COLUMN: I get by with a little help from my Nan

I’m one week into the semester, and I’ve already used 14 of the 75 meals on my commuter meal plan and spent upwards of $75 between Taco Bell, Japanese restaurants and my other off-campus dining haunts. At this rate, I’ll be all out of meal plans by the end of September, and my bank account will be pretty starved as well.

This, combined with the fact that my cupboard’s inhabitants are gourmet peanut butter, assorted boxes of pasta and Kool-Aid packets, led me to this revelation: it’s time to darken the doors of the grocery store.

Two weeks ago, I spent a good chunk of an afternoon traversing Walmart aisles in search of baking soda. Call me a drama queen (you probably should), but I’m still convinced that it was hiding from me.

Needless to say, I’m not really a superstar shopper, at least when it comes to groceries. But in the interest of stretching out my meal plan and relieving my bank account, I turned to the one woman who could help.

Her name, Nanny Sophia. She’s a grandmother, avid video gamer and, most relevant to this column, a food connoisseur. She also knows a thing or two about getting a meal to the table – from planning, to shopping for ingredients, to actually preparing whatever dish is on her list. So, with Nan’s help, I’ve prepared a crash course on feeding yourself in college without going completely broke. The rules might seem fairly elementary, but they’re fitting for someone with my limited experience.

Make a list

The real key to this whole grocery shopping business is to plan. Have a rough idea of what you plan to eat for the next week or so, and make a grocery list accordingly. Try not to pick up too many items that didn’t make your list.

Shop for savings

You could pick up sales ads and compare one grocery store’s deal to another, but we both know we’re probably not going to do that. Comparing prices in the store might be more doable, though. For example, when you’re comparing Spaghetti Sauce A to Spaghetti Sauce B, see how much you’re paying per ounce. Many stores will list that information with the price. Also, Nan says that brand-name products aren’t necessarily indicative of quality, and you can get something just as good that might be a little cheaper. And, of course, there’s always coupon clipping. Find a local Sunday paper, and clip to your heart’s desire.

Get yourself a Crock-Pot

When I asked Nan what was so great about a Crock-Pot, she was quick to say, “You set it and forget it.” If you’re like me, you leave your house in the morning and come home when you can, which sometimes means you don’t make it back until late in the evening. The great thing about a Crock-Pot is you can make a REAL meal that doesn’t consist of Ramen noodles without having to do much. Some of Nan’s Crock-Pot favorites are pork roast and stuffed peppers.

Believe in leftovers

Between school, work and my attempts at maintaining a social life, I’ve come to realize that cooking dinner every night is out of the question for me. But I get a little free time on the weekends that I can spend in the kitchen. Nan recommends cooking a big meal one night and saving the leftovers for lunches and dinners throughout the week. Just remember that your leftovers exist, or you might get some gnarly mold growing in your fridge.

Now I just have to put my crash course to the test, but first I’ll have to find the time to go grocery shopping. Maybe Nan has some suggestions for that one too.