Grocery shopping and managing a budget are unlikely to be on a student’s list of favorite hobbies. While walking through the fluorescent aisles of a grocery store, it can become difficult to assess the best way to budget. For growing numbers of students facing food insecurity, an effective budget can offer some relief. Here are some tips and resources to stretch your budget and shop smarter, not harder. 

Stretching your budget 

1.) Stock up on dried goods such as legumes, grains, and potatoes

These items don’t have a quick expiration date, are easy to incorporate into any meal, and will keep you energized and full for longer. Purchasing dried legumes can not only cut down on potential food waste, but save you money as well — on average, a pound of dried beans costs between one or two dollars. 

2.) Follow  the “Clean 15” and “Dirty Dozen”

If you want to buy organically grown food without breaking the bank, there is an easy guide to prioritizing different produce. The “Dirty Dozen” consists of food that you should try to buy organic, while the “Clean Fifteen” are products with minimal pesticide exposure. 

The “Dirty Dozen”: Strawberries, spinach, apples, kale/collard greens, nectarines, grapes, cherries, peaches, pears, bell/hot peppers, celery, and tomatoes.

The “Clean Fifteen”: avocado, sweet corn, pineapples, onions, papayas, frozen sweet peas, eggplant, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, kiwi, cauliflower, mushrooms, honeydew melon, and cantaloupe.

Illustrations by Prema Reyes

3.) Plan meals ahead of time and cook for multiple meals

Planning meals ahead of time and cooking for multiple meals can prevent spontaneous spending and allows for easily accessible meals when you are in a time crunch. To avoid buying products you don’t necessarily need, planning out weekly meal plans with similar ingredients can make your budget smaller and more organized. Be efficient with your scraps and prevent food waste by recycling ingredients, such as turning leftover veggies into a soup, pickling old carrots and onions with vinegar and sugar, or using scraps and bones to make a stock. 

4.) Pay attention to brand labels

While this may seem intuitive, paying close attention to branding can save a few dollars here and there, which can add up. Take the extra time to compare brands on a shelf and assess which one offers the best deal. Many times, a store’s own branding of a product will run cheaper than its corporate counterparts. 

5.) Cut around bruised and brown

Even though it is inevitable that food will spoil, don’t be scared of a little bruising or brown marks on fresh produce. A brown banana can be used for banana bread, or the brown layer on an avocado can be cut around to reveal a fresh green underbelly. Some marks on produce don’t always signify that they have expired and can be repurposed in many ways. You can turn bruised berries into delicious jams or softened vegetables into a soup. 

Using EBT and CalFresh

CalFresh is a state program designed to provide food assistance to low-income residents, including students, who meet federal income eligibility. They issue monthly benefits through Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) and can provide up to $250 a month to eligible recipients in food credit for further ease in obtaining groceries. You can submit an application online with proof of income.

College students with work study, who receive Cal Grants A or B, who participate in Extended Opportunity Program or Educational Opportunity Programs and Services, have children, or work part time all qualify for CalFresh, along with other special circumstances outlined on the UC Santa Cruz Basic Needs page.

To apply, go to 

On-campus resources 

Cowell Coffee Shop

The Cowell Coffee Shop is a great resource on campus that aims to support students’ access to food and basic needs resources. The shop uses the produce from the UCSC Farm to make a variety of products, including hot coffee, tea, and bagels, available free of charge for students. Furthermore, the Cowell Coffee Shop introduced a Mobile Food Hub in spring 2022 that travels around campus providing lunch and fresh produce. 

Redwood Free Market

The Redwood Free Market is located in College Eight Cafe at Rachel Carson College. The Redwood Free Market operates on the understanding that food insecurity, as an issue many students experience, is one that needs to be destigmatized. Their hours in spring 2022 were Monday (2-5 p.m.), Tuesday-Thursday (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), and Fridays (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.), but are subject to change. With a student ID, the market offers free goods such as pantry staples and fresh produce, as well as information on CalFresh.