MFA has written fantastic posts in the past about what to get on your first grocery store trip and how to stock your pantry, but I’ve always found it helpful to have multiple lists to look over, so for your viewing pleasure, I present to you a list of everything I bought on my first grocery trip (and a few things I didn’t buy, but probably should have).
Foods I bought in bulk:
- Olive oil – I use so much olive oil in my cooking ever since I visited Italy, so it just doesn’t make sense to buy oil in little containers that I have to replace every three weeks. Instead, I bought one little container and one three liter case. I just refill the little bottle when it’s empty, and I save a ton of money.
- Rice – Store it properly (read: airtight), and it will never go bad. I got a ten pound bag.
- Pasta – Like rice, it doesn’t go bad, and also like rice, it’s a staple of my diet. I got the biggest bag they had.
- Beans – See above.
- Canned goods – I wasn’t really sure where to put these on this list, since there’s so many different items than you can get canned, but I like to always have a few cans of peas, corn, and chickpeas in my cupboard. They’re very versatile, don’t take up valuable freezer space, and pretty much never expire.
Spices and Condiments:
I consider these spices and condiments here my “basics,” but to each their own. If you’ve never used anything other than salt in your entire life, just get yourself some salt and be done. Your very first grocery trip isn’t the time to experiment. Save that for once you’ve settled in.
If you fall on the other side of the spice spectrum and can think of dozens and dozens of vital spices, cool your jets just a bit. Pick a few of your favorites for now. You first shopping trip is going to be expensive enough without adding $50 worth of spices. (Also, remember that you can usually get spices at the dollar store that will work just fine. No one really needs name-brand salt).
- Garlic powder
- Red pepper flakes
- Soy sauce
- Sriracha (or whatever hot-sauce you prefer)
- Ranch dressing (or whatever dressing you might like)
- Balsamic vinegar – some people will list apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar as must-haves, but I’ve never thought of them as crucial. I actually still haven’t bothered to get them, even several months later.
- Honey – for tea and for peanut butter and banana sandwiches, yum!
I like to make sure that I always have at least a few quick and easy meals available for those days when I’m in a hurry or have nothing else to eat. These are especially helpful on your first few days, while you’re still getting the lay of the land and unpacking everything. Just make sure not to go crazy here, since quick meals are often either unhealthy or more expensive than cooking a real meal. This list is just a few suggestions.
- Frozen pizza
- Boxed mac and cheese
- Hot Pockets – I don’t care what anyone says about them, I love Hot Pockets.
- A few frozen dinners
- Peanut butter (and jelly) sandwich supplies
This section is just the things that I got for myself. You should consider your own habits when you make you shopping list. If you are a hard-core baker, you may want to stock up on a lot more than what’s here. If you never plan on baking, you should probably still have a few of the following.
- Flour – Flour is one of those things you probably won’t need often if you’re not a natural cook, but it doesn’t go bad as long as you keep it sealed properly to keep bugs out.
- White (Granulated) sugar
- Brown sugar – some people may not think of this as a important, but honestly, if I had to choose between white and brown sugar, I’d pick brown any day.
- Baking soda – I don’t bake much, so I really only got this because my fridge smelled funny
- Vanilla extract – I use this in tons of things, though most people probably wouldn’t consider it necessary
- Crushed nuts – I use these in in yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, pesto, etc.
- Packages of yeast – I don’t use yeast too often, but I occasionally like to make my own pizza dough, so it’s nice to have on hand.
- Bread – tip: buy a few loaves of bread while they’re on sale, and then freeze the extras.
- Root veggies – I like to keep garlic, onions, and (sweet)potatoes on hand, because I use them in lots of dishes, and they keep a lot longer than most other veggies.
- Frozen or canned veggies – they keep for ages, and they’re a nice way to quickly add something healthy to any meal. Personally, I like to get peas, chickpeas, corn, and spinach. When all I want for dinner is pasta and cheese, I dump in a can of peas or a bag of spinach to keep the carb-coma away.
- Fresh fruits and veggies – just remember only to buy as much as you’ll eat. You don’t want to buy a ton of this and then have it all rot.
Tip: Most produce can be frozen for later use. If your berries are starting to turn, you can make a nice sauce for yogurt or ice cream by microwaving a couple of minutes with a spoonful of sugar.
Be careful in this section, because this stuff can get expensive if you’re not careful. Only ever get as much as you’ll be able to eat. I always try to remind myself that even though cheese may be the most wonderful food in the world, it’s also unhealthy, and I don’t actually need as much as I pretend I do. I try to get enough to make sure I can make lunches for the week, and then not much else.
- sandwich meat
If you are able to skip this section, you are the human I aspire to be. However, if you’re like the majority of people, the thought of completely skipping the snack aisle might make you tear up a bit. However, junk food is easily the single most costly and unhealthy section on this list. My rule is that I am NOT allowed to spend more than $5 per week on junk food. Ideally, I’ll only spend about $2.50. That exactly enough to buy a can of Pringles and a package of my favorite dollar store cookies. If I can’t make those two things last the whole week, well, then I just have to suffer the consequences.
The point here is, limit yourself. Don’t forbid yourself from purchasing anything (especially not while you’re celebrating your big move!) but just be sensible. $5 maximum, if you can.
- Tea or coffee, if you drink it
- Juice – I try not to drink much other than water, but juice is always a nice treat
- Soda – If you drink soda, you can grab some, but do consider that now that you’ve started life in a new home, it it might be a good time to begin a healthier diet. Or, ignore that and buy tons of soda. It’s all up to you :)
- Dish soap
- Dish detergent – you only need this if you got really lucky and have a dishwasher
- Paper towels/napkins – I didn’t bother with napkins because I’m not that fancy
- Paper plates and plastic utensils – I made a point NOT to buy these both for environmental reasons, and because disposable dishes and cutlery seriously enable my slovenly hatred of doing dishes, but most people like to have at least a few of these around.
- Trash bags
- Hand soap
- Ziplock bags
- Aluminum foil
- Plastic Wrap