Two things often become painfully obvious to college students who are on their own for the first time in their lives: Mom is no longer around to provide those delicious, home-cooked meals, and they don’t have a lot of money to splurge on steak dinners and Russian caviar. You could eat three meals a day at the local fast food restaurant, but this isn’t exactly the healthiest — or most affordable — option.
The good news is that with a little bit of planning, you can make tasty and healthy food choices that don’t require taking out another student loan! Here are a few tips that can help you make smart, nutritious and inexpensive food selections.
Make Balance Your Focus
If it’s been awhile since your last course on basic nutrition, you should have at least a basic understanding of the importance of eating a balanced diet to ensure you’re getting the vitamins, minerals and nutrients your body needs. This means you should consume a wide variety of foods consisting of fruits, vegetables, breads and grains, meats and beans, and dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt.
Make a Weekly Food Budget
Determine how much money you have to spend on food each week and budget accordingly. Look for other expenditures that you can reduce or eliminate to free up additional money for food. A great place to start is to cut down on all those unhealthy and expensive junk foods you’re probably consuming each day!
Preparing for Food Shopping
Of course, you’ll need to visit the nearest grocery store to find healthy foods. If your school is in a town that has a Walmart with a grocery department, it’s a good idea to head there first, as these stores typically have the lowest prices.
Before you go, plan a week’s worth of meals consisting of foods you like from each food group and make a list of what you’d like to purchase. Use the store’s weekly circular, which you can usually find in the local newspaper or online, as a guide and to locate sales on foods you like. If you have roommates, get them involved in the process, as buying in larger quantities typically results in a lower per-unit cost.
At the Store
Give yourself plenty of time to do your grocery shopping, as this will allow you to compare prices and avoid making expensive and unhealthy impulse purchases. Stick to your list as much as possible, but keep your eyes open for in-store bargains.
Look for store brands, which in many cases are simply “name-brand” items carrying the store’s own label, as these will save you money without sacrificing quality. Look for day-old bread and other items that have been reduced for quick sale.
Pack a Lunch
If you’re away from your door room or apartment during lunchtime, consider “brown-bagging” it. Packing a lunch can save you money, and you’ll avoid making those unhealthy fast food choices that are easy and convenient, but also expensive.