The evolution of my grocery list

This post is semi-embarrassing, but was fun to reflect on and write.  I don’t eat a “perfect” diet now (whatever that means), nor will I ever, but I’ve come a LONG way in the past decade.


I didn’t live in an apartment until my senior year of college.  Before that I was in the dorms or the sorority house.  We all know what dorm life is like…needless to say, moving to a gorgeous mansion with tons of girlfriends was a big upgrade.  And although living with a million other females wasn’t always such a treat (hello estrogen overload), the fact that we had the sweetest house mom who made us all delicious home-made meals was a HUGE perk.  I had it so good and I didn’t even know it.  Well, I kinda knew it.  Even while living in an apartment on the opposite side of campus, I still ate most of my meals at the house.  That’s why the fridge and cabinets in our apartment consisted of basically nothing.  Sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) we’d go over to the sorority just to raid the fridge (aka steal groceries).  We took bowls and cups too.  I’m pretty sure this was frowned upon, but nobody ever did anything about it.

Anyway, that’s my attempt at explaining what I’m about to show you.

A typical grocery trip (circa 2004):

Canned peas
Diet Dr. Pepper
Dried fruit
Peanut Butter

And that’s about it.  Seriously.  Isn’t that just about the grossest thing you’ve ever seen?  I’m sorry if you’re reading this mom and dad.  I’m mortified by it, which at least shows how far I’ve come in understanding proper nutrition.

I also spent a TON of money at the on-campus candy store.  And I had my way with the salad bar at the on-campus restaurant next to where I worked (which I’m 100% sure I rationalized as cancelling out the candy addiction).  Neither are still in business, so obviously I was alone in that.

My eating habits improved some (minimally) over the next few years, but it wasn’t until I moved to Philly that I really cleaned up my act.

I started nursing school and began to realize how gross I felt when I ate crap.  The upside of saving time and buying processed stuff was totally not worth it.  [There wasn’t an aha moment that led me to this conclusion, I just grew tired of sugar free pudding and packaged deli meat]

So I went back to my roots – eating real food that I made with real ingredients.  It’s pretty odd that I decided to cook and pack bag lunches (two things I never did before) during the busiest year of my life, but I’ve always been one of those people who excels with more on my plate.  Thanks to my mom – who made all our family meals growing up – I already knew my way around the kitchen, so it wasn’t like I was starting from scratch.

A typical grocery list (circa 2006-2007):

Any and every fruit from Whole Foods (apples, bananas, etc.)
Fruit and veggies from the Reading Terminal Market (my first foray in the world of butternut squash)
Trail mix
Bulk bin treats (carob energy chunks, dried fruit, granola, etc.)
Soy yogurt
Vegan cheese
Vegan deli meat
Fresh sliced turkey from the WF deli counter
Rice (I had enough rice to last a year)
Frozen veggies

As you can see there was some of the same (like cereal and dried fruit), but I did all my grocery shopping at Whole Foods or the Reading Terminal Market (meaning the quality of my food was exponentially better than their 2004 counterparts).  Yes, I still ate meat, but it was real meat, not processed and packaged, and I started trying vegan alternatives as well.  I learned to shop seasonally (something I never thought about growing up in California).  I experimented with roasting new to me vegetables.  And I basically started enjoying the act of preparing food.  I was pretty proud of myself each time I sat down to a put-together meal.  It was yummy, but it also came with a sense of accomplishment.  Don’t get me wrong, I sometimes had PB&Js that I smuggled into the library too.  But I had chocolate with a glass of wine occasionally, to balance it out.  I look back on that year as the turning point in my health and diet evolution.

When I moved to NYC, everything was different.  I had a poor excuse for a kitchen.  Kyle and I lived together and co-managed grocery shopping.  I started my first nursing job at a hospital where I was barely able to stay afloat.  And I had ready-made food options available 24 hours a day, anywhere I looked.  I started to slip into a expensive habit…the Whole Foods hot bar.  Every once in a while I cooked, but it was infrequent.  And yet, I started to focus on nutrition even more.  I slowly removed meat from my diet (hummus made up 75% of what I ate) and I learned all about veganism.  But I still ate a ton of health bars.  I discovered kombucha and seaweed and kale.  But I still made smoothies with soy protein powder and spent 50% or more of my paycheck on pre-made food from WF.

And from there it has continued to change.  As we moved to a bigger apartment in NYC.  And then back to California.

My dietary evolution was obviously not always a linear equation.  But that’s normal, I think.  I’m human.  I’m living and learning and adapting as I go.  Sometimes it was like two steps forward, one step back.  But overall, a step forward each time means I was headed in the positive direction.

