If you’re a college student, chances are you’ve gotten used to a steady diet of ramen noodles, chips, instant mac n’ cheese, cereal, and a whole lot of fast food. Even if you’re on a meal plan, many of the foods offered are not that healthy, and it becomes much easier to overeat.
You tell yourself you want to change it up and buy some healthier food, but one thing stands in the way: money.
[Lower your college debt; apply for scholarships today.]
Most healthy foods tend to be pricey, and with all of your loans and expenditures for classes, it’s easy to lose hope for good eating habits. Lucky for you, there are loopholes around the lure of health food. Read on to learn strategies for healthy eating on a college budget.
Get the Most Out of Your Meal Plan
Let’s start at the most common college eatery: the dining hall. The food comes as part of your tuition, and if you’re unable cook for yourself, you’re sort of stuck with it. While you may not have a perfect diet on a meal plan, you can actually get pretty close. How? Here are some tips for eating well in the college cafeteria.
1. Take Time to Learn About Your Options
Before you sink your teeth into the first delicious thing you see, take a stroll around your dining hall. You’ll be able to see which choices should be right for you. You might even find out about some lunch specials that include healthy options you didn’t see before — that healthy stuff is hidden sometimes!
2. Choose Only the Good Options
The number of choices you have in the dining hall can be overwhelming and lead to disastrous eating habits. But there are as many good choices as there are bad, and it’s up to you to stick to them. Here are just a few of some solid choices:
- Cooked vegetables
- Fresh fruit (such as whole apples or sliced pineapple)
- The salad bar — sooo many delicious options, such as kale, carrots, peppers and eggs (but be careful of high-calorie salad dressings!)
- Stir fry with lots of veggies
[Learn how to survive gluten sensitivity in college.]
3. Ask for Partial Entrees
Many dining hall foods have healthy components, but they also come with unhealthy parts you should avoid.
Next time you see something you like that comes with an unhealthy component, ask the dining employee to remove or substitute it. They’re usually friendly and required to carry out your request.
4. Let Your Friends Know You’ve Changed Your Eating Habits
When you dine with friends who love to eat a lot of food, you eat more, too. To avoid this, let them know you want to stay away from the bad foods. If they catch you eating something you shouldn’t, they can yell at you and get you back on track.
[Follow this nutrition advice from a diabetic college student.]
Be a Supermarket Ninja
If you’re tired of eating in the dining hall every day, plan an excursion to your local supermarket. But wait—you probably remember the beginning of this post that said most healthy food is expensive. Well, that’s true, but these shopping tips can get you some great food without hurting your wallet.
5. The Golden Rule: Never Go to the Supermarket Hungry
Breaking this rule will break your inner zen, and your bank. When you go to the store hungry, you end up buying things you don’t need. So eat something before you go. Simple.
[Should you go vegan in college? Learn about the benefits of this lifestyle from a vegan student.]
6. Make a List and Stick to It
If you don’t have a list, you’ll buy unnecessary items. When you’re running low on something, add it to your list because it’s necessary! If it’s not necessary, don’t buy it.
7. Stock Up
Buy in bulk. You might not need to eat a whole bag of bulk food in a week, but that’s what freezers are for. Make a generous portion for the week and store the rest.
8. Use Savings Cards and Coupons
Your mom used to sit and clip all those coupons for a reason. You thought it was silly then, but now it can save your life. Store cards will give you discounts on specific items and even gas for your car.
9. Use It or Lose It
Are leftovers taking up space in your fridge? Combine them all into a new, delicious meal. If you’re missing some ingredients, put them on that shopping list.
Got a kitchen? What are you putting that Hot Pocket in the microwave for? Go on a shopping trip and cook yourself something nice. Forget that healthy food that costs a fortune—with a little bit of strategizing, and a tiny bit of discipline, you can save money and get healthier by following these tips.