So you want to eat healthy, but you’re on a budget? This is a common problem for college students. We often go for the cheapest foods, whether they are good for us or not…and we all know that endless buffets and the many options in meal plans can make it tough to make healthy decisions.
For me, my first year was the most challenging because of the ample options and easy access to junk food. I made the effort to go to the gym, but still found it difficult to make healthy eating choices with an array of unhealthy options at every meal. A word of advice – avoid sitting next to the dessert bar! My friends and I used to sit right next to the ice cream machine, I’ll just say, this was a bad decision! If you are on a meal plan, look for the healthy options in your dining hall.
Here are some examples of dishes USD serves:
- Grilled chicken with brown rice
- Cooked vegetables
- Fresh fruit
- Salad bar (this was my main staple)
- Hard-boiled eggs at the salad bar
- Omelettes (breakfast)
- Veggie-heavy stir-fry
As a second-year, living in an apartment with a kitchen and having more control over my meals made it much easier to choose healthy foods. I was able to make meals that were both delicious and nutritious. However, shopping on your own, and on a budget, for the first time can be overwhelming. To make this process a little easier for fellow USD students, here are my best tips for eating on a budget (I may have adopted these habits during undergrad but I still use many of them now that I’m a grad student!):
- Cut Coupons & Check Ads. Get the Sunday newspaper each week. This has grocery store ads from around the San Diego area and each store advertises what’s on sale that week. In addition, there are coupon sections. Coupons can save a lot of money each week.
- Plan Ahead. After seeing which stores offer the best prices, formulate a list based off of the meals you want to make that week. STICK TO YOUR LIST! Every addition will add up quickly. Here’s an example: Think protein. This week, Ralph’s organic chicken was on sale, and I bought ground turkey from Costco, buy three packages, get one free (the freezer is your friend people). On Sunday, I cooked half of the chicken with salt, pepper, garlic, and olive oil. The same afternoon, I cooked the ground turkey with sautéed onion. From these two products, I planned to produce a number of meals: pasta with chicken, tacos, turkey burgers, chicken salad, chicken with Masala sauce, rice, and garbanzo beans… the possibilities are endless.
- Think Fresh. The more packaged foods you have in your cart, the higher the likelihood that the food is unhealthy (although tempting, they often contain lots of calories and/or unhealthy preservatives). Instead, choose a quick, healthy snack, such as raw veggies with hummus. If you’re feeling hungry in between classes, grab a piece of fruit, granola bar, yogurt, or cheese stick.) Try to pack in fresh fruits and veggies from your formulated list.
- Try Farmer’s Markets. Not only does this help your local community, but often, markets are cheaper than grocery store produce. Check out the local Linda Vista farmers market just up the street or grab a friend and venture to Ocean Beach for the OB market on Wednesday evenings.
- Know What Foods Are in Season. For example, berries and avocado are summer foods, meaning they are in season during the summer months, and will therefore be cheaper. Apples, squash and sweet potatoes are fall foods. If you buy foods when they are out of season, they are more expensive.
- Eat Protein & Whole Grains. Protein and fiber keep you full longer than carbohydrates.
- Balance. Keep everything in balance. It’s okay to treat yourself now and again!
Here’s to happy (and healthy!) eating!