Tips for Sustainable Grocery Shopping

Integrating sustainable practices into everyday life can be daunting as a student. However, living life while conscious of your habits and how they affect the social and biotic environment around you does not require major changes, and it could save you a couple of dollars along the way. Here are some easy tips that I am trying to incorporate myself into my daily life!

A Notes app on your phone is very helpful for storing and re-using grocery lists, paper-free!


  1. Plan in advance. Figure out generally what you would like to eat for the period that you are grocery shopping for, including how much time you will have to cook, and create a grocery list based on that. Be honest with yourself when you are planning out your food. Will you really finish a full bag of spinach, or will you have enough time to cook the sweet potato fries with midterms coming up? Having a list will prevent you from buying too much food and wasting it as well as from ordering a pizza because all the food you have would require too much prep time.

    This is nowhere near all my spices… This is one of the areas in my house that convinced me to try and live more minimalistically.
  2. Be a kitchen minimalist. This way you don’t have as much clutter in a space where you should easily be able to find your pepper in the spice cupboard and you will know what you already have so you won’t accidentally buy repeats. Food waste is a large problem in Canada as we throw away an average 396 kilograms of food per capita every year.1 This is bad for the environment since we are throwing something away that took resources to create and it is also equivalent to throwing away money. Next time you forgot you had half a cucumber left in the fridge, imagine it as a dollar you are throwing in the trash which could have been avoided.

    Blog 1 Squash
    Squash are currently in season! Butternut squash is delicious with some brown sugar and cinnamon in the oven and you probably won’t regret giving spaghetti squash a try either!
  3. Think about what is in season. When you plan around that the produce is cheaper and tastes better. While difficult in the Canadian winter, during the rest of the year try to focus on what is growing in the places closest to us. A great place to check out and learn about what’s in season is the farmer’s market. Buying at a grocery store is usually cheaper, but that does not mean you cannot implement parts of the idea behind a farmers market yourself. For example, right now carrots, apples, and squash are in season so buy those instead of oranges! You can also check the little stickers on produce to see where a product is from. Lots of things are grown in hot houses in Canada, which is still a better option compared to shipping from other countries.

    Fried rice is a simple but highly custizable dish to make, and since you can make it to your own preferences I personally like the homemade version much more than the take-out versions I’ve had. This one has kimchi in it!
  4. Learn to enjoy cooking. Or at least an aspect of it. While I have always enjoyed baking I really didn’t enjoy cooking when I moved out, especially after burning mac and cheese the first time I tried making it… In addition to being pretty bad at it, I also saw cooking only as a chore. But try to get past that and find some part of the process you enjoy. If you love shopping, enjoy making a list and spend some extra time picking exactly which fruit looks better. If you enjoy having plants around and growing things, try grow your own herbs! Maybe try baking your own bread, or make your own pickles! Even if some experiments fail, you can treat your kitchen like your own grown-up version of Dexter’s Laboratory, but potentially more delicious in the end. Finally, don’t beat yourself up if it goes wrong a couple of times, take it from a girl when went from burning mac and cheese to making pizza from scratch.

    These are the reusable bags I commonly use for shopping. I bought the backpack, but the others were all received when I bought other items.
  5. Bring reusable bags. For an extra challenge, try not to buy these bags, since a reusable bag still uses materials that cannot be recycled and it takes energy to make these bags. Instead, bring your backpack or use a reusable bag that you received with a different purchase. If you are crafty, you can also make a bag out of an old shirt that is ineligible for donating and kill two birds with one stone! Also check out the previous blog post on Plastic-fee food shopping by Johanna.

    Blog 1 Processed Food.jpg
    Snack and soda isles are full of packaging that often cannot be recycled.
  6. Buy less processed food and eat less meat. It is common advice these days, but only shop the perimeter and mostly the veggies. Meat makes a large dent in your grocery bill and cattle farming has a large carbon footprint. You can do yourself and the environment a favour by reducing products that takes lots of resources to grow and money to buy. In addition, a good rule of thumb is that the more processed an item is, the worse for the environment and for your body. Processing adds sugar, corn syrup, and other ingredients that are not necessary when you make your own version. This is also a great way to reduce your packaging as many whole foods can be bought without coming in a box.

    Sometimes spinach starts to wilt before you eat it all in a fresh salad. Instead of throwing it away, I freeze mine before it gets slimy so I can instead use it in smoothies or scrambled eggs later.
  7. Not all ugly food is bad. Orchard run apples are often a little bit banged up, but if you eat them within several days of buying them you can easily cut the small pieces off. They are also half the price of regular apples! Slightly mushy produce from your fridge is often still perfect for other purposes such as banana bread from browned bananas. Moldy hard cheese can have that piece cut off and the rest of the cheese is no problem. A slightly bruised kiwi does great in a morning smoothie. Learn to handle your food and other options for it rather than straight away into the garbage bin.

    Image result for ualberta community garden
    Our Campus Community Garden where you can volunteer and get some gardening experience!2
  8. Community gardens. Volunteer with Campus Garden or be part of one of the many community gardens in the city.3 Volunteers often get to take home part of the harvest when it is ready and so you pay for it with your own labour. It is also a good way to start to learn about how to grow your own food and appreciate what goes into producing food if you don’t have a garden or don’t know where to start.

    WECAN Food Baskets
    WECAN Food Basket Society logo. This is an organization that strives for nutritious and and affordable food security.4
  9. Alternatives. It can be very tough to make ends meet on a budget and there are other options you can look towards to eat clean, sustainable food. WECAN Food Basket Society is like a monthly subscription box, but with affordable whole foods.4 One of their drop off locations is at the University of Alberta North Campus at the Food Bank, so check out their website!

To completely switch routines is difficult, but by integrating small things and tweaking how we already live, we can all make change happen.

Nikki van Klaveren




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