I remember one day in university I walked into a friend’s dorm room to help him unpack and sort some different groceries he’d brought from home. In particular, I recall several very large bags of rice. It actually might be more prudent to call them sacks of rice. While it did seem a bit odd at first, he explained to me that he was trying to save money. He’d downsized his meal plan at the university, and was supplementing it with cheaper (but still healthy) foods like rice and oatmeal.
My best friend is still in college and she and her husband, similarly, try eating pretty healthily on a budget. My friend loves fresh fruit, but she doesn’t buy it very often because she’s usually the only one who eats it. She doesn’t want her produce to go bad before she can eat it all, so she mainly purchases frozen fruit. She also tends to visit the store only once every two weeks, so she saves a lot by buying cost efficient, nutritious foods in bulk such as whole grain pasta and potatoes.
As you probably noticed, my two friends live very different lives but they both strive for the same thing – eating healthy on a college budget. Eating healthily on a college budget doesn’t have to be much different from healthy eating on any other budget. It still helps to plan out your meals so you’ll know what’s available and so you can keep yourself on track. Many college students find themselves eating out or at fast food restaurants simply because they don’t plan their meals ahead of time. While I wouldn’t say that there are “good” and “bad” foods, exactly, some are definitely more nutritious and nutrient-dense than others. The foresight to toss a sandwich, bag of crudités, and some hummus in your bag gives you a healthier alternative for when you get hungry as opposed to the less nutritious options provided by a vending machine.
When it comes to which foods you might want to keep on hand in your dorm room, you can consult this healthy shopping list. Try to include foods that can serve multiple purposes (especially if they have a limited shelf life), such as frozen vegetables that can be added to pasta or used in soup, or grilled chicken strips (or vegetarian grillers strips) that can be used on a salad or in a tortilla wrap. If you have a mini fridge, you can easily store lettuce and vegetables for making a quick salad as well as healthy protein-rich foods like yogurt and string cheese that you can pack to eat on the go. I would also recommend that you skip buying drinks like soda, juice, and sports drinks and instead invest in a pitcher that will filter water for you (this was such a life saver for me). This way, you won’t need to buy bottled water and you will not only save money but also reduce waste when you use a reusable water bottle. Another great tip is to use coupons, compare prices, and look at store sale ads. It’s understandable that, as a student, you likely feel pretty strapped for time, but if you carry nonperishable snacks with you and give yourself some time every weekend to go shopping, you will not only have food that you enjoy but that's also good for you.
I mentioned this in several of my other articles, but one of the best ways to save money is to buy certain items in bulk. While ramen noodles seem to be the college cliché go-to food, they aren’t very healthy for you (and they certainly aren’t very filling). It’s also true that colleges host lots of events where free food is offered, but while this may mean good things for your wallet the options aren’t always as healthy as they could be. Sometimes it’s best to forego the pizza and ice cream and to prep your own meal at home (or in your dorm).
Meal plans can be a little tricky because you have to do a little investigating to figure out where the most nutritious options are, but if you do have a meal plan, you should use it! The food’s already paid for. Most colleges have websites where you can peruse the menus and nutritional information of various campus eateries so that you can make healthful decisions. Of course, sometimes it can be monotonous to eat at the same places every day, so when you’re looking for variety you might consider having a potluck dinner with your friends. Each person can be designated to bring a component, such as the pasta, the meat, the vegetables, or dessert. You could also see whether your roommate would be open to cooking one night and then switching with you to cook another night.
Something important to think about is what “healthy” really means to you. Some people decide that it’s important to them to buy organic foods, or at least the “dirty dozen,” and others find they don’t care so much about whether a product is organic but they do care whether their coffee is Fair Trade. Maybe your definition of healthy is trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet, so you plan more vegetarian meals for yourself and spend less on meat and seafood. Once you figure out your definition of healthy, it’s easy to stick to a budget while still eating right.