20 Tips for Eating Healthy(ish) on a College Budget
I remember arriving at college on move-in day and scouting out all the good places to get food. My dorm had a market with snacks and frozen meals, two dining halls on either side, and it was down the street from the student center with even more food options. It can be easy to give into your cravings. It can also be easy to forget that you have a budget to stick to, so its no surprise that food is one of the suprise college expenses that students underestimate. Eating healthy in college definitely takes a little work but here are 20 tried and true tips for eating healthier on and off campus, while keeping your budget in check.
1. Stop buying junk food!
I love junk food as much as a kid trying it for the first time, but that doesn’t mean it should be in my diet. Once I stopped buying soda, candy, cookies, and packaged meals, I realized how much money I was saving by choosing healthier, cheaper alternatives.
2. Cook at home
Eating out often adds up quickly and can be more expensive than meals you make at home. You can buy all of the ingredients, that will make multiple meals, for the price of one meal at a restaurant. It’s a great skill to learn and you will know exactly what is in your food. Look at Tasty and Delish for easy recipes and try cooking at least one meal to cut down on eating out!
3. Invest in a toaster oven or microwave
There are tons of lists out there with delicious meals you can make in your microwave or toaster oven. It’s never too late to practice your cooking skills. Yes, it will take a little longer than heating up a prepackaged meal, but you’ll be healthier and better off for putting in the effort to be healthy.
4. Cook large amounts to have leftovers
You can plan your meals for the week ahead and always have food saved in case you get hungry. I like to add my leftovers to salads and burritos. This will save you time later in the week, but more importantly save you money!
5. Pack your lunch
I always did this when I knew I had back-to-back classes around lunch time, so instead of grabbing an unhealthy snack to hold me over, I would bring a packed lunch with me. I made sure to have a snack in case I was still hungry from eating the lunch I made from leftovers (see tip #4).
6. Plan your meals!
Before you go grocery shopping, making a list of everything you need is super important. Every Sunday morning, I make a list of all the food I’ll need for my meals for the week before I shop in the afternoon. I check to see what I already have so that I don’t buy more than I really need. Planning ahead helps a lot because I have a tendency to buy food that I don’t use, so then it goes to waste and I throw it away.
7. Stick to your list
As someone who gets distracted easily, I love walking up and down every aisle to see what the store has to offer. The general rule is to stick to the perimeter of the store, which is where all the healthy, whole food is. Keep your list written down in your phone so that you don’t forget anything.
8. Eat before you shop
If you go to the store hungry, you are more likely to make impulse buys, which usually turn out to be unhealthy food. Have some fruit or nuts before you head to the store. It’s important you only buy what is on your list, and not anything unhealthy you are craving.
9. Buy the store brand
Store brand food and the generic brands are always cheaper than the name brand items. My mom always reminds me that the ingredients and quality are almost always the same, so it’s worth saving a little money. When you check out, you can see the difference and how much name brands can add up.
10. Use coupons and a store membership card.
It’s always a good idea to get an account at the grocery stores you shop at the most. This helps you get discounts and coupons so that you save money on your purchases.
11. Pay with your rewards credit card
I get airline points and cash back when I buy food at grocery stores. Many credit cards offer great incentives, so why not get rewards for your purchases, especially when you are making money and health-conscious decisions.
12. Get out the sales
Don’t forget to check out what is on sale! I always make sure to stock up on my favorite products when they are on sale so that I can save more money. Make sure it lasts for a while and won’t expire too quickly.
13. Buy frozen foods
Don’t confuse this with frozen meals or prepared foods. My favorite fruits are not always in season, and they usually go bad quickly, so I always buy my fruits frozen. I can get larger quantities for cheaper prices that I can use all year round. Frozen fruits are great to add in smoothies and I use frozen vegetables when making my meals for the week. The best part about frozen fruits and vegetables is that they don’t spoil!
14. Choose your meats wisely
Red meat can be very expensive, so opt for more white meat when buying your food for the week. Make sure you are buying whole pieces of meat instead of pre-cut or pre-seasoned packages.
15. Find other sources of protein
A common misconception is that the only way to get protein is to eat meat. You can get protein from many different sources, such as legumes, eggs, and fish. They are inexpensive and easy to prepare.
16. Grow your own vegetables
Try growing your own vegetables! Start out with one or two and see how it goes. Always makes for a fun project.
17. Plan your daily snacks
Keep healthy snacks with you like nuts to munch on when you get hungry throughout the day! Cashews and almonds are great for you and taste delicious.
18. Eat seasonal foods.
Always keep in mind which fruits and vegetables are in season when you go shopping. They will usually be cheaper and fresher when they are in season, so plan your meals to include fresh veggies.
19. Buy canned food.
Canned foods have a longer shelf life and are much cheaper! You can find great sources of protein and vegetables in cans. These are also very easy to prepare.
20. Keep track of how much you spend when shopping.
Calculate how much you are spending while you add items to your cart. Tally it up using the calculator app on your phone. This way, you aren’t surprised at the total when you go to check out.