healthy college food

9 Rules for Healthy Eating on a College Budget

The end of August means the start of school, and that means lots of people are either heading off for the first time or returning to college after enjoying some time back at home. I remember when I was in college one of the toughest things for me to manage was my grocery expenses.

Shopping trips were always filled with decisions on just how much eating healthy mattered to me. And all too often I found myself replacing “healthy” foods and products with unhealthy ones (I once lived an entire week on instant ramen). But it doesn’t always have to be the case – healthy eating on a college budget (or any budget) is possible! It just takes a little bit of knowledge and planning.

Rule #1 – Always, always, always plan ahead

Plan ahead for everything. Plan your grocery trips – what are you going to buy, where are you going to go shopping, when are you going to go shopping. Plan when you are going to prepare and cook meals. Plan what you going to eat for the week. Being prepared can go a long way to making sure that you stick to your healthy eating goals.

Rule #2 – Make a list

Going to the grocery story without a list is one of the worst mistakes you can make. Don’t do it. Take the extra 5 minutes to sit down and write down exactly what you are going to buy, otherwise you might find yourself coming home with three different types of cheese, two bottles of wine and packages of crackers (when what you really needed was tomatoes and milk).

Rule #3 – Buy seasonal produce

Stick to the produce that is is season. First of all, produce that is in season is much cheaper. Remember your Econ 101 class and the idea of supply and demand? When the supply is high, the price decreases. This is why you can buy ears of corn in the summer for around 25c an ear, but if you try to buy that same corn in the middle of December you’ll easily be paying 3-4 times that amount!

As an added bonus, produce that is grown in season generally has higher contents of vitamins and minerals. Yum!If you have to eat a fruit or vegetable out of season take a look at the cost of frozen or canned varieties. Sometimes these can end up being a bit cheaper.

Rule #4 – Stay away from pre-made, pre-cut, pre-prepared items

General rule of thumb is that buying the ingredients for things is generally going to be cheaper than buying the pre-made finished product. And pre-made items are also usually less healthy because they sometimes contain high amounts of non-beneficial substances such as sodium, fat, and sugar. Try to stay away from packaged items and instead stick to produce.

Rule #5 – Try to buy non perishables in bulk

Non perishables are great items to buy in bulk, if you have the space to store them. Large warehouse style stores (think Costco or Sams Club) can be great places to stock up on these products. But do keep in mind that these products do need to be stored correctly – typically in airtight resealable containers.

You should also consider your eating habits when buying large quantities of products. Don’t go out and buy a giant year-long supply of garbanzo beans if you only eat them a couple times a month. You’d be better off just buying smaller portions of them rather than risk wasting a bunch.

Rule #6 – Team up with a friend

Teaming up with a friend, both for buying food and for cooking, can be a good way to save and make the process of eating healthy more fun. Even if you aren’t planning on splitting the costs of food, try to plan grocery trips together with a friend that is also trying to eat healthy. You’ll help keep each other from buying things that you will probably regret in the future.

Rule #7 – Don’t go to the grocery story hungry

This is similar to rule #1. Make sure you plan everything out, and that includes when you are going to go shopping. Don’t go to the store when you are hungry. When you are hungry you are far more likely to buy unhealthy foods because of in the moment cravings. Either plan your grocery trips for after meals, or at the very least eat a snack before heading out.

Rule #8 – Shop around (and avoid the “hip” stores)

Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods might be great places to find unique and healthy foods, but they can also be a lot more expensive than other smaller, less “hip” stores. Take a bit of time at the beginning of the year to explore the neighborhood around you to discover other alternatives. Sometimes ethnic grocery stores will have cheaper prices on produce.

When I went to school there was an Asian grocery story the next city over that had way cheaper prices on produce because they bought the “non-pretty” ones that other stores wouldn’t buy (nothing wrong with the flavor, they just weren’t always perfectly round or such). Another great place to go shopping is at local farmers’ markets.

Rule #9 – Make it fun

I think the most important part of any healthy diet is making it fun. If preparing, cooking and eating healthy meals becomes a chore you are far less likely to continue wanting to do it. How you make your healthy eating fun is completely up to you – make it a challenge, post pictures of your successes on facebook/instagram, or maybe even start your own blog!

These are just a few ideas on how I managed to keep my grocery bill under control and yet still enjoy eating healthy meals. Do you have any other rules that you follow(ed)? Let me know in the comments below!