Cheap food: what to get & where to get it

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Brock may be a diverse community but the one thing we all have in common is: Everybody has to eat. Hungry for knowledge, the largest cross-campus study on student food in security in Canada stated last year that at least 40 per cent of college and university students in Canada don’t get enough to eat. Two in every five Brock students may be going hungry right now. To help everybody eat healthy without going over budget here are a few tips and tricks.

What to get

Items that come packaged and ready to eat might seem like a great time saving tool but in the end you could pay extra in taxes. The rules about what counts as a grocery item —fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and bread all fall into this category— and what does not — chips, snack cakes, pudding cups, and even granola or cereal bars are considered snacks — are complicated.

Students can save some money by making things for themselves instead of ordering or picking food up in the prepared food section at the grocery store. Baking muffins to eat on the go or preparing freezer meals allows for convenience without the added cost. In general, fresh items that you have to make into something else are probably not taxed, but quick snacks packaged to eat immediately probably are.

So what is the best value for your money? Canada’s Food Guide helps with that by providing Canadians with the Eat Well Plate, which shows how best to divide up your dinner plate to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Students can use this model to plan out grocery budgets as well. Fresh produce can be relatively inexpensive so larger amounts of items can be purchased to make up the half a plate health Canada recommends.

Grains like bread, pasta, rice and quinoa should make up a little more than a quarter of the plate. Dried grains and pastas are often incredibly cheap so those on a budget can pick up large amounts for very little money. They’re also filling and some experts say when combined with proteins can help you feel full longer.

The rest of the budget can go toward meat and alternatives. These tend to cost the most (though legumes and pulses can come dried and be almost as cheap as pasta and rice). With limited storage in shared accommodations, students should be careful not to buy more than they need. Also, pre-cooked and packaged meats sold refrigerated in the store cost a bit more but save a lot of time and can allay the fears some might have about storing and cooking chicken properly.

Avoid the coffee shop

Grabbing a cup of coffee and a snack at a coffee shop is probably okay for breakfast but it is not sustainable for every meal. With Tim Hortons on campus now accepting most forms of payment, including credit, debit, and even Apple Pay, it can be really easy to grab a doughnut or a croissant instead of going for a full meal. It’s fast and that hit of sugary carbs will help out in a pinch but in the end a real meal is going to keep you full and energized much longer than an on the go snack.

Shop the sales

Flyers may seem like useless junk mail that just ends up in the bottom of the recycling bin, but they can be a valuable resource for people who need to make their dollars stretch. Some stores also have ‘no tax’ days that will help with those quick snack items that would otherwise have an extra cost.

For those who don’t have access to sale flyers, apps like Red Flag Deals and Flipp will give you all of those paper flyers right on your smartphone without any paper to recycle.

Reward points

Some stores offer reward points with grocery purchases. They might seem like a small amount at first but they can really add up and help stretch that grocery budget in a pinch. Savings are usually available in increments of $10 or $20. However, some stores will still require customers to pay the tax on the things they buy, so be careful about going to the store with no cash on hand.

Also convenient, many major retailers now have apps so there’s no need to carry extra cards on you all the time. Just bring your phone and earn those savings.

Priced to sell

With all the advice above, groceries are still expensive. To help cut costs even more, visiting the grocery store at the right time can help. For stores that are open later, like Zehrs at the Pen centre, shopping toward the end of the day can make a difference. They tend to put those ‘special’ or ‘sale’ tickets on items that are usually sold the day they are made, such as fresh bakery items or prepared food. They are really meant for the next shopping day but the stores will honour them at 10:30 p.m. just as well as at 10:30 a.m. Also, check out the fruit and vegetables on what is essentially a ‘scratch and dent’ shelf. These veggies may not be pretty but you can get them at a discounted price. If you’re going to cut them up and eat them anyway, what difference does it make if they’re a little funny looking?

 

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