Spoon AU x The Eagle: The unofficial D.C. student’s guide to grocery shopping
How to shop your way around the district while living without a meal plan
If you’re currently in the Northwest corner of D.C., then you know that this semester will be unlike any other with big changes: virtual classes, social distancing and about 100 percent less school-provided meals. Without the safety cushion of meal swipes to get through the school day, the responsibility falls onto students to make sure that their pantries are fully stocked with snacks and that their fridges are full enough to deliver, hopefully, three meals a day. If this is your first time living without the perks of a meal plan, this might seem like an overwhelming task. This essential guide to NW D.C.’s grocery stores is an easy place to start.
If you’re new to grocery shopping on your own, this is absolutely the place to start. Giant has the basic format of a grocery store with a plentiful selection. The ingredients that you need will always be accessible, and the store goes the extra mile by having more than one brand. Produce is at the front, proteins are on the back wall and the middle is full of anything else that you could possibly need. Additionally, there’s no better place to look when you’re building up your kitchen’s stock of spices, salt, pepper and olive oil. Giant also has a free membership program that sets you up with a Giant card and the deals that come with it. Shopping the deals at Giant will allow you to save money as you stock up. At Giant, you will find the most options across brands with affordable prices.
Dare I say it, TJ’s is the perfect grocery store. It truly has it all: produce, pantry staples, protein, frozen meals and — if you’re of legal age — the most affordable wine options that can be found. Trader Joe’s offers competitively low prices on its brand items, but also carries staples from third-party sellers. The store is stocked with balanced snacks like nuts, granola, dried fruit and late-night college snacks like chips and salsa and ice cream sandwiches. It has an array of fancy lemonades and seltzers, along with an impressive cheese selection for any at-home charcuterie board-making. Even more, going to Trader Joe’s is an experience. Taking the bus or car ride to Glover Park with your roommates makes room for some quality bonding over snacks and impeccable frozen meals.
There could not be a better time for a Target to pop up in Tenleytown. It's directly across the street from the Red Line Metro stop and walking distance from Ward Circle. It's also right by bus stops coming from both Friendship Heights and from Ward Circle, so it could not be easier to get to this Target. The biggest perk of any Target is that you’re able to get through an entire grocery list just by shopping Target-brand products, which means lower prices and more groceries for you. Target is undoubtedly the most multi-purpose store on this list. Whether you need shampoo, athletic shorts, extra school supplies or a new roll of tin foil, anything that you need will be available just a few aisles over from the cereal. Target also has a full produce section, which allows you to get enough food to build a full meal.
Who doesn’t like Whole Foods? No matter what the geographical location is, it always feels huge inside, which is currently ideal given the social distancing guidelines that we are all following. On the other hand, Whole Foods’ good-for-you brands-you've-never-heard-of vibe is a little intimidating at first, along with the higher prices than stores like Giant or Trader Joe’s. But, please, don’t let that discourage you! If you’re dealing with any kind of dietary restrictions, Whole Foods is going to be your best friend. You’ll be able to learn what does and doesn’t work for your diet before you move into supermarkets where reading the labels and ingredients takes much more attention to detail. Whole Foods has great organic food in many different brands for those who are invested. Whole Foods has the best selection of ice cream, which is a good thing to keep in mind. With its easily accessible location next to the Tenleytown Metro stop and high quality selection, Whole Foods is a good candidate for a future grocery shopping trip.
I am very determined to not let my absolute love for farmers markets get in the way of being realistic about the experience of grocery shopping at one. It is not for the faint of heart. Seeing so many local vendors is really exciting, and it’s always a treat to spend a Sunday morning looking around the different stands, but it also lends to the much larger price tag that comes with each item. With a well-thought-out grocery list that mixes farmers market items with things from a standard grocery store, it may be an effective option for you. But often, that amount of work is not ideal for a regular chore like grocery shopping. My biggest advice would be to just pick up a few things. Treat yourself! Some of my favorite stands can be found at the Dupont Circle farmers market: HEX Ferments serves kombucha and other fermented products, Cheese Goatees sells goat milk soaps and goat cheese, and Dodo Farms sells vegetables and eggs. I buy these local products as little treats to have in my kitchen! Even better, you can stop at the Call Your Mother bagel stand or Zeke’s Coffee stand for a snack as you walk around. My overall advice for shopping at farmers markets is learn how to grocery shop for yourself, and work your way up from standard supermarkets to something more specialized, like your local vendors at the farmers market.
This is by far the unsung hero of the late-night college craving. I wouldn’t go as far to say you can get fully stocked here, but CVS is open late and will always be stocked with enough basics to get you through a few meals. Packed with soups, mac and cheese, snack foods, frozen meals and the essential pints of ice cream, these stores are the perfect place to go when you’re in a pinch. It’s cheap and easy to get the essentials. I have gotten by for much longer than I’m proud to admit on just mini trips to my local CVS because going to the grocery store is not really what I want to do that day. With locations in Tenleytown and Spring Valley, CVS is an easy and quick stop for one or two items or for essential snacks to get you through classes.
No matter how you look at it, living without your school’s meal plan takes a fair amount of adjusting and learning how to keep your kitchen stocked in ways that are affordable, exciting and appetizing. It might be a challenge, but it is possible. Happy shopping, happy eating and happy cooking!