Groceries on a student’s budget

For many students, university is the first time living away from home and thus the first time budgeting and grocery shopping on one’s own.

Registered dietician, Caroline Valeriote, frequently sees students who lack the knowledge to make good meals within their budget.

“Students are inquiring about learning how to feed themselves,” she said in regards to students living and cooking on their own. “We don’t always come to university with a full skill set.”
Valeriote impresses upon students that with a few minutes of planning each week, eating good-tasting, nutritious meals is possible even on a tight budget. According to Valeriote, weekly meal planning comes in two stages.

First, check the flyers before shopping. Next, plan what you will eat each day.
Planning saves time and also allows students to figure out when they can dine out and when they can use leftovers. Philippe Saraiva, a chef and professor at Conestoga College’s culinary program, believes one of the keys to saving money is to shop and cook in bulk.

“University is all about meeting new people. Buy in bulk and share with roommates or your floor,” he said.

Shopping and cooking in groups allows students to buy and make larger quantities, cutting down on the per-unit price of each item or each meal. It also allows students to buy more quality ingredients.

Both Saraiva and Valeriote agree that local farmers’ markets are places rich in good quality foods for a low cost, particularly when it comes to buying produce.

“At markets you can barter because it’s a cash basis,” said Valeriote. “Say to a vendor, ‘I only have a dollar, what can I buy?’”

If students carpool to local markets they save on gas and can buy larger quantities of fruits and veggies and split them. If students can’t get to a local market, Valeriote recommends purchasing produce that is in season. This produce comes in to grocery stores in larger quantities which drives down the cost.

Buying in bulk doesn’t just apply to produce. Saraiva recommends students save money by buying protein in bulk as well.

“Instead of going for prime cuts of meat, buy a whole chicken,” he said. Often a whole chicken will be equal to or less than the cost of a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

A whole chicken can provide students with several meals. The bones can be used to make a good broth, which, with a few lentils and some veggies, will make a good soup. This can be eaten fresh or frozen for later. The rest of the chicken can be cut up and used as the main ingredient in meals or as the stuffing for a sandwich, wrap or on salads.

If students are looking for other low-cost protein alternatives, they can find them in legumes. Saraiva recommends chickpea salad. Buying the chickpeas in bulk, pouring them over a bed of greens or spinach and adding some left-over vegetables makes a quick and budget-conscious meal.

Looking for a way to use up left-over vegetables? Stir-fries over rice noodles are the way to go. Easy to make, extremely inexpensive and portable, Saraiva advises these for using up food instead of throwing it out.

For Saraiva, making healthy, low-cost meals comes back to planning. He recommends students get together once a week for a cooking night. In 60 to 90 minutes students can make three or more meals, divide them and use them later in the week.

“Make a menu and purchase for what you need,” he said. “Then there is no waste.”
When students become bored of their own cooking or run out of recipes, they can turn to friends or roommates. Valeriote recommends potluck dinners, while Saraiva suggests reaching out to international students to learn to cook different types of dishes and make new friends along the way.

Other ways to get new meal ideas include cookbooks, the Internet or the WLU gourmet club.
Learning to feed oneself in a healthy and budget-friendly way takes patience and a little time, but Valeriote knows sometimes there is no place like home for a little help.

“Don’t turn down meals from relatives,” she said. “Ask family to package up leftovers to take away.”