How to Eat Healthy on a College Budget

Let’s face it; as college students, we’ve all experienced that terrifying moment of logging into our bank accounts and realizing we’ve spent our entire month’s allowance in one week. Between friends constantly convincing us to go eat out at restaurants and our insanely busy class schedules, it can be quite hard not to spend money so rapidly. It may seem easier to give in to these temptations of convenient food and social invitations, but your bank account and your body will thank you for considering cheaper and healthier food options.

It’s a common misconception to believe eating healthfully while being on a tight college budget is not possible. However, if you decide to prioritize your health and budgeting your money, it is very possible to have a busy schedule while still eating nourishing foods and not spending crazy amounts of money.

Rethinking the way you eat and plan your meals may seem intimidating at first, but with these easy tips, it becomes completely possible to make both healthy and affordable food choices.

Create a meal plan at the beginning of every week.

When I sit down on Sunday morning and plan out my classes, extracurriculars and commitments for the week, I also plan out the meals I am going to eat. A good way to do this is to buy a meal plan calendar to place on your fridge and refer to it throughout the week. These can be found at craft or office supply stores, or even found online in the form of free printable worksheets.

Example:

Courtesy: Live Craft Eat

Planning ahead of time what you are going to eat for each meal helps eliminate stress and frees up time for you to balance your work and other responsibilities.

Write your grocery list before going to the store.

Going to the store without a grocery list makes it much more tempting to purchase random items that will not be of use to your meal preparations for the week. The occasional treat item can still fit in your budget, but lack of planning will likely cause you to overspend while at the grocery store. This can easily be avoided by creating a list ahead of time, based on the meals you wrote down that you would like to make for the week.

Shop at multiple grocery stores.

Going to one grocery store might be a time-saver, but it is certainly not a money saver. Prices of items vary depending on which store you shop at. A banana at Publix might be 20 cents, while a banana at Trader Joe’s is only 15 cents. However, a bag of lettuce at Publix might be buy-one-get-one-free, while a bag of lettuce at Trader Joe’s is regularly priced for three dollars. Even though it is more time consuming to research the prices of the items you need at different grocery stores, it will end up saving you lots of money in the long run.

Buy fruits, vegetables and other perishable goods based on what’s in season.

One of my favorite ways to ensure I’m eating a healthy and balanced diet is to incorporate at least one fruit or vegetable into all of my meals. However, fresh fruits and vegetables can certainly be pricey at times. When meal planning, it is crucial to know which fruits and vegetables are in season and which are not. Buying these items at their peak growing time will allow prices to be very affordable. Try to pick meals for the week that require in-season foods instead of foods that are out of season and very expensive. Another reliable option is to buy frozen fruits and vegetables and keep them in your freezer to have at your disposal throughout the week. This is a much cheaper option and also ensures that your food will not spoil.

Prepare your meals ahead of time.

Trying to make gourmet meals on a Monday night when you have two classes and three meetings is obviously not a great idea. I enjoy waking up early on Monday mornings and dedicating as much time as I have to meal preparation. Roasting vegetables, baking chicken, or pre-making salads can all be done ahead of time. These meals can be stored in Tupperware and heated up or grabbed out of the fridge on the way to class. This will enable you to have healthy meals readily available without having to buy expensive food on the go or revert to fast and unhealthy food options.

Put a healthy spin on your favorite cheap meals.

Sometimes, eating that box of mac and cheese as comfort food is much-needed to plan into your week. The good news is that cheap food options, like a box of mac and cheese, can be made healthier. A box of chickpea flour mac and cheese is only one dollar more than Kraft mac and cheese. Another option would be adding green peas or roasted broccoli into the mac and cheese to get your serving of vegetables. Even frozen meals or cheap pizza can be supplemented with a side salad or an apple to make your meals more balanced throughout the week without sacrificing your budget or having to give up your favorite foods.

No matter what your schedule looks like or what kind of budget you have to work with, it is very possible to eat healthily and affordably as a college student. That Chick-fil-A sandwich meal after a long day might sound enticing, but in the long run, your body (and your parents) will thank you for taking the time and effort to make healthy, cost-effective eating a priority.