College students can have small budgets and limited cooking facilities, but your diet can extend beyond ramen noodles and boxes of macaroni and cheese. Plenty of healthy foods are inexpensive and require minimal preparation. Read nutrition labels, watch the sales and be flexible to make the most out of your food budget.
Cold breakfast cereal is a staple in many college dorm rooms because it is inexpensive, can be stored at room temperature and it is ready to eat. Choose high-fiber, fortified, unsweetened varieties, such as shredded wheat and bran flakes. To save money, look for store brand imitations of national brand cereals, and ChooseMyPlate.gov suggests buying in bulk. Instant oatmeal is a hot breakfast option, and you only need hot water to prepare it.
Convenient snacks are essential when your busy lifestyle requires you to eat between classes and activities. Whole grains provide dietary fiber, magnesium and iron, and you can stock up them when they are on sale. Unsalted whole-wheat pretzels and trans fat-free whole-grain crackers are easy to carry, and you can eat them on their own or with low-fat cheese sticks. Keep whole-grain pita chips and hummus dip in your room for late-night study sessions, and serve your friends air-popped popcorn when you watch movies with them.
Peanut butter is an inexpensive food for college students, and it lasts for months before spoiling. Peanut butter provides protein, iron, fiber and vitamin E. A high-sodium diet can raise your blood pressure, so choose low-sodium peanut butter. Look for all-natural varieties without cholesterol-raising trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils. Store brands often taste the same and have similar nutrient contents as national brands but are far cheaper. Spread peanut butter on whole-grain crackers, or eat it with apple slices, celery sticks or baby carrots.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive when they are out of season, but you can save money by purchasing the ones that are in season. Go to local farmers markets and search for ethnic stores in your area for deeper discounts. Many fruits and vegetables require little preparation, so they are ideal for college students. Look for carrots and apples year-round, oranges and kale in winter, asparagus and green beans in the spring, cucumbers and tomatoes in summer and mushrooms and pears in the autumn. Bagged salad mixes can be foundations for quick meals, and canned and frozen produce can be nutritious options if you are unable to go to supermarkets frequently.
While fresh meat and seafood may not be practical for a dorm room, tofu and canned tuna, salmon and beans are high-protein choices that are quick for college students to prepare. Because they have long shelf lives, you can purchase them on sale and store them until you need them. Dairy products require refrigeration but are sources of protein and calcium. Choose unsalted canned goods to limit sodium consumption and reduced-fat yogurt and cheese to limit saturated fat. Make cheese sandwiches on whole-grain bread or have cereal with yogurt.
- ChooseMyPlate.gov: Eating Better on a Budget
- MoreMatters.gov: What Fruits and Vegetables Are in Season?
- U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database: Peanut Butter, Smooth Style, with Salt
- U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010