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Food Storage Tips: Food storage for college students

With the recent problems and fears in the economy, some college students have felt like they should set aside a little food. How can college students prudently store within their limitations of budget and space?

First of all, do they even need to? When I was a BYU student, I remember hearing that the school had a stash of enough food to feed all of the students in case of emergency. Is that really true? Well, it’s partly true. There is enough food on campus, through the regular campus food service and the vending machines, to feed 33,000 students and faculty survival rations for three days. So they are covered in case of a three-day emergency. If you want food for a longer-term situation, you should store some.

But how? Let me share what I did during my last semester at BYU, when I was engaged and eager to learn money-saving habits for my upcoming marriage.

First of all, define your goal. I think buying a year’s supply of long term storage items is not practical for most college students. That requires a lot of space, takes a lot of extra work to move, and those staples can be difficult to use. But having a three-month supply of groceries that you usually eat is very much doable. It might even possible to extend your supply of some ingredients to last you for the semester, for the school year, or until you plan to move.

With that goal in mind, buy groceries in bulk, according to your space and budget. If you like to eat oatmeal every morning, buy a bag big enough to last you through the school year, or until you move. If you enjoy eating rice for dinner, buy a big bag. Other common ingredients for college meals can be bought in bulk: canned soup, tuna, canned meats, spaghetti sauce and noodles, ramen, peanut butter and jelly, cold cereal, potato pearls.

If you want to avoid moving the extra food, do a rough calculation to figure out how much you will use while you live in that apartment. If you plan to live there two semesters, and you usually eat a can of tuna per week, buy 32 cans of tuna, assuming you have a place to store it.

Consider powdered milk. Powdered milk is expensive, but the price has fallen a bit recently. Try the Country Cream brand if your primary concern is taste; my mom says that she can’t tell the difference between reconstituted Country Cream and store-bought fresh skim milk. Most college students don’t drink an entire gallon of milk before it goes bad, so they buy smaller quantities, which are more expensive. Powdered milk might be a money saver in this case, and you wouldn’t have to worry about running out of milk. You would have to have a pitcher to mix it in, and you would have to be willing to plan ahead to mix the milk so the milk is chilled when you are ready to use it.

Also consider a bread machine. I brought a bread machine with me during my last semester at college. I kept it in my room. I also stored a bucket of whole wheat flour in my room. I liked whole wheat bread, and I could make my own for about a quarter per loaf, versus spending $2.50 for good quality whole wheat bread at the store. Bread machines can be found cheaply at thrift stores and yard sales nowadays. Making bread machine bread is doable even for a college student, since you can put the ingredients in, set the timer, and walk away. For me, using a bread machine was a good introduction to bread making. I got familiar with the ingredients and gained confidence. And it did save money.

Where to store it. First of all, stuff your assigned shelf in the kitchen. Sometimes it’s surprising how much can fit in a small space. After that, you can store some in your room. Quite a lot can fit under a bed. I had roommates who lifted their bed with risers so they could fit more under the bed. Use your closet as well.

How to afford it. It helps to follow the sales. If you get the grocery store sale flyer, read it so you can start to get a sense of where prices are. If you are in Utah county, subscribe to Savvyshopperdeals.com for free to get a list of the good deals sent to your inbox. Those living in other areas can scour the web to see if there is a similar service in your area. Usually the best grocery store sales are half of the regular price. If you live in a place where there are case lot sales, use them. The cases usually sell at close to the lowest available price.

Also, recognize that buying in bulk usually saves money in the long run. Buying a 10-pound bag of rice may cost a little more during that week, but during the following weeks, you don’t have to buy rice.

Historical perspective. A few years ago I read Juanita Brooks’ memoir Quicksand and Cactus. As a young widow and mother in the 1920s, she and her son traveled from her family’s home in Bunkerville, Nevada (just outside of Mesquite) to Provo so she could finish her education at BYU. The budget was very tight, and she couldn’t afford to eat store-bought groceries from town. So she filled the car with jars of homegrown and home-canned produce from her family’s farm. This is another idea to file away for truly tough times, if your family gardens and preserves food.

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