Crash Course on Commute Cooking

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Crash Course on Commute Cooking

by Neil McDonough

Shopping and cooking for one’s self can be intimidating for freshmen and upperclassmen alike. It takes time to know what to buy, how much to buy, and from where to buy it. When all one really wants is to get back to Latitude and have a solid meal, it can be tempting to throw in the towel and microwave a Hot Pocket. Do not lose hope. Here are a few tips and ideas for improving any chef’s repertoire on a budget.

Balance. The secret to seeming like a master chef is having three food groups-protein, carbs, and vegetables- on your plate at once. It is simple but easy to forget. Have protein with rice or a tortilla, and boil some broccoli for an easy, balanced meal.

Price. Stereotypically, college students live off of inexpensive foods like Top Ramen. However, cheaper foods do not have to be processed and chemically-induced. Eggs and milk are marginally cheaper at the 99¢ Only Store. Compared to other stores, there is a 50¢ savings when buying 18 ct. eggs or a half gallon of milk. Canned goods tend to be 85¢ at Smart & Final. For those with a tight budget, rice and beans can be bought in bulk from Smart & Final for less money than elsewhere. Produce is nearly the same price at the 99¢ Only Store and Smart & Final. However, Smart & Final has a wider and more consistent selection in produce. The cheapest food staples to buy from both Smart & Final and the 99¢ Only Store are featured at the bottom of this article in separate lists, respectively.


Snacks. The 99¢ Only Store is perfect for snacks. They have the best price for nuts, chips, cookies, and trail mix. The coconut chips and freeze dried fruits are also worth a try or, if you are feeling healthy, buy carrots or another vegetable and portion it out for later. Paired with their hummus, it makes for a great snack.

Onions and Garlic. Sautéing onions and garlic will make anyone seem like a master chef. Chopping an onion and investing in a garlic press is not as hard as you might think. Making the switch from powdered onion and garlic to fresh can be life-changing. A $10 pound bag of frozen boneless chicken thighs can be purchased at Smart & Final and flavored with sautéd garlic and chopped onion.

Mexican Food is Magical. Taco meat, rice, and greens can sustain someone for months. Taco seasoning is super simple- just mix onions, garlic, ground red pepper, and cumin. Smart & Final sells five pound tubes of frozen ground turkey for $7.99. Those who dislike spicy food can add a single jalapeño to the meat ti add a lot of flavor without the kick, so long as there are no seeds. Cheese is best bought from Smart and Final. Sophomore Ofelia Chavez commented that “the cheese from the 99¢ store is terrible. It doesn’t melt and it tastes like chemicals.” Northgate Market also has an array of Hispanic foods. Tortillas, Pan Dulce, and a larger variety of produce are offered at a low cost.


The 99¢ Only Store is much cheaper when it comes to purchasing:


Frozen Berries



Bean Sprouts


Smart and Final

However, Smart & Final has better prices for these staples:




Baking Soda

Baking Powder





Bulk Frozen Meat


Peanut Butter

Misc. Spices: Salt, Pepper, Cumin, and Red Pepper


Photos courtesy of Neil McDonough.




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