I’ve grown up and changed and dabbled in and out of various food phases.  And I’m working as much as I can towards eating the least amount of processed stuff.  But sometimes you want to just get store bought bread.  And nut butter.  And faux meatballs.  And since I know how far I’ve come, I can appreciate the fact that I do eat well most of the time, and allow myself to enjoy (and indulge in) the eats I don’t prepare myself.

Grocery list (today):

(other) fruit
Brown rice
(other) grains
Sweet potates
Organic cheese (for Kyle)
Almond milk
Vital wheat gluten
Dried beans & lentils
(other) nuts & seeds
Frozen veggies & fruit
Nutritional yeast
Bragg’s aminos

And so much more…

It’s amazing how I can do anything with just bulk bin items (nuts, seeds, grains) and produce.

I also have a pantry full of various whole grain flours, baking ingredients, and the likes, including almond and coconut flour, lucuma powder and coconut sugar.

If you’d asked me in 2004 how many days a week I’d eat chia seeds, I would have thought you were speaking gibberish.

And if you asked me today how often I crave sugar free jello, I’d tell you never ever ever ever (in a million years).

And that’s the evolution of my grocery list.

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35 thoughts on “The evolution of my grocery list

  1. Katie @ Peace Love & Oats

    oh gosh, my list changed significantly just from when I moved to Chicago and started caring about what I ate! I used to eat steamfresh bags of veggies and rice, tons of cereal, and candy my senior year of college. Yep, that’s about it… Other than when I managed to eat out. This makes me want to randomly show my list of groceries on my blog so I can look back over it!

  2. Alexis @ Hummusapien

    When I lived in my sorority house it was like a DREAM….food everywhere at any time. Moving into an apartment was when I really got into vegan and vegetarian cooking. I ate LOTS of chicken in the sorority house and basically anything else that was in front of me!

    It looks like your grocery list has evolved into quite a good one!!

    1. Elise Post author

      we had burrito bar and it was the most popular day ever. seriously, i loved it sooo much. our house mom and the cooks were mexican so it was pretty dang authentic too.

  3. Kate

    Fascinating to see how much things can change in just a few years, isn’t it? It looks like your list is pretty fantastic these days – simple, natural, and whole. With a little wiggle room when you want it! I can’t get over how easy it really is to build meals (with plenty of leftovers if necessary) from the bulk bins and fresh produce. It shocks me to think about how much I used to rely on boxed and frozen “meals” just a few years ago.

  4. carrie

    As a new vegetarian I still ate tons of Mac n cheese, brownies… not many actual veggies. ahhh college. Now I’m a raw vegan and buy organic farmers market produce by the bucket load. Who knows what the next phase will bring :)

  5. Lisa Horvath

    Our eating journey is eerily similar. I look back on my easy Mac, jello and canned peas diet in college with shock! I’ve been following your blog for a while, thank you for all the inspiration from a fellow east bay girl!

  6. Jill in Chicago

    Love this post! I think we all go through some *ahem* regrettable phases in college/early 20′s (there was one summer where I lived on fast food and mountain dew.)

    And now cooking (and eating real food) is habitual–even two years ago I’m not sure I could imagine myself whipping up sweet potato soup and kale late at night for lunch the next day!

  7. Wendy

    I didn’t think your list was bad! lol. We have WF, but it is just too expensive. We are getting a Trader Joe’s and I’m stoked! I’ve decided for 2013 I’m going to revamp my family’s diet (little do they know). I’m going to get the IBS under control once and for all.

    What do you think about the prices of your grocery budget now compared to when you ate more processed foods? I want to get quality meat (only once a week), but I know that will shoot the bill up.

    I’m curious to see how it goes when your baby is a toddler. Mine is very picky and I just keep putting fruits/veggies on her plate. One day she will eat them!

    1. Elise Post author

      its kinda tricky to figure out the price thing because there are a few variables.
      1. NYC prices are way higher. just in general.
      2. in NYC everything is shipped from somewhere far away so you end up paying for it. by contrast, i can shop seasonally in CA almost year round. in that regard its cheaper here, now.

      aside from those two things, id say my budget is lowest now. even though i purchase entirely organic and shop more often (so our food is fresh), im making so many things (bread, nut butter, etc) that i used to buy already prepared. that makes a big difference.
      additionally, i used to buy a TON more pre-prepared vegan items which are really really expensive. so reducing those and eating cheap bulk bin things – rice, quinoa, beans, oats, etc. has brought down the bill too.
      so yeah.
      ps i heard that sometimes it takes over 10 tries to get a kid’s taste buds accustomed to a food, so keep trying!!

  8. Brigid

    I lived and ate on campus all four years, so my grocery shopping during college basically consisted of: chili cheese Fritos, Pepsi or DDP, Jif peanut butter, crackers, occasionally fat-free yogurt, and microwave popcorn. Ha. I hope that makes you feel a little better!

