I have a love hate relationship with the meal plan here at the George Washington University. 

This unique meal plan offers a different dining experience for students that is more accommodated to their needs living in the heart of Washington, DC. Instead of a dining hall, our selections for dining consist generally of casual eateries located around the Foggy Bottom area. Places to eat such a Sweetgreen, Whole Foods, and Beefsteak are some of the staple restaurants GW students go to everyday. While, yes, all of these places are delicious they can get kinda boring after a few years and not to mention they can be kinda expensive.

The Solution: Go grocery shopping!

Many students tend not to take advantage of the wide variety of grocery stores we have in our area. The majority of GWU dorms have kitchens in their rooms, if not a communal kitchen.

Grocery shopping and cooking are great ways to really expand the variety of meals you are eating as a student and help stretch that dining cash to the end of the semester. Whole Foods and Safeway are both on GWorld, and Trader Joe's (while not on GWorld) is an awesome option.

Students usually fall on a spectrum of grocery shopping expertise. Whether you are a novice or an old pro here are some helpful tips to help adapt your grocery shopping habits to your needs as a consumer.

Tips for saving money:

Buy generic: Same product, less money.

Reduce your meat consumption: Meat can be expensive! Try googling some vegetarian meals that are also filling. Lentils are a great cheap way to get lots of protein.

Ditch organic: In a perfect world I would ALWAYS buy organic. But when I'm balling on a budget I just make sure to wash my produce very well.

Go to Safeway: Safeway may be a little farther but they have amazing deals on reasonably priced choices. Getting a club card can help you save even more!

Tips for Making Easy Meals:

Buy pre-made options: Microwavable rice bowls, lean cuisines, and canned soup make dinner still hearty and flavorful, but take minutes to prepare. Trader Joe's offers a wide variety of really tasty pre-prepared meals.

Buy items that can be made in bulk and last for a while:  You can make a whole box of pasta for the week and then just add different topping each night. It cuts down on cooking time and provides variety.

Make overnight breakfast: Overnight oats or chia are an awesome way to have a hearty breakfast that takes no time at all. 

Toaster waffles: Eggo's gift to the human species is the toaster waffle. They are cheap, quick, and tasty!

Tips for Maximizing Flavor: 

Spices, spices, spices: If you buy a nice array of spices such as garlic powder, chili powder, oregano, or ginger you can make any bland piece of chicken taste phenomenal.

To the internet! Go to Pinterest: Get out there and look for recipes! You don't have to be a master chef to make dinner's that taste great. Planning your meals ahead of time allows you to grocery shop for many out of the ordinary flavors based off a new recipe.

Buying cool new foods: Go down isles you typically skip. Try some new things like endive or fish sauce! There is a whole world of food out there you may be missing out on. Whole foods is gonna be your best place to go shopping. 

Tips for Shopping Healthy:

Buy organic: Ditching pesticides or non-natural growing methods is important in being diligent about what goes into your body. 

Switch out processed foods for natural: Some foods have the appearance of being healthy but are filled with unnecessary sugars and colors. Switching out your regular peanut butter with all natural or "only peanuts" peanut butter is one way to ditch extra sugars. 

Don't buy sugary drinks: A reusable water bottle is a college students best friend. Not only do you save money by not buying drinks, you are providing your body with the most essential element--water. 

Instead of calorie counting, buy foods that have nutritional value: Eating a reasonable amount of calories for your body is important, but make sure these calories are substantial. Eggs, cheese, leafy greens, lean proteins all provide essential nutrients to your body that are more important than "low calorie" foods. 

Find a go to veggie: My favorite veggie is the sweet potato. After about 10 minutes in the microwave I have a super nutrient rich and inexpensive meal.

Questions to ask yourself before going grocery shopping:

1. How many meals a week am I looking to eat out?

If you love eating out then don't buy lots of produce, meats, and cheeses that will go bad. Instead, buy canned soups, cereal, and granola bars that will be good throughout the next few weeks. If you don't want to eat out then buy items that will be good for multiple meals. Buying a zucchini means that you can use it in both a pasta dish on Tuesday and for roasted veggies on Thursday. Make sure to list possible meals you could make with multiple ingredients you buy that week.

2. What foods go bad quickly?

Jessica Kelly

Produce like berries, avocados, bananas, peaches, bagged lettuce tend to go bad faster than other produce such as apples, oranges, squashes, onions, and carrots. Remember to eat the produce items that go bad faster first, or buy less of those items. Soft cheeses and non-frozen meats also go bad faster than hard cheeses and frozen meats. 

3. What basics should I always have around? 

Jocelyn Hsu

- An all seasoning: My go to is Old Bay because I'm a Maryland girl. But there are some great all in one seasoning mixes that are packed with flavor. 

- Eggs! You have no idea the variety of things you can make with eggs. Omelettes, over easy eggs, fried egg sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, etc. give you a variety of options for breakfast, lunch or dinner. 

- A few go-to condiments: Hot sauce or soy sauce can add flavor to any protein or grain.

- Pasta/Grains. A box of pasta can sit in your cabinet for months and still be an awesome 10 minute meal in a pinch.

- Peanut Butter: For breakfast or lunch peanut better is a filling way to make boring toast or fruit tasty.

4. Where should I go?

The majority of your groceries are gonna be cheapest and will have most variety from Safeway.

Specialty foods like vegan mayonnaise, organic produce, or gluten free options would be easiest to find at Whole Foods.

Trader Joe's has the best frozen foods section. In addition, they have snacks specific to their store that I would highly recommend.

Everyone has their own style for grocery shopping, but hopefully with these tips and tricks you can really maximize that meal plan. 

Hopefully these helpful hints and tricks have you grocery shopping so well that your roommate will need to start taking a few notes.