• Caitlyn Wickliffe

Healthy Meals for College Students on a Budget

We have all heard of the fearful “freshman fifteen” from friends, family, and even the media, but figuring out how to make healthy meals for college students on a budget is not the easiest of tasks. It could be an instant-noodles-every-night kind of situation; though they're not the healthiest, ramen is definitely a cheap and easy option. That is why it is important to plan and prepare.

Learning to manage a budget is difficult enough, but learning how to eat healthy is another ballpark entirely! Not to mention that going to college is a formative, transitional, and subsequently stressful time in everyone’s life. It may feel overwhelming to observe a budget while adjusting to a new schedule, a new living situation, and new lifestyle! Even trying to stay healthy during this time can be an intimidating concept to engage with, which is why few do so successfully. For this reason, this blog will offer tips and tricks for how to not only rid yourself of “freshman fifteen,” but how to do it on a budget!

Know Your Weekly Budget

The most important step is the first: know your budget! This might seem simple enough, but when thinking of how often you actually eat out, your weekly budget could be gone within a day or two, which leads to eating cheap food for the remainder of the week.

When I was in college, I ate a lot of instant noodles because I could buy them in bulk for less than $5. While it was an incredibly unhealthy lifestyle, it was how I made it through. But learn from my mistakes! I don’t want this for you. If you know that your weekly budget is $50, allocate some funds for healthy foods that you can eat throughout the week. This will save you even more money in the long run, and it’s a great habit to get into.

Mastering Time Management

The second step to success in eating healthy on a budget is mastering time management. If you know you have a full class schedule Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but a lighter schedule on Tuesdays and Thursdays, do meal prep on your less busy or off-days! This practice will keep you on budget, lessen your stress, and reduce your desire to eat out or depend on fast food. Mastering time management is not just a great tool for college, eating healthy, or budgeting, but a skill that you will use for the rest of your life.

Keeping Meals “Fresh”

Now that you know the importance of maintaining budget as well as mastering time management, it’s time to figure out how to make meals that keep things interesting. When it comes to meal prepping, a lot of people are turned off because they get tired of having the same combinations over and over again; luckily for you, there is a wide range of information online now that offers unique recipes and ideas guaranteed to keep the meals you prep fresh and fun.

Search for information on platforms like Pinterest, Youtube, TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook; these creative share spaces are great resources in discovering new recipes and tutorials for those of us who are not master chefs. When all else fails, Google it!

“But Healthy Food is Soooo Expensive!”

Healthy eating is not nearly as expensive as you might think! You just have to do your research. We’re taught that “sharing is caring,” and that could not be more true when it comes to staying on our $50 weekly grocery budget: when thinking of meals to make, seek out ingredients that will go well together. What foods can be used in different dishes? For example, rice is a great option for tons of different types of meals. Oatmeal is another great one: it can be used for breakfast, making overnight oats for a snack, or even oatmeal cookies! When shopping, ask yourself, “What all can I do with you?” Explore your options and you’ll find the possibilities are endless!

Where You Shop Matters

Shop the deals and sales and make alterations to recipes if needed, to keep you within your budget. If your local grocery store has the cheapest bananas around town, get your bananas there. If a farmer’s market or an organic grocery store offers amazing deals, take advantage of that opportunity! And don’t forget, online is always an option! If your recipe calls for white rice, but you find a great deal on Amazon for brown rice, make that alteration and save yourself money. If a new recipe you are trying calls for green peppers, but your local grocer has a deal on yellow peppers, take the yellow peppers. Remember, we are living on a budget and want to stretch that $50 as far as it can go.