by Claire Matlock
While many students believe that saving money on a food budget begins at the grocery store, half of the equation is being savvy when it comes to food storage (and spoilage). It’s frustrating when after stocking your fridge with beautiful produce, you arrive at the end of the week with limp salad greens or moldy fruit. Of course, certain ingredients are more student-friendly than others such as whole grains, legumes, oats, root vegetables, cabbage, stiff greens–think kale, chard and collards–apples, pears, dried fruit and citrus. These items not only have a naturally long shelf life, they’re also very cheap. Learn to love these foods and make them the foundation of your diet. There are a million varieties of stews, soups, tagines, pilafs and other vegetarian and vegan dishes that are healthy, long-lasting and affordable. Furthermore spices have a long shelf life, so this ‘bland’ diet need not be boring at all.
Currently, my ‘base’ groceries cost me about $30 to $40 each week. I then add another $10 to $20 of perishable goodies including bananas, lettuce, fresh herbs, avocados, berries and the odd tropical fruit. Obviously, if you’re a meat and dairy eater, you’ll have to factor that in. Take twenty minutes after you arrive home from the grocery store or farmers’ market and properly store your food.
I can’t stress this enough!
Root vegetables do best with a little dirt or papery skin left intact. Fruit does best in a crisper drawer. Lettuce and other greens will stretch further if left attached to the stalk and wrapped in a paper towel to soak up moisture. Bananas should be left at room temperature until at their nutritional peak: ripe and spotty. If you can’t eat them fast enough, peel and toss them into a freezer bag for smoothies or mashing into morning oatmeal. Use all of your leftover vegetable odds and ends to make broth or soup. Avocados are notorious for taking forever to ripen and then spoiling the next day. Store with the pit inside the flesh, as nature has designed a built-in anti-browning enzyme. If you can’t use them all at once, mash with a little lime juice and freeze in ice cube trays to make guacamole later. The same method is fantastic for fresh herbs. Chop spoiling basil, parsley, dill and the like, mix with a little olive oil and freeze into ice cubes. You can melt them into sauces or soups just before serving.
So, to recap: if you want to save money on food then first off ideally transition yourself onto a cheap, whole-food, high-carb, plant-based diet and then be savvy with stretching your ingredients. Before you throw something out ask yourself, “Can I make any round two out of this?” or “Will a blender fix it?” (Funny, but so true).