A broke college senior learns the importance of a food budget

As a senior in college at UMD you would think I might have a slight handle on how to be budget conscious when it comes to food and grocery shopping, but unfortunately that is not totally true. When I lived at home I would go to the grocery store with my mom, but I never really paid attention to the prices or good deals because I was too busy picking out the food that I wanted.  Once I started college I had a meal plan which allowed me to get food from the dining halls on campus, so I still was not buying food from the grocery store. So when I finally moved to an off campus apartment and started going grocery shopping I didn’t really know how to shop on a budget. Sure I would try and buy the cheaper brands, but that was the extent of my frugal ways. In addition to my cluelessness in regards to budget, I also was not much of a cook. I could make the standard college fare; pasta, quesadillas, salads, etc., but other than the basics I was a work in progress. So when I started working at Brainfood I had a lot to learn about food budgeting and cooking.

My first grocery run started with cross-checking the kitchen, which means that you look in your kitchen to see which ingredients you already have so you don’t buy more than you need. Usually when I go grocery shopping I just go to the store and walk around and get what I think I need. I don’t make a list, I don’t have a set plan of my meals that I will make, I just go and get what I want. So this idea of cross-checking was kind of foreign to me. As I went down the list and crossed off what was already in the kitchen, I saw how much food was already there and I knew if I had not cross-checked a lot of food and money would have been wasted. I like to consider this moment to be my first awakening to becoming a budget conscious food shopper.

My second “aha” moment came when I was standing in front of hundreds of cans of beans. The Community MVPs class was going to be making a Three-bean chili and I was tasked with gathering the ingredients from the grocery store. I normally would have just bought the brand of beans that I like for myself, but since I was shopping for Brainfood I had to pay closer attention. I was done shopping for the rest of the ingredients but I had added up the prices and the recipe was going to be over our cap. My supervisor suggested that I look for dried beans because they will be cheaper than canned beans. I know that this is not a revelation to most, but this showed me that I shouldn’t just buy the easiest or most obvious choice, I should look for the brands and types of food that I can use and that are more economical choices.

After starting at Brainfood I have noticed that I am way more aware of the food that I already have and I try to stretch it as long as possible. I also am becoming more adventurous and creative when it comes to using ingredients I already have as opposed to having to buy more. I may still be a work in progress, but I am moving in the right direction to become a budget conscious and creative cook.


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