Hello young minds,
We’ve all heard the stereotypes – the broke college kid eating ramen noodles for every meal, binge drinking every weekend, and the infamous “Freshman 15”. Although it sounds like post-secondary is a nightmare for your health, it doesn’t have to be that way! Here are my top 5 tips for ensuring you get adequate nutrition on a budget, without spending all your time preparing meals.
It sounds boring, but taking the time to plan out your meals once a week is a great way to get a bird’s eye view of your nutrition and to ensure that you won’t be tempted to order fast food during a late-night study sesh. As a bonus, use an app like Cronometer to analyze your meals and ensure that you’re getting all your essential macros and micros. This is particularly important if you’re eating an unconventional diet like vegetarian or gluten-free – I like Cronometer best for checking things like individual amino acids, Omega-3’s, etc. Having a plan going into your week will help keep you on track and reduce decision fatigue, freeing up that mental space to focus on what’s really important – your classes.
2. Meal Prepping
Tip #2 goes hand in hand with meal planning, and out of all these tips, meal prep is my #1 secret weapon to set you up for success. Spending a few hours preparing food on a Sunday will save you tons of time during the week – instead of trying to come up with dinner each night, you can throw something together with your pre-made ingredients in a flash. If you have access to a kitchen, this will obviously be easier, but there are tons of microwave-friendly meal prepping recipes out there. Some of my favourite make-ahead meals that you can do in big batches include overnight oats, mason jar salads, big batches of beans and rice, and microwave-baked sweet potatoes. You can also portion out some veggies and hummus, keep some fruit on hand, or even just stock ingredients for a quick sandwich to reduce the friction between you and having quick & healthy meals when you need them.
3. Buy in Bulk
Buying in bulk when you’re picking up dried goods like pasta, rice, nuts, etc. is almost always cheaper than pre-packaged goods. Even in the world of COVID, bulk stores are an essential service, and many of them are operating with enhanced safety protocols. Bulk Barn also has Students & Seniors Day every Wednesday, which gets you 10% off – just flash your student card at the checkout. They also have weekly coupons and deals to save even more. Another option: find a friend or family member with a Costco membership and ask them to take you shopping at the beginning of the semester for all the essentials. It may cost a bit more upfront, but you’ll reap the rewards of not having to spend time and money shopping for these ingredients throughout the semester.
4. Eat Less Meat
Meat can be a serious drain on your bank account, especially if you’re eating it at every meal. An easy way to pack in the protein without hurting your wallet is to choose beans and legumes as often as possible – they’re significantly cheaper, with lentils, in particular, being one of the most inexpensive and nutritious foods on the planet! Pick up a slow cooker from a thrift store to prepare them, or simply buy the canned version. If you can, combine this with tip #3 and pick up some dry lentils in bulk to save even more. If you’re not sure how to incorporate these nutritional powerhouses into your meals, some of my favourite ways include bean burritos, lentil soup, and adding beans to pasta and salads.
5. Use the Food Bank
There’s a lot of stigma around using the Food Bank or other assistance programs. Let me be the first to let you in on a little secret: many of the students you see every day in class (or virtually) use this service! The University of Alberta has its own campus food bank, and many institutions have similar programs to help in times of need. If you need more support, there is also the Edmonton Food Bank, which offers bigger hampers and more variety. As someone who has used both services myself, I can say with confidence that there is no need to feel ashamed or judged. Services like these exist for a reason: to make sure our community doesn’t go hungry – that includes you! One great thing about the food bank is they will accommodate different diets – so if you’re vegan, celiac, etc., you can access this service too.
I hope you find these tips helpful in navigating the often frustrating task of feeding yourself on a student budget. No matter what your financial situation, you need fuel to keep your mind and body healthy; incorporate some of these ideas and your stomach (and wallet) will thank you!