By my junior year of college, I discovered that I could no longer eat gluten or sugar. Naturally, this sort of forced me to eat organic, since gluten and sugar seem to be in everything. But eating organic is so expensive! Right?
It can be, yes. But I’ve found that, if you do it right, buying organic on a (really) tight college budget is possible. Here are seven things I do that may help you get those delicious, organic meals, too.
1. Plan in advance.
Let’s face it: If you go to a store without a clue about what you want or need to buy, chances are you are going to overspend.
One way I avoid overspending is by coming up with a meal plan each week. Since I’ve been cooking for myself for quite a while, I usually always know what I want to cook. Sometimes I like to search the internet for new recipes to make, especially as the seasons change. Once I have an idea of what I’d like to eat that week, I create a meal plan.
2. Make a list, price-check it twice!
After coming up with my meal plan, I’ll usually list every ingredient that I need to buy, along with the price. I keep my receipts for reference when I’m pricing my items, since I buy mostly the same food each week. If I don’t have access to my receipts, however, I can easily look up the items on the internet to find how much they cost.
Not all stores sell the same products for the same price, though, so searching for the item online helps me see which store has the cheapest products. This is a great way to reduce overpaying for more expensive items.
3. Find your faithful staples.
Having staples makes the shopping process a whole lot easier, and it makes your shopping list a lot less weighty. The organic fruits and veggies that I buy vary from week to week. But my staples are always in my pantry, right where I need them:
brown rice pasta
organic non-dairy milks
organic cooking oils
Of course, I didn’t acquire all of these items at once— that would have blown my wallet out of the park! But whenever I do buy soups, or non-dairy milks, or rolled oats, I try to do it in bulk. That way, I know that I have them to last for a few weeks and I can focus on buying the items that need to be purchased fresh.
4. Reference the Dirty 12 and the Clean 15.
As you can see from my pantry list, not every single item I buy is organic. That’s because buying everything organic is (for me, at least) unrealistic, unnecessary, and way too expensive.
If you’re not sure what foods you should purchase organic, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) created two lists to help you out: the Dirty Dozen and the Clean 15. Because of the amount of pesticide residue on regular produce, there are 12 foods that absolutely should be purchased organic and 15 that do not have to be.
5. Shop at the right stores.
Unfortunately, not all stores carry organic items, and some of the stores that do are very pricey. But there are a few local gems that I have found over the past two years:
- The Fresh Grocer: This store is just a four-minute drive from Arcadia’s campus and it has a huge organic selection. And if you’re gluten or sugar-free like me, or even if you’re vegan, this store is sure to have an aisle for you!
- Target: Target actually has as a pretty wide range of organic items as well, and there’s one down the street from campus. The best thing to do is price-check between these two stores for maximum savings.
- Produce Junction: This store is in walking distance from Arcadia and is what it says it is: a store filled entirely with produce. While Produce Junction doesn’t carry organic items, it is unbelievably affordable, which makes it a great place to purchase some of your “Clean 15” goodies.
6. Make the most of on-campus dining.
If walking isn’t your thing (especially in this cold weather), don’t forget the Dining Hall, the Chat, and Easton Cafe are right there. Pineapples, cabbage, honeydew, and kiwi fruit are all on the Clean 15 list. Among the three eateries on campus, you’ll be sure to find them all. When you do, pile them into storage containers and keep them in your refrigerator to eat throughout the week.
7. Find what works best for YOU.
Remember, you are a college student, not an Instagram health guru. Do not blow your wallet just because of a rise in eating trends.
What works for others may not work for you. Eat according to your needs and your financial capabilities, and you’ll find that you can enjoy the organic life in college, just like me.