How to Eat Healthy on a College Budget: Your Question, A Dietitian's Suggestion

YES! Nutrition answers your questions

Today’s question comes from Renee, who writes:

“I am reaching out to you because I feel that I am stuck.  I am currently in college and on a budget, but I am trying to lose weight.  What are some healthy options that will benefit me in losing weight, but won't break the bank?  I try to go grocery every couple of weeks, so I need something that will also last for a while.  Any additional advice is greatly appreciated!  Thank you!”

Thank you, Renee, for your question!  

Eating right in college can be tricky whether you’re on a meal plan or cooking for yourself.  Trying to lose weight throws another factor in the mix.  While all of the ideas below are great for reaching optimal health and can help with weight loss, I can’t stress enough the importance of making sure a qualified healthcare provider helps you along in the process.  Restricting food too much can actually hinder weight loss instead of help!  So in true YES! Nutrition philosophy…rather than focus on calories and saying “no” to certain foods/food groups (unless medically necessary), say “YES!” to these special tips:

1.  Get the gear to help you eat right on a college budget

Being on campus for an entire day likely means no refrigeration or ability to use an oven or stovetop, so I recommend investing in a quality lunchbox and thermos like the ones here and here to not only keep proper temperature of your foods, but more importantly to open your horizons to bringing soups, smoothies, and warm mixed dishes instead of the usual (and boring) PB & J. It’ll cost a little bit up front, but will enable better eating in the future.

2. Choose frozen fruits and vegetables to save money

Freezing food is one of nature’s oldest preservation methods – yep that’s right, preserved food that’s “good” for you.  Stay stocked with frozen fruit to add in smoothies, warmed and added on top of your morning oats (oats are another budget-friendly health food!), or as a refreshing, low-calorie dessert.  Keep frozen vegetables on hand to cook and add to soups, in casseroles/crock-pot meals, eaten alone, or drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with herbs/spices.  Just be sure that when you do buy frozen, you try to avoid unnecessary additives like added sugar for frozen fruit or excess salt in frozen vegetables.

3. Power up with plant-based protein (it's generally less expensive than animal protein foods!)

Lean animal-based proteins (chicken or turkey breast, canned wild tuna or salmon, seafood like salmon or shrimp that’s baked and not fried) can be good-for-you, yes, but they likely cost more per serving than plant-based proteins like quinoa, soy (tofu, tempeh, edamame), hemp seeds, lentils, beans, nut butters, etc.  

4. Save Money By Evaluating If You're Truly Hungry

Eating when you're not hungry means extra calories and extra $$. If you’re snacking while you're studying, sleepy, stressed, or at a social event, evaluate if you’re truly “stomach hungry” – if you are, by all means go for it with better-for-you snacks that are budget-friendly like raw vegetables with hummus, air popped popcorn (made from popcorn kernels on the stovetop or in a brown paper bag in the microwave), fresh fruit with nut butter, or a half cup of Greek yogurt with some granola.  If you’re more “mind hungry” than “stomach hungry,” grab a glass of water and wait it out until it’s your stomach that’s telling you it’s time to eat – and not something (or someone!) else.

5. Save Money By limiting Alcohol & Late Night Eats

Alcohol is not an essential nutrient for the body -- and those late night eats that come with a night of drinking likely aren't needed either.  If you're looking to save money and be healthier, perhaps cutting back on the booze is what you need to do.  But that doesn't mean your social life needs to come to a halt...instead, sip slowly and limit the total amount you drink having a glass of water in between each boozy selection. 

Print these tips or pin the below picture to pinterest to remember them for later!

Healthy Ideas For College Students From YES! Nutrition, LLC and Tori Holthaus, MS, RDN, LD

I hope these suggestions help you as you head back to school!  For more help and tips, be sure to check out the YES! Nutrition College Coaching packages.  In these sessions, we will work together to create a plan that works best for you, your food preferences, and your busy life as a college-student.  

JUST ASK! Do you have a nutrition question and want my suggestion?  Connect with me by sending your message through the YES! Nutrition contact form for your answer to be shared in an upcoming blog post.