Eating healthy on a budget
"Going out to eat is really expensive, but I do it a lot because I usually want to eat with my friends. How can I spend less and still have it be fun?"
Even with all the new choices in front of you, you can stay in control and within your budget when it comes to eating at college.
- Adjust your meal plan. If you have a choice, make sure you’re using the right meal plan for you. An unlimited meal plan may tempt you to eat your money's worth in food, even if you don't need or want it. If you're on a limited plan but are often hungry, consider switching to an unlimited plan. The increased cost will be balanced by what you save on expensive snacks.
- Use your meal plan. The food is paid for—don't pay again to eat somewhere else.
- Use your flex plan sparingly. It's easy to run out of points if you use flex points for regular meals.
- Drink water. Carry a refillable water bottle with you. Water is a healthy choice that increases stamina at work and play, fills you up, and costs less than sodas and coffee drinks.
- Substitute and save. What are your favorite high-calorie foods? A chocolate donut for breakfast? Sugary sodas? Look for lower-calorie substitutes such as cereal bars, brewed coffee or tea, and fruit. Cut calories and costs.
- Try different stress busters. Many people turn to food-especially gooey, fatty kinds-when stress levels go up. Develop other stress busters that can work for you with minimal calories and cost, such as a brisk walk, a workout, or tea with a friend.
- Plan ahead. Does your resolve to eat better weaken when your schedule is hectic? Take healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts with you on busy days. This helps you avoid vending machine and snack bar purchases.
- Cut back on pre-packaged, pre-prepared food. Single-serve packages are more expensive, so buy them sparingly. Flavored oatmeal in individual packets costs more than $3 per pound, while bulk oatmeal costs under $1. Loose popcorn, ready in seconds in an air popper, costs a fraction of microwave popcorn packages. Frozen dinners cost more than meals made from scratch.
Click here for more tips on how to stretch your dollars.
Healthy, tasty snack choices
When hunger strikes and you've only got a few minutes between classes, often your options consist of expensive and usually high-fat, high-calorie snacks from vending machines or fast food outlets. As an alternative, keep a supply of healthier options in your dorm or apartment (buy them in quantity) and stash some in your backpack before heading to class.
Protein-rich snacks such as peanut butter and low-fat yogurt or cheese, combined with meals that contain complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain breads and cereals, can help you keep your energy level up and your weight down. Try out a new snack food now and again. You may be surprised to find how many good-tasting, good-for-you options there are, including:
- Fresh fruits: grapes (try them frozen!), bananas, oranges, pears, apples
- Dried fruit: apricots, raisins, mangos, cranberries
- Fruit and Jell-O cups
- Unsweetened fruit juice
- Fat-free pudding
- Fresh veggies: carrots, cauliflower, celery
- Yogurt fruit smoothies
- Trail mix
- Nuts and seeds: almonds, peanuts, walnuts, soy, pumpkin
- Sesame sticks
- Low-fat granola bars
- Low-fat string cheese
- Graham crackers
- Whole grain crackers
- Rice cakes
- Peanut butter
- Low-fat hummus: try all the flavors!
- Plain popcorn: or try spray butter or soy sauce
- Baked chips
- Licorice bits
Quick recipes—beyond ramen
Can't face another ramen noodle meal? Calling out for pizza is the usual alternative. But hold that call! If you have a microwave or hot plate in your room, make yourself a yummy (and healthier) alternative.
- Mini pizzas: Put pizza sauce on half a bagel, English muffin, crackers, or mini pita. Top it with low-fat mozzarella cheese and your favorite veggies. Use a low-heat setting to melt the cheese and crisp the bread. If you have access to an oven, make a batch of mini pizzas and freeze them individually. Flatten refrigerated biscuit dough with your hand, top with pizza sauce, cheese, and veggies and bake for six to eight minutes until the cheese melts and the dough is lightly brown.
- Low-fat pita and hummus: Warm the pita, cut it into small triangles, and dip the pieces in a flavored low-fat hummus, such as garlic or spicy red pepper.
- Tortilla roll-ups: Spread low-fat mayonnaise or cream cheese on an eight-inch tortilla. Add thinly sliced turkey or ham, shredded lettuce, low-fat cheese, and raisins. Roll it up and serve it with baked chips or veggies for a satisfying snack or meal.
- Easy nachos: Lightly pour canned, drained black beans over a microwaveable plate of baked tortilla chips and top with low-fat cheese. Microwave until the cheese is melted. Top with salsa. If you love sour cream, use the low-fat kind.
Try these lighter snacks to keep your energy up while studying:
- Spread peanut butter on celery sticks and top with raisins.
- Spread peanut butter on graham crackers and eat with a pear or apple.
- Dip sliced apples into a dip made from ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese blended with two tablespoons of sugar-free jam.
- Freeze fresh, unsweetened 100 percent juice in ice cube trays.
- Create a healthy trail mix by mixing one cup whole-grain toasted oat cereal with ¼ cup chopped walnuts and ¼ cup dried cranberries.
- Make a bowl of hot regular oatmeal with low-fat milk and a tablespoon of sugar or sweetener. Add fruit if desired.
- Pierce a small potato with a fork in several places, microwave four to six minutes, let stand to soften, top with spray butter, low-fat sour cream, cheese, scallions, veggies, or chili.
- Drink a glass of low-fat milk with a peanut butter and all-fruit jelly sandwich on whole-grain bread.
- Wrap peanut butter and banana slices in a tortilla.
Click here for Web sites and cookbooks geared to college students that include easy-to-make and budget-conscious recipes.