For college students, upgrading from that tiny dorm room to a spacious apartment is like hitting the jackpot. One of the best parts of having an apartment is being able to trade in the boring dining hall food for the power to cook your own meals in your very own kitchen.
But we all know that “with great power comes great responsibility,” and groceries don’t just buy themselves. Here are some ways college students can successfully take on food shopping without breaking the bank.
1. Buy in bulk.
“Sometimes it pays to stock up,” says Elizabeth Matteo, a registered dietitian at Boston University’s Sargent Choice Nutrition Center. “You may find certain products have a lower cost per unit when you bulk-buy.”
Be careful that you’re not buying too much of something that’s perishable, though: “Know whether you can use up the items or store them safely for later use,” says Matteo.
It might also save you some trips to the store, so you can get some more studying in.
2. Shop seasonal.
When you buy fruits and veggies during their peak seasons, not only do they taste better, they are also cheaper! Just make sure you’re following these tips for how to store fresh fruit and vegetables so they last longer and you don’t end up with a bunch of food waste (and wasted money).
Related Reading: How to Fight Food Waste & Get Your Money’s Worth
3. Go in with a plan.
“Think about what meals you plan to prepare and whether you can utilize similar ingredients across meals to minimize food waste and maximize your dollar,” says Matteo.
Make a list on a piece of paper or in the Notes app on your phone and stick to it. If not, I guarantee you you’ll forget everything you need once you step into the overwhelming grocery store.
4. Don’t be embarrassed by using coupons.
As a broke college student, coupons can be your best friend. Websites like Coupons.com and SmartSource can help you access savings on tons of grocery items. Big chain grocery stores also tend to have digital coupon services. Embrace them all.
5. Take advantage of student discounts.
There are a lot of perks to being a student, and discounts are one of them. Keep an eye out for student discounts and always, always have your student ID on hand. (If you can swing an Amazon Prime account, you can get a student discount on that too.)
6. Eat before you go to the store.
This may seem obvious, but never, and I mean never, go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. You’ll end up with a cart that’s packed to capacity with food you probably don’t even like. A full stomach will ensure you’re buying only what you need.
7. Remember, budgeting doesn’t end at the store.
There are ways to minimize spending back at your apartment, too. Matteo says, “Plan to use perishable goods earlier in the week before they spoil, and think about repurposing dinner leftovers for lunch the next day.”
Also don’t forget about the benefits of a freezer: “Store extra ingredients in freezer-safe containers or try batch cooking and dividing up leftovers into individual portions to freeze for another day,” she adds.
Related Reading: Our Favorite Meal Prep Containers
Check out a selection of some of our favorite cheap meals, but here are a few more easy and inexpensive recipes using ingredients you probably already have on your grocery list.
All you need for this delicious recipe is some chicken, veggies, and tortillas, in addition to flavors like chili powder and garlic that you probably already have in your cabinet. It’s an ideal meal if you’re hosting some friends for the night and want to impress them. If you’re feeling extra hungry, serve with some guacamole or salsa. And if you don’t eat meat, sub in some tofu, tempeh, or seitan instead. Wrap leftovers up into a burrito and bring it along for lunch the next day.Get our Basic Chicken Fajitas recipe.
You really can’t go wrong with yummy, garlicky pasta and it has to be one of the easiest meals you’ll ever make. If you’re missing the protein, you can always add in some chicken, shrimp, or whatever meat you have lying around. Or bulk it up with veggies, and dress it up with any herbs you have starting to wilt in the crisper drawer. Get our Basic Garlicky Spaghetti recipe.
The beauty of salads is that you can put just about anything you want in them, and this recipe calls for a variety of beans, tomatoes, peppers, and more delicious ingredients. It’s a great dish to make a large portion of and divide into lunch for multiple days. The dressing calls for ranch dressing, sour cream and, of course, taco seasoning for a boost of extra flavor. Get our Vegetarian Taco Salad recipe.
— Head photo: flickr (1Flatworld).