How to eat on a budget in college

Starting college is a very expensive time in your life that can leave you with no money when the weekend rolls around. One of the biggest expenses for college students and even backpackers for that matter is food. When people think of food on a budget in college they automatically think the only way to get by is to survive on ramen. However there are other cheap, quick and easy meals that you can prepare.

Eat more than ramen
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Meal plans are your friend when it comes to this point in your life as you will be able to shop effectively and efficiently so that you don’t blow your budget. To help college freshmen out we have created this short and simple guide that will help you eat at college on a budget.

Consider purchasing a college food plan

Some colleges require you to purchase a food plan if you stay on campus while it is only optional on others. Even if it is optional it may prove to be cheaper than other food options. Food plans generally make the majority of their money from meals that aren’t redeemed. Some colleges offer both 2 and 3 meals a day where you pay a lump sum of money. If you don’t think you will be able to make it back for lunch it may be worthwhile to purchase the 2 meal option.

There are many additional benefits to meal plans such as a wide variety of options, not having to go to the shops yourself as well as being cooked by professionals. Catering companies or chefs are normally the ones in charge of meal prep which also includes them going out to buy the ingredients so that you don’t have to. As college is a very busy time in your life, saving time on cooking and buying ingredients can give you a lot more time to study.

As food plans vary in price take the total amount of money that you paid and divide it by how many meals you are getting. This will give you the price per meal where you can compare it to what you would pay if you were to eat out or cook yourself.

Learn how to cook properly

Learn how to cook properly
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Cooking can be a very overlooked skill to have which has a tremendous amount of benefit. Many students have cooked before they enter college which means it may be highly beneficial to learn before you attend or during your first semester. Learning how to cook will help you with time management as well as knowing when you should start cooking and when you will be eating.

Learning how to cook doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming either. There are many restaurants and courses available that are cheap and affordable to undertake. You’d be surprised how easily and cheaply you can recreate a cheap dish from a restaurant at home. Additionally these courses are a great way to meet new people and develop some strong relationships.

Once you know how to cook you will start to avoid frozen meals which are expensive and full of preservatives. Preparing your meals yourself will allow you to take control of what you are actually putting into your body making you have a healthier lifestyle overall.

Understand what nutrients to focus on

Doing a bit of research and understanding what nutrients are the best for your body will save you a tonne of money in the long run. Rather than opting for a quick fix of food opt for something that offers sustained energy to keep you feeling full for longer. Common sources include protein, unsaturated fats and carbohydrates. Processed foods and snacks filled with sugar may give you that quick burst of energy but you will be hungry again making you eat more and spend more money.

If you are really focusing on the cheap side of meals you may be missing out on nutrients from other more expensive sources. While a bowl of pasta is cheaper than fruits and vegetables it does lack some key nutrients that your body needs in order to perform at its best. If you are focusing on cheap hardy meals be sure to compensate for the lack of fruit and veg by taking vitamins. They are cheap, keep you healthy and won’t blow out your budget compared to getting sick and having to see a doctor.

Student healthy eating
Photo: Alinaindienko, Bigstock

Understand what and when to eat

Similar to knowing what your body needs to perform at peak performance you should also understand when the best times are to eat. Many people believe that large meals are the best to go as you won’t have to eat any more during the day which results in less money spent. In reality this isn’t always the case. It is common for a large lunch to cause your energy levels to crash before dinner time comes around. To combat this it is recommended that small and frequent meals are the way to go.

Having healthy snacks with high levels of protein and unrefined carbohydrates are the best way to stay healthy and keep your energy levels up throughout the day. Common and effective midday snacks include fruit, cheese and nuts. Buying your snacks in bulk will also save you a lot of money in the long run.

Additionally drinking lots of water throughout the day will ensure that you are remaining healthy while also keeping you full. Cutting out sugary drinks and replacing them with water will also save you a lot of money in the long run as well as helping you to lose weight. Drinking water before you eat a meal will also keep you full which means you can have some leftovers for the following night.

Keep an eye out for events with free food

Keep an eye out for events with free food
Photo: Bigstock, Fotokon

It may sound like a very elaborate way to save money when eating at college but there are always heaps of events being hosting around campus that offer free food. Be sure to check bulletin boards and newsletters frequently to see if you can catch a free bite to eat every now and then.

If you are a coffee fanatic or need it to stay awake while studying you should look into going to the academic departments or college clubs. They usually have their own coffee machines which can cut back on the excessive spending on your caffeine addiction. Additionally attending events and becoming a part of new clubs is also a great way to meet new people as well as saving money when trying to eat at college.

So that does it for our list on how to eat at college on a budget. There are many different ways to save money but it comes down to your personal situation and what works best for you. Just because your college offers food plans doesn’t always mean they are affordable so take the time to do your research and you will come out ahead.

It’s also important to take into consideration the cooking situation if you plan on doing it yourself. Is there an adequate cooking area as well as somewhere to store your food? Always be on the lookout for fridge bandits as well who may take an unethical route into saving money while eating at college.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Executive Editor at Best in Australia. Mike has spent over a decade covering news related to business leaders and entrepreneurs around Australia and across the world. You can contact Mike here.
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