How to Meal Prep on a College Budget
So many people check out our guide to meal prepping on a college budget that we've decided to give the post a minor facelift. Read on for our newest updates AND original tips! Some other helpful information if you're trying to meal prep on a college budget can also be found in our guides to meal prep without a microwave and how to eat healthy in college.
For many students, living in an apartment or off-campus for the first time can be a huge wake-up call. Between classes, work, meetings, workouts, and all their other weekly commitments, it can be hard for students to find the time to even figure out how to meal prep, let alone actually start doing it.
While it's easy to make excuses that justify grabbing a bag of chips or eating fast food for dinner, there's really no good substitute for a healthy, well-balanced meal. That's why we've put together this list of tips on how to meal prep on a college budget that are designed to help save you time and money.
3 fresh tips.
1. Take a picture of your fridge/pantry (whatever that might look like in a college dorm) so you don't end up buying things you already have.
2. Educate yourself on portion sizes. It's possible to go overboard, even with healthy snacks. You'll save money and feel better.
3. If you're worried that you're unable to fulfill ALL your nutritional needs without access to a full kitchen, you can supplement your diet with a multi-vitamin. Colleges have health resources; take advantage of yours.
Plan, plan, plan.
The first step to eating healthy on a budget is to plan. Meal prep may seem like a huge, complicated mess at first, but once you get a routine down, it becomes an easy task that can save you loads of time and money. Prepping your meals is also a great way to keep yourself on track as you work towards achieving your fitness goals.
To get started, we recommend creating a food calendar to plan out your meals for the week before you go shopping. By having your meals planned out beforehand you'll not only eat healthier but also save time and money when you're at the grocery store. Use a meal planning app, like Cook Smarts or Paprika (pictured), to keep your recipes organized, plan out your weekly meals, create your shopping list, and eat more healthy, homemade food. When you combine a meal planning app with a meal management system in your own gym bag, it gets even easier.
Buy in bulk.
Buying groceries for one person can seem like a hassle. After all, when are you going to eat a family-sized package of chicken in week?!? While you might not eat 5+ pounds of chicken this week, you should buy it in bulk to save yourself money now and time later. Simply portion it out and freeze it for later use later! Separate servings into plastic bags and place the leftovers in your freezer for use the following week. Creating portions ahead of time also makes your meal management system that much more effective.
Use a checklist for your groceries*.
Fruits & Veggies
- Sweet Potatoes
- Pinto beans
- Black beans
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Peanut butter
- Brown rice
- Non-white bread
*Some items listed here require refrigeration; mini-fridges can be found for as little as $50.
Take a look in your pantry.
Once you've come up with your plan for the week, make sure to take stock of what items you already have in your pantry. Using ingredients that you've already purchased helps prevent food spoilage and keeps you from overbuying. You can also tailor your week's menu to use up what you already have.
Easy equipment can help you cook.
Most dorms will at least have a microwave available. Here are a few simple, relatively inexpensive items to provide for yourself that will help your meal prep survive college life.
2 Slice Toaster â€“ $12-15
Can Opener â€“ $1-3
Mini-Blender â€“ $15-20
Set of 12 Mason Jars â€“ $8
Knife â€“ $2-5
Cutting Board â€“ $1-5
Measuring Cups â€“ $1-5
Give generic brands a try.
Be sure to compare prices between name brand and generic items. Generic brands are often just as good as name brands and are generally available at lower prices. Always remember to compare the nutritional information of both products before making a decision.
A simple way to save money at the grocery store is to buy produce that is in season. Produce is cheaper when it's in season because it doesn't have to be shipped from other areas of the country. Not sure what produce is in season? Check out this great list from Fruits & Veggies More Matters.
Speaking of fruits and veggies, make sure that you're eating healthy snacks between meals. Try making your own snacks, like trail mix, rather than buying pre-packaged snacks. Doing so will help make sure you have the energy you need to make it through your busy day while also saving you some money.
Try 3 of these simple recipes.
One of the hardest parts about meal prepping in college is the lack of access to kitchen equipment. Some dorms may have communal kitchens; most dorms will at least provide a microwave for public use. (You'll more than likely have to provide anything else yourself; up your college cooking game if you can with such items listed in the next section.) That being said, there are many, many recipes that don't require a full kitchen. Here are three we particularly like.
Fiery JalapeÃ±o Taco Salad â€“ No cooking needed; just prep, assemble, and serve.
Baklava Oatmeal â€“ Cook your oatmeal in the microwave; the rest is a piece of metaphorical cake.
Red Salad â€“ Switch up your typical salad ingredients in this simple yet tasty recipe.
Glass or plastic food containers are a great option for how to meal prep because they're reusable and microwaveable. Once you have an idea of what type of food you'll be preparing, organize your stackable containers on the counter by day so that as things finish cooking, you can portion out your meals into the containers in an organized manner.
Whether you're tailgating before the big game, surviving an all night study session, or celebrating the end of another successful semester, there are plenty of social activities that can derail your budget and/or diet. And while it's okay to indulge in an ice cold refreshing beer or delicious slice of pizza every now and then, you should plan accordingly and account for these types of events when organizing your meal management system.
Due to limits on your time and budget, prepping your meals while in college takes a great deal of planning and commitment. But the rewards of meal prep are well worth it. Eating nutritious, balanced meals will help you have more energy, burn calories more efficiently, and avoid the dreaded freshman fifteen. Looking for a little extra help? Check our selection of gym backpacks, which give you the ability to take your meals, workout clothes, and laptop with you wherever your day takes you.
Want to learn more about meal prep? Be sure to check our blog for the latest edition of our ongoing How to Meal Prep series. This brand new series will provide you with tips and ideas on how to meal prep in a variety of different situations.