By Nikki Pena
Between essays, exams, homework, and lectures, it’s easy to forget that you’re a human with dietetic needs. A trip to the supermarket is usually traded for a walk to the vending machine between classes or a trip to McDonald’s.
That is why I’ve created this guide, specially made for college students, by a college student, to show you that it’s possible to eat good, local food on a budget.
Most of my research was done in the Greensburg area.
Why Buy Local and Organic?
Before I start, it’s important that you know why you should care specifically about food.
Organically produced food is grown with natural-pesticide methods and all-natural, nutrient-rich manure that does not contain nitrogen and phosphorus, which pollute soil and produce greenhouse gases.
Because of that, these foods are richer in antioxidants, which remove free radicals—or daily pollution—from your body. Chemical pesticides build up in your body and, over time, burden your liver and kidneys.
You are also supporting a movement that helps farmers in your area make a living, along with helping your local economy thrive.
While all of that makes eating better worthwhile, the taste is unrivalled.
There’s nothing like eating a cucumber without the bitter chemical flavor in its vitamin-rich skin, the smell of a sun-warmed tomato roughed up by specks of dirt, or a perfectly ripe peach, picked right off the tree, dripping with each bite.
Now that you have some background knowledge, you’re ready to get started.
If you need a snack, think nuts—not the honey-roasted ones out of the vending machine, so step away. You can get nuts by the pound at Nature’s Way, for prices ranging from $3.99 to $9.99, or for the same price range at Giant Eagle.
Any kind of nut is high in protein, has beneficial nutrients, and will keep you full and focused until class lets out. A handful will do you fine, but try not to use plastic snack bags.
Trail mix with a bit of chocolate, dried fruit, and nuts is also a good snack. Make sure that the fruit is not coated with excess sugar, or skip the trouble and make your own.
Eat at Home More Often.
You can save almost 25 dollars a week if you don’t order takeout or dine out. It’s more eco-friendly, because there’s no waste from the takeout containers. Those fast-food runs may seem cheap at the time, but it all adds up. And it’s turning you into a blob.
This will require you to go grocery shopping. Find a time every week that works best for you, and shop for that week.
When You Shop, Use Reusable Bags.
They’re very inexpensive, about a dollar or two at any grocery story. You can find them in abundance at thrift stores, too, for even less.
Spend the Least Amount of Money on Alcohol as Possible.
If you must, support local microbreweries and craft breweries. They’re pricier, but usually have beers that are higher in alcohol percentage, and are meant to be enjoyed rather than inhaled.
Have you ever tried Grateful White, by Rivertowne Brewery? What about Hop Devil or Golden Monkey, by Victory Brewing Company? Those are made in Pennsylvania, and are some of my favorites.
Friends Who Eat Together, Stay Together.
Share the costs with your college friends by splitting up the work of preparing a meal. Choose a recipe, make a list, and split the costs. Then, split up the cooking and cleaning. Eat together every week, if possible.
It’s a fun, money-saving way to bond with your friends. Also, it leaves you more time for much needed studying or sleep.
Buy in Bulk.
Preferably, do it at the beginning of the semester. That way, if you don’t have time to shop, there’s always a backup.
Love your ramen? Dr. McDougall makes an alternative to Maruchan’s ramen noodles—the Big Soup Cup. It has a third as much sodium and a wide variety of flavors.
The noodles are baked, not fried or dehydrated with salts, making you feel less bloated but more full.
You can get individual containers of these for $2.29 at Nature’s Way (or buy a six-pack online for $11.94). Sometimes, they run on sale at Nature’s Way for $1.29.
Support Local Farms.
Schramm Farms & Orchards is located about 25 minutes from campus. This is a great place to buy fresh, cheap produce all year round. Fruits and vegetables are harvested just hours before they are set out for sale. Again, a great alternative to farmer’s markets. It’s also a fun destination to visit with friends.
Just recently, Schramm’s started selling Arrowhead wine and sometimes having wine tastings, on Saturday afternoons. Keep posted on their twitter feed and website.
Purchase Produce from a Farmer’s Market.
Since the produce is straight from the source, you get it for much less than in a grocery store. Food is also picked at its ripest, meaning that it will have the best flavor that it could possibly have. These go on from May until the end of October.
If you don’t have a car, going to the farmer’s market every week could be a great adventure with friends. Pitch in for gas, blast some tunes, and have fun!
When the Farmer’s Market Is Over, Go to the Grocery Store and Purchase What’s in Season.
You get in-season produce at a good price because of abundance, and it is usually fresher because it can be obtained close by.
Here’s a list of fruits and vegetables that are available at this time of the year in PA: apples, winter squashes (spaghetti squashes, butternut squashes, pumpkins), sweet peppers, pears, mushrooms, leeks, kale, celeries, cranberries, cauliflower, cabbage, beets and Brussels sprouts.
Get Started. Author and sustainable-food advocate Anna Lappe once said, “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” Would you rather have a world where food is engineered like car parts or grown and crafted with care? I think you know the answer.