Saturday, July 13, 2013

How to eat well when you are making minimum wage.

Quinoa Salad. Click here for the recipe.

I get excited when I see stuff on Pinterest about "Eating Whole Foods on a Budget" or similar promotions. However, I get frustrated when these things only give options that don't seem to apply to me! I'm a "poor college student" in a town where the nearest Whole Foods or Trader Joe's is over two hours away, where the farmer's market only runs from June to August, and where a package of organic tofu generally runs about five dollars.

Still, I've found myself recently getting questions from friends about how I can afford to eat well and still pay my rent. I have always been a pretty frugal gal, so here are my tips on eating well when you are making minimum wage. I know, I know, you've heard it all--"shop at the farmer's market," "pay attention to the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen." I hear these tips over and over it. So I tried to come up with some different ideas.

1. Know where to buy certain foods that you frequently use, and unless there is an especially good sale elsewhere, stick to it. For example, I know that at a Korean food store about 50 minutes away, I can buy organic tofu, noodles, and even oils for half the price (or better!) than I'll ever find these things in my town. The catch may be that this place is nearly an hour away, but typically, it isn't too hard to find people heading that direction. I stock up (paying attention to expiration dates, and planning to use or freeze all of it), and I am usually set for a couple months.

2. Know your priorities when it comes to food, and save money elsewhere to make them happen. Yes, I buy organic milk and free-range eggs. How can I afford it? By saving money on other foods. For instance, I do a lot of my grocery shopping here in town at a new experimental store called Ruler Foods (if there is one near you, check it out!). It even has some really nice organic stuff. Stuff here is super cheap (Think Aldi, but in general, better quality foods), and it allows me to spend a little extra on items I really care about.

3. Buy in bulk from trusted sources. There is an Amish community half an hour away, and my family regularly makes trips to Beachy's Bulk Foods, an awesome store owned and operated by the Amish people of that area. This is where I buy spices, dried herbs, honey, and a lot of hard-to-find (in my town, anyway) pantry staples, like spelt flour, sprouted whole wheat flour, oat flour, etc. Prices here are incredibly reasonable. If you can find an organic bulk supplier or similar store nearby, or even an online supplier, take advantage of it.

4. Keep a well-stocked pantry. Keep plenty of healthy grains, beans, frozen vegetables, etc. on hand. This way, when you get the urge to eat out or order pizza, it will be easier to convince yourself otherwise. When you've got tasty and healthy food on hand, you will use it. This may be hard to get used to, but just like exercise, diet, or whatever, it takes diligence.

5. Don't buy pre-packaged/processed meals if you can avoid it. They are overpriced, full of things you don't need in your body, and you can make meals yourself. Get a cookbook, or search Pinterest. I'm a busy college student who works and is very involved on campus, and even I can commit to cooking most meals for myself. I promise, it's doable!

6. When veggies are in season, buy them, use them, and freeze them. This will save you a lot of money. Try to eat seasonally as much as possible, too. Seasonal produce is cheaper and better!

7. Cook big meals and eat leftovers. I don't know why leftovers gross so many people out. I think they make a great lunch for the next day! I'm learning to cook huge meals, then eat the leftovers for a couple meals later. It not only saves time, but also money.

8. Speaking of lunch, pack yourself a lunch. Get yourself a nice looking lunchbox and pack yourself a healthy lunch! Don't go to Subway and think that six dollar meal is saving you money. Every time you pack a meal instead of eating out, you are saving yourself at least some money. It adds up!

9. This is only somewhat related to food, but it will save you money for food. Use Reusable items whenever possible. Ditch paper towels and napkins if you can, use jars to store things--whatever you can think of. Just try to find a second use for things, and it will save you money over time.

10. Plan your meals, and use everything you buy. I don't always shop with a week's worth of meal plans, but I have a select group of groceries that I know I'll use. Buy food with a purpose. Have some sort of plan for it, whether that's using this week, or preserving it for later use.

I hope that you found these tips to be useful and feasible. These rules for food shopping have really helped me, and I hope they can do the same for you!