photo Credit: ELLE

  • Bananas, apples, and/or oranges. Keep in a fruit bowl in a shaded, cool place (or if you’re on a budget and lazy like me, on top of your microwave). These make the perfect on-the-go snacks. Cover banana stems with plastic wrap to keep them fresh longer.
  • 1 carton of your favorite kind of berries. Remove from the carton, and soak in a big bowl filled with 10 parts water, 1 part apple cider vinegar. This will help kill bacteria and make them last twice as long. Store in the carton in your fridge. Toss on Greek yogurt for breakfast, in a baggie as a snack, or on top of a salad for a sweet and tangy kick.
  • Salad greens. Whether your favorite is romaine, spring mix, baby spinach, or iceberg, it’s always great to have a bag of your favorite greens on hand.
  • Kale. Because of its fibrous nature, it will last up to three week in your fridge’s crisper drawer. Sauté with olive oil (or butter, or bacon fat) or toss with your favorite salad dressing and let it set for 15 minutes.
  • Carrots and celery. These will last for a long time in your fridge and are staples in soups, sauces, roasts, and casseroles. Also, slice ‘em up and eat with dip!
  • Yellow onions. Although I love white onions and red onions, yellow are the most versatile. They can pretty much be used in any application, so they’re a good choice if you’re on a budget. Store in a shaded, breathable area – your fruit basket will work!
  • A head of garlic. Perfect for soups, stews, sautes, casseroles, stir-frys, sauces, or roasting whole. I normally store these in my shaded spice cabinet.
  • A large bag of potatoes. They’ll last for a month in a shady place.
  • 1 or 2 avocados. Depending on how fast your consume these delicious green devils.
  • 2-3 seasonal vegetables. Seasonal produce is not only the freshest and most flavorful, but it’s also usually the least expensive. Beets, turnips, mushrooms, and arugula this time of year will give you good bang for your buck.
  • 1-2 seasonal fruits. Strawberries and papayas are good for late March and all of April.


Hummus and pita chips
Photo Credit

  • Bread. Go whole wheat, or pick up a loaf of Ezekiel or Genesis bread in the freezer section and store in your fridge.
  • Juice. Look for 100% juice blends with no added sugar. Great for smoothies or pour in a glass for a morning pick-me-up. I splash a little bit in my water to make it tastier, too!
  • Hummus. Perfect for snacking.

What’s On Your Grocery List?

When you “shop the perimeter” of the grocery store, what items do you typically pick up? What are some of your vegetable and fruit staples? How do you keep your shopping list diverse on a tight budget? Do you have any tips for storing your perishable items?

Leave and comment and tell us what you think!

Posted on on March 27, 2014 / Filed Under: College Life / Tags: , , , ,

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6 Responses to “The Chic Chef: Fresh Grocery Essentials for College Students”

  1. 1
    March 27th, 2014 at 9:05 am

    I seriously cannot figure out how to make myself eat kale. I’ve had it plain, in salads, salted and baked, and in smoothies. I just don’t get it.

  2. 2
    March 27th, 2014 at 11:51 am

    You know, instead of buying pre-sliced cheese, you could always just buy a proper cheese slicer. (Dutch delis sell the best ones, but other places do carry them). I grew up with a cheese slicer in the house, and I thought that everyone had one. Imagine my surprise to learn this was not the case! If you like cheese, then you must get a cheese slicer.

  3. 3
    March 27th, 2014 at 12:52 pm

    This list is pretty much all stuff I could not afford in college. Try rice, eggs, yogurt, granola, and the occasional poptart…

  4. 4
    March 27th, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    No non-meat protein sources??? What about tofu, chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans?

  5. 5
    March 27th, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    I think you forgot fish.. especially smoked salmon can be great for a quick snack or lunch

  6. 6
    April 1st, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Also, frozen veggies will keep for months and provide the same nutrition as fresh veggies. These are always a good option on a smaller budget!

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