Whether you have a meal plan or are on your own for college food, you can make healthy choices for snacks or meals that don’t cost a lot of money. Campus foods can often be greasy pizza and fatty burgers – cheap, fast food that doesn’t give you the benefits of eating healthy. Inexpensive, nutritious food can easily be part of dorm or college apartment life. With a microwave, mini-fridge and a counter-top grill, you can make fast, inexpensive and healthy meals while saving money not buying food on campus.
Choose healthy food
Healthy choices can be simple and inexpensive. “The good news is that cheap food isn’t necessarily unhealthy food. You can cut food costs by eating more meals at home, and by making sure they feature some of the healthiest foods from your supermarket,” according to Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, in “Cheap and Healthy: 15 Nutritious Foods for About $2,” on WebMD.
For snacks and meals in your dorm choose:
- Whole wheat bread — For sandwiches and breakfast, whole wheat bread has more vitamins than bleached white bread.
- Canned tuna and peanut butter — The dorm staples. Shelf stable and ready to eat right away (with a hearty slice of whole wheat bread!). Inexpensive per serving and filled with protein and omega-3 fatty acids for brain power.
- Nonfat dairy — Low- or non-fat milk and yogurt give you just as much protein and energy, but without all the fat of whole milk. Sprinkle some granola into your yogurt for a crunchy boost of energy.
- Fresh fruit & veg — Apples, bananas, oranges, carrots and other quick-eat fruits and veg are easy to store and carry. Pop one or two in your bag for a snack during the day. A healthy snack that fills you up with good carbs will keep you from spending money on a pizza slice or candy bar.
- Air popped popcorn – Not like oil- and fat-laden popcorn in the movie theaters, air popped popcorn you can make in the dorm costs only pennies and has energy-boosting carbs and no fat. Sprinkle lightly with salt or spices and you have a crunchy, satisfying snack.
- Oatmeal – Packets you can add water and microwave offer a quick snack or meal that’s cheap per serving, heart healthy and nutritious.
Stay away from the ramen noodles and frozen pizza. Yes, they’re cheap, but they are full of salt, fat, empty calories and are low on nutrition.
One way not to spend too much or eat fatty bad-for-you foods is to not buy them in the first place. Some tips to shop smart:
- Write out a list of what you really need, and stick to it. Don’t impulse buy food that might look good in the store, but that you really don’t need. “Grocery stores are designed to encourage more purchases, so walking in without a game plan can be dangerous for your bottom line. Instead, come equipped with a list full of staples that get you the most bang for your buck,” advised “Cheap Health Food: Tips To Combat Rising Food Prices,” posted August 29, 2012 in the Huffington Post.
- Shop around the perimeter of the store. Fresh veggies, lean meat, and dairy are all around the periphery; the processed and prepared food that is full of salt and fat are in the middle.
- Buy store brands, which are always cheaper than brand named foods.
- Use supermarket circulars to find foods on sale this week.
“Preparing your own meals in your dorm can be an effective way to eat healthier and save money. No matter what kind of equipment you have, you can conjure up meals that are much better for you than fast food and vending machine fare,” said Lillian Downey in the September 29, 2010 article, “How to eat healthy in a dorm,” on Livestrong.com.