Grocery shopping 101

| February 4, 2022

Grocery shopping is a skill like anything else, and it’s one worth developing. It supports so many elements of your well-being: physical (tasty, healthy food), financial (a budget that stays on track), environmental (food waste is bad), and mental (preventing a maintenance task from becoming overwhelming).

To help you develop these skills, we’ve created maps of Baltimore- and DC-area grocery stores and a list of shopping strategies to make the process of buying (and enjoying) food a little easier.

First, here are the maps. If we’ve missed any of your favorites, email us at [email protected]. We’re interested in keeping these maps relevant and are particularly interested in hearing about independent and specialty stores.

We also encourage you to check out the farmers markets in Baltimore and DC. You’ll generally get fresher produce at better prices and will be supporting local farmers. Many are within walking distance of our campuses. 

Additionally, here are some tips for when you are ready to purchase your groceries, which are partially adapted from the USDA’s MyPlate.Gov program. 

See what you already have. 

When starting your grocery list, think about the five food groups—fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy or fortified plant-based alternatives. Take a look at the foods you already have in your refrigerator, freezer, and pantry and shop for foods you may be missing. 

Plan your weekly meals and your grocery runs. 

Write down meals you want to make for the week. Think of creative ways to use some of the items you already have together with some new ones. Strive for a variety of foods in each of the food groups. 

Using this meal plan, create a grocery list. There are lots of apps that you can use for this task but a pen-and-paper list works too. Don’t forget to include foods like fruits and vegetables, which may not be a part of a recipe but are great to have as snacks. Fresh, canned, frozen, dried, and dehydrated all count! 

Build time into your regular schedule to either physically go to the store or to sit down and use online shopping services. Factor in the time and money costs of transportation if you don’t have access to a car. (Walking to the grocery store with empty bags is one thing; walking home with a week’s worth of groceries is another.) Many of the stores on our map are within the range of the Hopkins Shuttle System. You can also use Baltimore City Public Transportation, ride sharing (like Lyft), or car sharing (like ZipCar) options. 

If you struggle with making time to grocery shop, consider outsourcing the task to a delivery service or using a pick-up option. Just make sure to factor any additional charges into your food budget. 

Partnering up with a housemate or friend to do a grocery run can be cheaper and more fun, especially if you can split what you buy and/or any transportation costs. 

If you’re going to a brick-and-mortar store, finish your list by organizing needed items into groups, such as grocery sections or food groups. This helps you to stay focused, buy only the items you need, and make a quick exit. 

If you’re shopping in Baltimore City, remember to bring your reusable bags. Otherwise you will be charged 5 cents for each plastic bag. 

Look around for savings. 

Save more by using coupons, signing up for your store loyalty programs, buying foods on sale and in-season, or comparing brands and prices. Ask about student discounts. Remember that store brands are usually less expensive and often comparable to name-brand products.  

That said, remember that just because something is on sale, it doesn’t mean you have to buy it. As a general rule of thumb, it can be good to stock up on nonperishable items (canned and boxed goods, toiletries, etc) if they’re on sale. But be realistic and even conservative when it comes to perishable items and don’t buy more than you can eat (or freeze) before they spoil. 

Read labels. 

Make the best choice for your needs by comparing nutrition and ingredient information by reading the food label or the Nutrition Facts label. Look for those with less added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. The benefits of healthy eating add up over time, bite by bite.