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Wellness

5 Healthy and Affordable Meal Ideas for Busy College Students

Eating well in college is hard. As students, our budgets, time and attention spans are limited, which isn’t a great recipe for success. However, there are healthy and cheap meal options available if you’re willing to do a little cooking. Here are five of my go-to dishes.

Baked chicken with sweet potatoes and brown rice

Although the title is somewhat self-explanatory, here are some tips to make this meal more interesting. I like to cube my sweet potatoes, toss them in olive oil, and season them with either cinnamon and brown sugar or salt and paprika. Sweet or savory flavors are both great. Also, baking the potatoes at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes (or until soft) allows you to bake your chicken simultaneously. Make sure to pat the chicken (breast, thigh, tenderloin, whatever you like) completely dry with a paper towel before drizzling it with olive oil, seasoning it with your preferred seasoning (personally, I enjoy Montreal chicken seasoning), and placing it on a baking sheet. Cook white meat to 145 degrees internally and dark meat to 165 degrees. For the rice, follow the instructions on the package and you’re good to go.

avocado lime ranch bowl

Burrito bowls have taken the world by storm, and one tasty version of those is my avocado lime ranch bowl. The key ingredient is that dressing, which you can find from various brands at the grocery store. The beauty of a bowl is that you can pick whatever you like to go in it, so feel free to improvise! Personally, I like cubed chicken, sweet potato, black beans, brown rice and roasted broccoli.

stir fry

Stir fry is extremely versatile, but I generally don’t desire to chop 10 different vegetables when I make it. My simple yet tasty stir fry recipe includes broccoli, water chestnuts, matchstick carrots, pre-made stir fry sauce and the protein of your choice. Begin by getting some white rice started on the stove or in the microwave, and then saute your protein until it’s nearly fully cooked. Take it off the heat and saute the vegetables until they’re fully cooked, then add the sauce and protein. Simmer it all together on low-medium heat for 5-10 minutes to finish your stir fry.

spaghetti squash & meat sauce

Spaghetti squash is a nutritious alternative to regular pasta and is very easy to cook. Simply cut your squash in half lengthwise, spoon out the seeds, drizzle the inside halves with olive oil, season however you like, and flip them inside down on a baking sheet. Bake the squash for about 40 minutes — the cooking time depends on the size of your squash; a larger one may need more time — and then use a fork to separate the strands of “spaghetti.” While the squash is cooking, saute some ground beef, pork or turkey on the stove on medium heat. Once it’s cooked through, drain the fat and combine the meat with red pasta sauce in the same pan on low heat. Finally, enjoy your pasta alternative!

balanced breakfast

Breakfast can be especially difficult to fit into a busy schedule, but it’s very important to prioritize starting your day with a balanced meal. Chunky peanut butter on whole-wheat toast packs a lot of protein and healthy fats and will provide lasting energy for your morning. Eggs and fruit are a solid addition to the toast and aren’t as heavy as all those carbs.

Hopefully, these ideas inspire you to try one of my meals or create your own go-to dishes. Remember, iced coffee is not a meal substitute. Here’s to a nourished, energized and stable blood sugar semester!

Kristina is a senior majoring in Finance with a minor in Psychology. When she's not at a coffee shop or going for a run, you can catch her suffering at the library questioning her life choices. She loves watching college football and writing for HerCampus!
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