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You are ridiculously busy, money is probably tight, and you are unlikely to have access to a fully-equipped kitchen. Chances are that you've never prepared all of your own meals before either. Making sure you eat healthily in college is, in short, a bit of a challenge. Don't give up before you even started, though — prioritizing nutrition helps your brain work better, and will set a standard of healthy living for the rest of your life. How do you do it?
Planning ahead is one of the most crucial steps anyone who wants to eat healthily can take. The reason is simple: if you're already really hungry, you're bound to grab the easiest possible option, and that usually ends up being a less-than-ideal one.
By planning ahead, you're making a commitment to staying away from junk food most of the time. Advance planning is also going to save you an awful lot of money, if you do it well.
You can go the full nine yards and plan breakfast, lunch and dinner for the whole month. If this approach appeals to you, you might spend a few hours a month planning out recipes (tip: use the internet) and putting them into a spreadsheet. You can make a list of ingredients with a long shelf life — dried beans, chickpeas, rice, soy sauce, flour, that kind of thing — and purchase them at a set time of the month. Then, you might go shopping for fresh ingredients once a week. People who follow this approach can look around for the best deals they can get on the products they need, and they don't have to worry about what they'll eat after their initial planning.
Some people find that approach (much) too rigid, while others don't have the storage space they need to be able to shop in advance. They might still do well when they plan a week ahead, and perhaps only two daily meals rather than three. Students often live with room mates.
If that describes you too, you may try to get your room mates to agree to collective meal planning. You could each be responsible for planning and cooking one week of the month, for instance.
Since life is never as structured as a meal plan on a spreadsheet, you will want to allow for a few less healthy meals every week as well. You're bound to eat junk food sometimes, and that's going to happen more often when you're studying particularly hard and don't have time to cook, or when you go out with friends. If you know this will happen and plan for it, you make sure you don't have perfectly good food going off in the fridge.
Healthy Food On A Budget
Can you eat healthily on a really limited budget? The answer is quite simple — the more time you have available, the better the chances that you'll be able to put together a healthy diet on next to nothing. If you have time, you'll be able to cook from scratch, hunt for the best deals around, and go to multiple stores. If both your time and budget are limited, you're going to have to compromise somewhere.
One easy way to save money while not compromising on health is to try being a vegetarian. You'll be amazed how much money you can save this way. Another way in which you can keep your diet as healthy as possible without spending too much is making a list of staple foods, and adding whatever vegetables and proteins you can to those staples.
Ramen noodles aren't a recommended staple, as you probably guessed, and you don't want to rely too heavily on run-of-the-mill pasta either. What do you want to grab, then? Here are some options:
- Whole-wheat pasta
- Large potatoes for baking — you can go with sweet potatoes as well
- Rice — white rice is nice, but experiment a little because there are many thousands of species on the market
- Beans, dried or canned and of any kind
- Lentils, chickpeas, quinoa
- Whole-wheat bread
- For breakfast, Greek yogurt is wonderful
You can add vegetables of almost any kind here, including frozen vegetables if you have to. Whatever you do, aim to eat at least five servings of fruit and veg in a day, and make sure to include proteins in your diet. Beans and legumes are a great source of protein, and you can also opt for eggs (which are cheap!) or tofu. Do not neglect to include calcium-rich foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese in your diet. Your body needs this stuff.