For those looking to cook on a budget, Melissa d’Arabian is a blessing. As soon as my wonderful mom told me I would have an opportunity to interview Melissa, I was ecstatic.

She is someone who really has the experience to provide budgeting advice to college students, and Melissa’s advice did not disappoint. Check out what she said.

Stocking a kitchen takes time. What are the most essential items for a student to buy?

Melissa d'Arabian

Photo by Trissa Gurney

First things first: you need two good knives – a chef’s knife and a smaller paring knife. You can cut almost anything using these two. Next up: a good blender. College is a time for needing serious nutrition to feed the brain and body, so a no-cook smoothie is a modern college essential to feeding yourself healthy and on-the-go.

You are famous for your healthy, low-cost recipes to feed a family. Most college students are cooking for only one person. How would you recommend students use recipes designed for families without having to eat the same thing for a week?

Most of my recipes can scale up for large parties, or scale down for one or two people. When I was in college, I used to take those plastic containers that held frozen dinners (we called them “TV dinners” back then…), wash them, and then fill them with my own cooking. I’d freeze the filled containers and then pop the frozen meal out and keep them in a freezer bag in the freezer, ready to be microwaved up for a quick meal.

Another strategy: have a supper club. Nothing fancy – just take turns cooking among your friends. You could, say, decide that on Tuesdays you rotate who is cooking among a few friends, so that everyone would get a healthy, inexpensive home-cooked meal, but only have to cook once a month.

Spices can take a dish to the next level, what is your go to seasoning to kick a dish up a notch?

Melissa d'Arabian

Photo by Trissa Gurney

I love chipotle powder – smoky and spicy! I also love ground cumin and smoked paprika.

What advice would you give students wanting to enter into the field of food media for their career? 

Intern. Be willing to be mentored and pay your dues. This is true for most fields.

There is a lot of debate right now about GMO-free and organic foods. Do you think these foods are worth the investment for college students with low budgets?

Everyone has to decide what is right for their priorities and budget. But I will say this: organic produce, when it goes on sale, is often the same price or cheaper than their conventional counterparts. So don’t assume that nothing is affordable in the organic produce section.

If you are flexible, you can start by loading up on the organic sale items first, and then backfill with some conventional produce, using the dirty dozen and clean fifteen lists to help guide you. For milk and meat, try shopping sales, and including a few meatless meals a week to avoid spending your monthly allowance just in organic meat.

What would you suggest for a grocery list to feed a college student for a week?

I always start in the produce aisle when I shop, and I note broad suggestions on my list, such as “leafy greens” or “veggie to go with grilled chicken.” That way, I can make sure I get what I need while also being flexible enough to shop the sales.

For buying meats, I always focus on the one or two cuts of meat that are marked way down, called “loss leaders” because the store advertises these meat prices and takes a loss to drive traffic into the store. Meat freezes great, so I load up on the cuts that are on loss leader. Each week, the loss leaders change, so eventually I get a solid meat locker going in my freezer!

Melissa d'Arabian

Photo by Trissa Gurney

As for the rest of the list, you will save a ton of money if you just spend five minutes checking your fridge and freezer and make a quick list of dishes you want to make that week. Start by using up anything that might go bad in your fridge, such as that container of sour cream that you opened to top your late-night nacho frenzy.

Once you have a rough idea of the dishes you want to make over the week, make your list, again being flexible enough to change things up a bit if you stumble into a great deal.

What is your guilty pleasure food?

Ice cream. Easy. Not even a debate.

If you could give any advice to your college self, what would you say?

Sit in the front row. It is far easier to get A’s sitting in the front row because you catch everything the professor says, and you get a much better sense for what he thinks is important. And what he thinks is important will be on the exam. Besides, life is too short not to sit in the front row whenever you can. And treat your body well by feeding it right.

Melissa d'Arabian

Reprinted from Supermarket Healthy: Recipes and Know-How for Eating Well Without Spending a Lot. Copyright © 2014 by Melissa d’Arabian. Photographs © 2014 by Tina Rupp. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House LLC.

Celebrity chef, television host, best-selling author, and mom of four Melissa d’Arabian is a go-to expert on affordable and healthy family home cooking. Her new cookbook, “Supermarket Healthy,” proves healthy eating can be easy, affordable, and achievable with ingredients from the neighborhood grocery store.

Well known for “Ten Dollar Dinners” – her popular Food Network show and New York Times bestselling cookbook, today Melissa can also be found serving as a regular judge on the hit Food Network primetime series “Guy’s Grocery Games;” writing the nationally syndicated weekly “Healthy Plate” column for The Associated Press; and hosting acclaimed series, “The Picky Eaters Project.” Melissa and her family live in Coronado. Stay in touch with Melissa on social media and on her website

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