Josh Ayers

Away from the well-stocked fridge of my mother’s house, I have learned how to eat well and not spend my entire allowance on extravagant meals. I learned young, too. My freshman year, when all the boys in the dorms were eating those microwavable chimichangas (Lord help me; if I smell one of those ever again, I might lose my mind), I tried a different route. Totally cheap, easy and made from ingredients I bought at Campus Market using Plu$ Dollars, I lived off of black bean and cheese burritos with tons of avocado. When I was feeling really frisky, I’d buy queso fresco, which made this dish feel extra special.

It can still be a challenge for off-campus students to find affordable ways to eat well. Nights of pastas and eating out can get old or expensive. Here on the Central Coast, we are so lucky to have a world of amazing produce, meats and wines at our fingertips; it is just a shame to let price interfere with our culinary experiences!

Two of my favorite dinners on a budget are roasted chicken with coleslaw or quiche. Quiche is perfect because it’s great for any meal and you can throw in just about anything: ham, cheese, onions, mushrooms, spinach or whatever else is sitting in your fridge waiting for some attention. And because eggs are inexpensive, the only real cost is that of the pie crust (around $2 to $3 if you buy a pre-made one) and some cream (about a dollar or two). A whole quiche will feed you and your roommates, or last you for several meals.

Saving money on groceries requires good recipes and a little consideration when shopping. Here are my top tips for spending wisely:

Buy seasonally; buy locally.

Shopping at the local Farmers’ Market is an excellent way to save cash and get some amazing ingredients. Browsing the booths can tell you what is in season (and therefore less pricey), and it also allows you to compare flavors and prices. Despite what you may think, these prices straight from the farmers are often less expensive than the stuff you buy at a grocery store. For example, red leaf lettuce, which is a necessary purchase for me every week, usually costs $1.99 per head at the store. At Farmers’ I get a nice big leafy one for 75 cents.

We’re lucky here in California to have strawberries, peaches and artichokes basically all year round, but when you’re patient and wait for their season before you buy them, you can save a fortune. This goes for seafood as well. Talk to the guys at the meat and seafood counter; they always know a good deal.

Buy big and freeze.

It’s convenient and less expensive to make a dinner big enough for leftovers. Soups, stews, lasagnas and enchiladas are easy to portion off for future dinners and freeze really well. You can save money by shopping for ingredients when they’re in season at a wholesale store.

Plan out the week.

Have an idea of what kind of food you’re going to want before making a trip to the market. You can save the most money by planning out dinners and lunches and buying accordingly. This will dramatically cut down on wasted food and the time it takes to prepare meals. Planning also helps the impulse purchases at the market that can add up real fast.

Check the price per unit.

Generic brands, bigger sizes or sales are not necessarily the cheapest options. On the price tags at the grocery store, items have a per unit price that makes comparing products a synch. I use this technique religiously when I buy cereals, juices, yogurts and other processed foods.

And as a girl who loves a glass of wine with dinner I always make room in my budget for a bottle or two. You don’t need to buy Screaming Eagle for quality vino. One of my favorite wines is a Fetzer Gewurztraminer, which you can find for around $5. Spanish wines are often good and inexpensive, as well as some South American and award-winning Australians. So do a little exploring in the wine aisle and online; you never know what you’ll find.

Bottom line: Eating on a budget does not mean you can’t eat well. Keep things simple and take advantage of where we go to school. There are amazing foods in our backyard!

Sinead Brennan is an agribusiness senior and Mustang Daily food columnist.

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