When you’re off to college or university for the first time, you have to take care of a few things, like tuition and books. But don’t forget to take care of yourself when it comes to a healthy diet. Eating nutrient-dense foods also means better brain health, so you’ll be able to ace those exams with your eyes closed. Of course, eating wholesome, nutritious foods can be quite expensive — unless you follow these nutritionist-approved tips.
1. Make a Meal Plan
Sketching out a meal plan for the week is essential for focused, affordable grocery shopping. If you don’t have a plan of what you’re going to make for dinner and pack for lunches, you’ll likely run out for convenience food, which costs far more than a homemade meal. If you have roommates or housemates, get them involved as well; this will make the task more fun and you can split the grocery bill.
2. Embrace Plant-Based Protein
Meat and seafood can be expensive to eat every night, so rely on canned beans and dry lentils, both wildly affordable, for a plant-based source of protein a few times a week. Canned beans can be enjoyed in a salad, dressed up with a bit of spice for a salsa or mashed as a quesadilla filling. Lentils cook up in less than 30 minutes, and can cost less than $5 for a large bag at the grocery store.
3. Make Coffee At Home
Make coffee at home throughout the week and save your café-going for weekends and exam season. Depending on your order, you could be saving about $20 per week. You don’t even need a bulky coffee machine, just a kettle and French press. This guide from Detour Coffee shows you how to make a French press coffee at home (or in a dorm room). Pack in a travel mug and you’re all set for that early morning lecture.
4. Cook Once, Eat Twice
Make a double batch of your dinner and stop paying upwards of $8 for lunch tomorrow. Though I’ve been out of university for many years now, I’ve kept to this this habit in my working life. I make a large stew, like this Spicy Red Lentil Vegetable Stew (serves 8!) on Sunday to eat for lunch the following week.
5. Invest in Locking Glass Containers
These can cost a bit more than plastic containers up front, but unless you break the glass (which is very hard to do), you don’t have to replace them as often, if ever. I’ve been using my glass containers for many years and continue to pack them up with homemade meals for affordable days out and about. Pack yogurt, fruit and granola in them for breakfast, grain salads, sandwiches or leftovers for lunch, or snacks for late night cram sessions.
6. Stick to Classic Superfoods
Healthy ingredients like broccoli, bananas, beets, onions, sunflower seeds, raisins, eggs, lentils, black beans and plain yogurt aren’t expensive, and remain some of the most wholesome foods you can eat. You don’t have to eat all those hyped-up superfoods to be healthy, so keep it simple with the classics.
7. Skip the Pre-Packaged and Prepared Foods
You can make a salad yourself for about $1 (maybe even less) and skip the $8-plus pre-made salad from the store. Buy a large pack of lettuce to last the week and garnish with hardboiled eggs, chopped cucumber, sunflower seeds and dried fruit. Olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a bit of salt are all the ingredients you need to dress it up. Some salads, like this hearty Kale and Quinoa salad from Valerie Bertinelli, can be kept pre-made in the refrigerator all week long.
8. Visit the Bulk Food Store
I love getting spices from a bulk food store or bulk bins at the grocery store. I can purchase very small quantities if I know I’m not going to use it very often or I’m just looking to “sample” it in a new recipe. Small quantities of spices, which can really add a load of flavour to a meal, can cost under a dollar, compared to jarred spices, which can run you $5 or more per jar.
9. Your New Favourite Snack
Apples and peanut butter are where it’s at. Go for natural, unsalted peanut butter, and season it yourself. If you have it handy, a sprinkle of cinnamon makes this feel gourmet. Protein, fibre, healthy fats and a bit of salty-sweet crunch make apples and peanut butter a snack that almost feels like dessert.
10. Eat Seasonally
Eat produce that’s in season and local in your area. In-season foods, like apples appearing in fall, for instance, are often more affordable than out-of-season produce or produce flown from across the world.
11. Student Discount Days
Often, university and college towns and cities will have days of the week (usually a weekday), where students are offered a discount. Though you’ll likely face a crowd, this savings can really pay off on your final bill.