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Eating for Cheap in College

Learn how to save money on food but not go hungry.

College is expensive. Shaving a few dollars off your food bill can go a long way. Cutting down how often you go out to eat is one way to reduce costs. Cooking for yourself can save a lot of money. There are a few tips and tricks to help get your food budget down and make it go a long way.

Don’t Eat Out! Eating at restaurants or on-campus options will add up! Sure, it’s fun to go out with friends. We get that you have a busy schedule. None of that is an excuse to spend all your money on food. All it takes is a little planning. Friends all want to go out? Eat before you head out, and if you do get something, you won’t need a full meal, just a snack. Taking a meal on the go doesn’t mean you’re stuck with PB&J again for lunch. A little planning and foresight can have you eating well on the go.food

It’s Not All Ramen. Sure, ramen noodles can be a part of your budget meals, but not every meal should be ramen packets. That amount of sodium can send you to the hospital—seriously. Look to other noodles and grains to fill out meals. Quinoa, rice, bulgur, barley, farro, millet, and buckwheat can all add to how much is on your plate. Plus, they’re all relatively cheap when bought in bulk and stored. Not to mention, diversifying your grains will have some health benefits.

Bean There. All beans are legumes, but not all legumes are beans. Now that we have that out of the way, beans and legumes are not only super low-cost, but also full of protein. That means you can cut back or cut out expensive meat. Sure, the flavor of legumes might be lacking, but they soak up whatever seasoning you throw at them. And for an added bonus, with the multitude of varieties, you can easily change up the visual appeal of your meals. We eat with our eyes first, afterall.

Squash Hunger. Yes, squash can sometimes end up looking like baby food. We all have that aunt who ruins a good dish every Thanksgiving. But squash doesn’t have to be mashed and whipped into goo. Roasting chunks can add a lot of bulk and flavor to a meal. Spaghetti squash comes out all stringy, a perfect alternative to another bowl of pasta for dinner. An added bonus is that squash comes with a built-in snack—roast the seeds and have them to eat on the go!

Eat Your Vegetables. You can buy a lot of veggies for cheap. Not to mention they can add a lot of color and flavor to your meals. The trick to making fresh veggies last is knowing how to store them. A quick search will give you a few tips on how to best keep fresh veggies around. It’s also not a bad idea to keep a few bags of frozen vegetables around just in case or freeze the fresh ones you have. Freezing may change the texture and if you’re worried about that, soup is an easy way to mask it.

Meat. Going vegetarian or vegan isn’t for everyone. But dropping ten bucks on a steak every week probably isn’t for you; it’s just not in the budget. Cheap cuts can be made into great meals with a little knowledge. Marinating, slow cooking, and tenderizing all can make tough meat easier to eat and often add a lot of flavor. Chicken thighs are also often overlooked but have more flavor at a fraction of the cost of a breast.

Breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day. And it doesn’t have to be a bowl of cold cereal or some expensive sandwich bought on the go. Overnight oats are super simple to make and a great way to get in some fresh fruit too. Freeze any fruit about to turn and use it later in a fruit smoothie. Boiled eggs might not be the most exciting thing, but they can be made in bulk and for cheap. A little salt and pepper and you can enjoy one anywhere.

In the end, food shouldn’t be something that you’re wasting money on. By planning meals ahead of time and investing a bit of time in shopping and cooking, along with a few dollars in reusable containers, you’ll save thousands over your college career.