How to get the most out of your grocery money
By Rebecca Peterson, Humour Editor
It’s a hard time for millennials, especially students living on a restrictive income. This year has seen some frankly insane spikes in food prices, such as cauliflower hitting double digit numbers this past winter. The stereotype of the starving student eating nothing but ramen has its roots in truth, but we all know that eating poorly can affect everything from our physical health to our mental health. It’s important to get every ounce of nutrition you can, wherever you can. To that end, here are a few tips and tricks I’ve found helpful for surviving on low income and eating well over the years!
Store, save, and stretch!
A lot of meals can stretch into multiple dishes if one is savvy enough to think ahead. A rotisserie chicken, for example, while not exactly cheap on its own, can easily stretch into four separate, delicious dinners. Leftovers are a godsend for the penny conscious. Try to invest in things like Tupperware containers and Ziploc bags, and make use of your freezer space. You don’t have to be a Chopped champion to put together some healthy, amazing dishes from the odds and ends of other meals.
Know what to invest in!
For the purpose of making delicious meals from odd scraps and to keep your dinners from getting incredibly boring, a well-stocked spice rack is your friend. Leftover chicken can easily become chicken curry if you’ve got the right spices on hand, and sriracha sauce makes pretty much everything taste delicious. It’s a lot more fun to experiment in the kitchen if you’ve got some flavour profiles on hand, and you don’t have to buy brand-name spices at the store to get great flavours. Check places like Bulk Barn if you want to find cheap spices in any amount.
Stock up on non-perishables!
One of the biggest problems we face in society as a whole is the issue of food waste. Especially since I’m often cooking for myself, it’s just not practical to buy fresh all the time, because I honestly can’t eat that much in one sitting. Plenty of us have had the problem of buying fresh produce, then, through uncontrollable circumstances, being unable to finish it before it expires. Canned food is your friend! You can get plenty of healthy meals out of relatively cheap cans of soup, tuna, chicken broth, fruit—the possibilities are truly endless. One of my favourite non-perishables of all time is pastina. Pastina is star-shaped pasta that expands to be almost three times its size when cooked, so a little goes a long way. I use it to thicken soups and pastas, to make each bite a little more filling. One small bag has lasted me over a month, and I’m not even halfway through.
Become a deal-hunter!
When I moved out for the first time, I was lucky enough to work at a grocery store, so I got pretty good at figuring out what to buy, and when. Often, grocery stores will have specials on already cheap items like soups and cereals. Also, many stores put their meat on special when it’s hit its sell-by date, but don’t let the date fool you! Food manufacturers often underestimate how long food will last, both to move it quicker and avoid lawsuits if something does happen. You can always buy that cheaper meat and freeze it anyway, keeping it safe to cook at a later date. Flyers are always great to have on-hand so you can target shop, but make sure you keep an eye out for store-specific specials as well.
Beg, steal, borrow!
I definitely don’t mean literally on the “steal” part, but there are always opportunities for free food. For example, every family dinner I’ve ever been to has generated tons of leftovers. Most people don’t mind at all if you offer to take some off their hands. As well, functions and conferences with finger food at the ready often generate a lot of food waste. If you’re well-armed with a Tupperware container and a little sleight of hand, you’ve got the makings of a great soup from that pre-cut broccoli and cauliflower, not to mention the things you can do with mini quiches and spring rolls!
In the end, eating well doesn’t have to mean eating expensive. Making sure you are well fed and able to face the day is the most important thing. If you can do that without bankrupting yourself, that’s always nice too!