Something I never realized I was privileged to love is abundant, humongous American grocery stores. Oh, the glory of a Target! (Glory I have never basked in.) The joys of getting everything you need––ground beef, foot scrub, those smiley face fries from elementary school, and a puffer jacket––all in one place! 

All of that American pampering makes grocery shopping and eating in feel pretty daunting when you go abroad. During my first week, I felt hyper-conscious of food. I knew I was eating out all the time, and I was scared about finding a real grocery store (as opposed to the very European day markets, the gas station-adjacent pop-ups, and the random bread and cheese shops). 

Here’s my one stop guide to figuring it all out––and fast.

Step One: Prepare for your country’s cuisine norms.

When I tell you that the dinner options in Italy are pasta or meat… I mean it. Grocery stores here house little to no “college food” staples. Frozen food sections are very small and oftentimes mostly vegetarian or vegan. Boxed meal additions like Idaho potatoes or Hamburger Helper are nonexistent (unless that boxed item is––you guessed it––pasta). 

When the things you know how to make or are simply homesick for are unavailable, don’t panic. You’d be surprised with how many similarities there really are.

Step Two: Go back to the basics.

I’ll admit it! My favorite comfort college meal after a long day of classes and rehearsals is… Drumroll please… Kraft mac and cheese, Tyson chicken nuggets, and some veggies. A perfect Kindergarten lunch. No, I’m not proud of it. But it was easy and never failed to ease my stress. Food therapy: it’s real.

But worry not! Once you get into a rhythm, you won’t miss those nasty mac and cheese dinners anyway. Or, not too much. 

What I suggest is analyze what nutrients you feel like you’re missing (for me it was protein and an overall lack of vegetables). Next, buy your simple ingredients. This might be potatoes, onions, garlic, eggs, and the like as well as spices and oils. This alone was really helpful, especially for easier meals. I know how to make a mean egg sandwich and potatoes. 

Once you figure out what small, simple things you can make, then you can venture to more complicated dishes. I made homemade onion rings and fries just because my friends and I were craving them. But, this doesn’t neglect the culture you’re staying in, either! We’re still trying to find the perfect places for the best caprese salad possible. 

Our improvised (and very tasty) Americano snack.

Step Three: Living in a metropolitan area

Oh Hope College. Who knew I would be so grateful for those late-night Meijer trips for ice cream or post-rehearsal grocery hauls? Quick and easy, they were (in true American fashion, of course). 

Here, I have the choice of two grocery stores: Todis or Conad. (Personally, I am a Todis girl all the way, but I would never tarnish the Conad name.) Both are a 10-12 minute walk from my apartment building and the walk back from both is uphill. When I tell you to invest in a shopping cart––I mean it!

No, I don’t mean an actual shopping cart. I mean one of those two-wheeled rolly bags that old ladies push around New York City holding who knows what. Yes, those. They are an absolute lifesaver for big grocery trips and even the ones where all you’re getting is popcorn and gelato. The ones my roommate and I got were about €14 each and well worth the price. 

My roommate, featuring her amazing shopping cart.
My roommate, featuring her amazing shopping cart.

Step Four: Eat!

Just make sure you are taking care of yourself and nourishing your body. It’s easy to stress out about money since work study or other on and off campus jobs aren’t really an attainable thing when you’re abroad (unless, of course, you’re an Off Campus Study Blogger). Don’t let that cloud your eating habits. It is possible to still be a cheap meal prepping college student here, it’s just a little bit different. 

You can do it! Now, I’m going to make some caprese and an egg sandwich. Buona serata!

Published by kathrynsmith

Class of 2023 Communications Major, Writing and Theatre Double Minor IES Rome, Italy

Leave a comment