  9. wendy

    love this post. i was actually telling my boyfriend yesterday about how much easier it is to bring bag lunches, have at least some dinner premade, have healthy options or ways to make healthy options always in the kitchen (aka stocked pantry/cabinets) – he’s still in the diet dr. pepper/deli sandwich/candy phase. you’ve totally inspired me to spend time on sundays preparing for the week – a nice standing break from football :)

  10. alyssa


    i was thinking about you today actually. i’m a vegan but i have been toying with the idea of introducing eggs into my diet. i work on an organic veggie farm & we have chickens now. they are organic & they eat lots of bugs around the farm, so i don’t really feel awful eating the eggs.

    anyway, i was just wondering if you would eat dairy if it weren’t for your ibs? what are your thoughts on that?

    1. Elise Post author

      hmmm…thats hard to say. back when i first went dairy free, it was definitely kicking and screaming. however, NOWADAYS the reason i continue to remove certain kinds of dairy (milk, namely) has more due to my disgust with the dairy industry than my ibs. although the ibs still is the number one reason. if i were to tolerate dairy, i think id eat it minimally (always organic, hormone and antibiotic free, etc.).

    1. Elise Post author

      its not the actual food, but the fact that thats those were the ONLY things i ate. truly. i had canned peas multiple times a day. for years straight. yeah, i realize they are peas, a vegetable, and thats a healthier option than doritos, but its just a comparison as to where i am now.

  11. Jean

    Although I am sure it was not your intent, it seems a little insulting and patronizing to call the list from 2004 “the grossest thing you’ve ever seen” when many people are still struggling to create healthy eating habits, and also when that list is far healthier than what many people’s diets consist of.

    1. Elise Post author

      hi jean, that definitely wasnt my intent so im sorry if it came off that way. it was just a silly post comparing the change in my diet by way of grocery lists. saying its “the grossest thing you’ve ever seen” was an exaggeration, meant for dramatic effect, not to insult what others may buy in the present. if anything, it shows the potential for change, right?

  12. Jill

    Haha did the salad bar you visited near your work place happen to be Greenhouse? Seriously, I once spent 13 dollars on a salad creation there, worth it but man my wallet was whimpering afterwards. May I ask what sorority you were in? And for the record, I think your diet evolution is awesome as you really seem to know your body well and feed it what works best for you. Also, do you plan on raising your baby as a vegan or vegetarian?

    1. Elise Post author

      lucky for me (it seems) i never discovered greenhouse!

      i was a DG. thanks for the support on my diet evolution, too.

      as for the final question…you must have read my mind because i was JUST writing a post up about that very topic. in short, i dont have an answer yet. kyle and i have talked about it and while it will be a bit of trial and error (and seeing how it goes in the moment…), i think for the most part he will be a vegetarian. i dont think i want to introduce much dairy because that industry kinda disgusts me, but if he tolerates it, i do think cheese and eggs will be a part of his diet. of course it will be organic with no-hormones or antibiotics added. anyway, thats what we’re thinking for now. :)

      1. Jill

        That sounds like a great game plan! I’m sure as time goes on his diet will work itself out with your families lifestyle. Plus, he’ll be one of those lucky kids who will get to say he grew up on good, whole foods (I’m planning on a career in pre-natal/pediatric nutrition) . And that’s awesome about DG! I’m not in a sorority but my best friend is a DG bruin and I recently just spent a few days with her, it was so much fun! The food was really good too, definitely a nice break from the dining halls. Great post!

  13. Katie @ Livehalffull

    It’s amazing how things change! In college, my grocery shopping consisted of diet coke and diet food, post-college I was moving towards eating “real food” but still didn’t quite get it. Now, I barely shop in the middle of the store!

  14. Roserunner

    I often can’t believe I didn’t understand how good we had it living in that sorority house, or what a unique opportunity it was (even when the estrogen was overkill). News to me that the candy store closed!! Sad to hear (but my grocery list still includes plenty of processed sugar…)

  15. Ttrockwood

    Canned peas?? Really? They are like baby food mush….
    The list from ’04 isnt insulting, its just all carbs and not as nutritionally well rounded as it could be- whatevs.
    Ive been veg for ummm, ever, (20 years or so!) and became lactose intolerant soon after- but i hate taking lactaid and eventually realized i didnt want to support the dairy industry if avoidable. Years ago tasti d lite was practically a food group for me, diet coke, and fake sugar free chewy candies, and tons of veggies. Wonder why i was always low energy and bloated??
    Glad i swapped to coconut ice cream, seltzer water and dark chocolate with tons of veggies and hummus :)
    The baby strategy sounds great, its a very personal and controversial topic!

  16. Lauren (@poweredbypb)

    It’s really fun to look back and see how your grocery habits change and adapt over time. Mine have certainly changed a lot since I have grown up, left home and learned more and more about veganism and good whole food plant based nutrition!

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