A college student’s guide to eating healthy on a budget

Do you have a hectic schedule? Do you find it hard to find time to prepare a meal that’s both cheap and healthy? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you’re not alone.

Eating healthy can seem like a burden at times, but it can give you more energy to power through your hectic schedule. It can help you maintain your current weight, or lose weight if you desire, and it is proven that eating healthy enhances your mood and makes you less perceptible to illness.

A simple, healthy meal consisting of angel hair pasta, cooked shrimp and veggies. (Photo courtesy of Morguefile)

The main response students give to this statement is, “I want to eat healthy, I just don’t know where to start.” While it may seem complicated, getting started might be easier than you think.

Your first step would be to avoid eating empty calories. Students say going out to dinner with friends is normally the place they consume the unhealthiest foods. This common problem can be solved by changing up what you normally order. Instead of having a burger or pasta, order something light like a grilled chicken breast, shrimp, or salad greens. These foods are all good options because they are low in calories, fat, and sugar, and give your body the nutrients it needs. These are also good leftovers to bring back to your apartment for your next meal.

Next, avoid late night eating. When studying for an exam or pulling an all-nighter on a project, many of us are guilty of coping with stress through eating, but this habit is one that will affect you negatively. When midterms and finals roll around, junk food is a main source of comfort. This food ingested at night has no time to be processed and turned into energy before you’re asleep. Though eating unhealthy foods is tempting, try to limit your late night snacking to foods like fruit or nuts.

Lastly, plan your meals in advance to the best of your ability. You may be surprised how much mindless eating you do, but by writing down a meal plan, it will make it easier not to deviate from your predetermined selections. Even if this list is something your quickly write down in your daily planner or on a sticky note, it will get you thinking about what you’ve already eaten and what your meals for the day will consist of.

You would also be surprised how quick and easy some healthy recipes are. A fruit smoothie would be an easy healthy start to the day. Grab some ice, low-fat yogurt (any flavor), milk, and any kind of fruit you like. Mix all of these together to create a flavorful beverage that will keep you energized throughout your day! The fruit and yogurt combination satisfies your sweet tooth, while giving you a serving of fruit and dairy — a necessity in a balanced diet.

For lunch, you can do something as simple a turkey sandwich with wheat bread, lettuce and tomato. This is something you can put together in a few minutes in the morning when you’re short on time and is a good way to relieve hunger midday.

A Caesar Salad made using lettuce, croutons, cheese and caesar salad dressing. (Photo courtesy of Morguefile)

For dinner, a great easy recipe is 15-minute pasta. Throw some olive oil in a pan, and sautée some whole-wheat noodles, chicken breast (cut up into bite sized pieces) and some pepper and onion (which can be substituted with any vegetable you enjoy). Cook for 15 minutes and you’ve got yourself an easy and extremely healthy dinner!

When surveyed, students of CMU who live in apartments offered a few ways they personally maintain a healthy diet. Some said they don’t eat out at restaurants often because of the obvious temptations that are present at most food establishments (and it’s expensive!). Others said they never shop hungry, and when they do shop, they buy basic things like wheat bread, lunch meat, peanut butter, chicken breast and cereal.

By having these items in the house instead of things like candy, chips, and ice cream, they have less of a temptation when making their meal selections.

Students also said the main places they shopped were Wal-Mart and Meijer, with the majority choosing Wal-Mart. Here are a few comparisons of healthy food choices picked by CMU students and their price differences:

16 oz. bag of mixed nuts:   Wal-Mart: $4.98          Meijer: $5.99

Lunch meat:                 Wal-Mart: $2.98          Meijer: $2.68

Whole-wheat bread:          Wal-Mart: $2.59          Meijer: $2.28

Yoplait yogurt:             Wal-Mart: $0.58          Meijer: $0.60

Silk soy milk:              Wal-Mart: $2.98          Meijer: $3.28

Chicken breast:             Wal-Mart: $4.36          Meijer: $5.57

Sargento cheese sticks     Wal-Mart: $3.84          Meijer: $4.59

From these few items, it is clear that for the most part, Wal-Mart has cheaper prices across the board. Every cent counts when you’re living on a college budget, so making informed decisions about where to buy your healthy food is very important.