Yes You Can Eat Healthy Food On A College Budget

Last updated on : June 23 2021

Funny teenage girl with hamburger looking at you while going to eat it - college food

Article Summary

If you are genuinely willing to plan and prep your meals, then it is incredibly easy to add healthier habits to your college life without completely breaking the bank.

Follow these straightforward and applicable steps to learning how to eat well when your pockets feel empty, or college feels overwhelming. 

Introduction - Eating on a college budget

1. Planning is everything

2. Lists save time and money

3. Pack your food ahead of time

4. Be willing to go off-brand

5. Drink more water and less soda

6. Bulk buying reduces costs

7. Stay on track with bulk cooking

8. Don't forget coupons

9. Meat matters


Eating On A College Budget

During my first semester in college, I gained 30 pounds. Freshman fifteen had nothing on me and my awful eating habits. My go-to cafeteria meal was cheese bread, and spicy ranch and the only things I ever bought at the store was cereal and ramen noodles.

It wasn't until I took a good hard look in the mirror and at my health that I realized I needed to make something new work. It wasn't that I couldn't afford better food. It is that I chose the wrong foods.

Maybe you are like I was, or you may genuinely be struggling financially to make your diet work for you.

Either way, I want to give you some straightforward and applicable steps to learning how to eat well when your pockets feel empty, or college feels overwhelming.

1. Planning Is Everything

People who start out shopping for healthier options can be overwhelmed by the price tags that "real" food has. However, healthier foods equal out quite nicely if you plan your recipes, and keep from wasting any groceries.

When you go shopping without a list and a meal plan, you end up buying way too much of some items and too little of others. Instead, know what and how much of everything you need.

Planning your recipes a week ahead and what to buy saves you a ton of money and helps you navigate the shopping process better. Not only are you budgeting, but you are also laying out precisely what you plan on eating for the week.

2. Lists Save Time And Money

After you have finalized your plan, make a list of all the things you have and all the things you don't have. You want to be specific, and I recommend organizing the list by category.

This strategy will help decrease the likelihood that you will buy unnecessary items.

I always like to do my list based on how the grocery store is set up. I start in the back of the store in the dairy section, then I go chips/drinks, home goods, and so on.

Shopping with an organized list makes the whole process go by so quickly, and it keeps me focused on my task at hand. Without a list, I spend way to much time running around and always end up with tons of extra stuff in my basket.

3. Pack Your Food Ahead Of Time

Since you are planning what you are going to eat, it is a smart move prep your food ahead of time too.

One of my favorite ways to do this is by making larger dinner sizes of up to 1-4 servings. I eat my dinner, and then I break my leftovers into individual containers based on serving size, rather than throwing it all in one box.

This bit of prep gives me the ability to wake up in the morning, grab a serving, and head out the door. 

If you don't have leftovers, the best way to accomplish packing ahead of time is to pack your breakfast/lunch the night before.

I know you feel like you have a million things to do before bed, but I promise this is something that will help you develop healthy habits and ensure you use all the groceries you bought.

If you leave it up to the next day, you might just run by the nearest fast food joint instead of eating what you already have.

4. Be Willing To Go Off-brand

Every general grocery store has a brand of there own that they sell.

These own-brand products can be half the price of the equivalent name brand. And if you compare ingredients, you will find that virtually all of the components are the same, so really, quality isn't the issue.

If you are saving 10-20 cents per product, that adds up when you are buying over twenty items at a time. The only thing you sacrifice here is an image, and that is so much more reasonable than your health.

5. Drink More Water And Less Soda

Charles K. Johnson, a health blogger at and, writes that "it is shocking the number of college students that don't consider water intake as a valuable factor in their lives. If they replace soda with water or tea, not only will they feel better, but they will save money."

Water is so much cheaper than most flavored beverages, and if you need to mix it up, you can always go for sparkling waters or teas to help satisfy your craving for something different.

6. Bulk Buying Reduces Costs

When you sit down and do the math, more often than not, it is beneficial to buy items in bulk when you know you will be using a large amount of it.

The best examples of things that I acquire in bulk are chicken breasts, potatoes, and yogurt. These are items I eat so often that I know they won't go to waste.

Also, foods that last a long time make good purchases in bulk. Some examples of this are rice and oatmeal.

My caution here would be to avoid buying items in bulk that go rancid quickly. If you know you cannot eat an entire tub of spinach or bag of avocados fast enough, you don't need it in bulk. Wasted food is just money dumped down the drain.

7. Stay On Track With Bulk Cooking

Since we are buying in bulk, don't be afraid to cook in bulk.

Pick some of your favorite meals, and instead of making one or two servings, make four to six.

As long as you don't mind leftovers, this is a fantastic way to save money when buying a plethora of groceries. Just make sure you have plenty of containers to help you sort the food out by servings.

A teacher at and, Lucille S. Brown, writes that "If you can learn to cook to have leftovers, you can cook once or twice and feed yourself for the entire week. It is simply a game of thinking smart and making your money last."

8. Don't Forget Coupons

I imagine it would shock you to know that your grocery store of choice most likely has a pretty sweet set up when it comes to coupons. So sign up and receive the weekly newsletter containing their deals and discounts.

This information can also help you better make a list. You want to be careful not to buy a whole bunch of items you didn't need in the first place, but if you keep your eye out for things you were already planning on buying, using coupons can change your price outcome at the end of your shopping adventure.

Also include store rewards programs that give you points for every dollar spent. Many of these stores have weekly promotions that will allow you to use your points on certain products. The most common at my local store are milk, bananas, and eggs.

It can be a game-changer to get free products by looking out for deals and coupons. 

9. Meat Matters

Unless you are thinking of a diet that does not include meat, you want to be conscious of what type of meat you are buying.

You will find that replacing red meat with turkey and chicken will save you so much money with little sacrifice on flavor.

Buy your turkey and chicken in whole pieces instead of pre-prepared to save quite a bit of money. This approach doesn't take that much longer to prepare.

If you are budgeting even more tightly, you can consider finding other sources of protein and limit your meat intake significantly throughout the week. You can get your needed proteins from things such as eggs, fish, and legumes.

You don't have to go vegetarian if that's not your goal, but cutting out meat some days will help you save quite a bit of money. 


During my college days the problem wasn't that I couldn't afford anything but cheese bread and Ramen, but since I spent my money and time on those things, I didn't have as much at the end of the day to buy food that had actual nutritional value.

It is insane how much money you can save if you stop buying twelve packs of soda and the party-sized bags of chips. If you spend less money on food that isn't good for you, then you will have more for healthier eating.

Overall you have to start thinking about the choices you are making.

If you are genuinely willing to plan and prep your meals, then this life change won't be so bad. It is incredibly easy to succeed in adding healthier habits to your college life without completely breaking the bank.

Guest Author

Beatrix Potter is beyond simply a professional writer for Do My Paper and Nursing Essay writing services. In addition to this accomplished career, she also makes time for a healthy and balanced lifestyle that includes travel, reading, and running. In her spare time, she tutors at a UKWritings review website. Her most prized occupations are being a mother to three children and being able to help others through her work.

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