When I first moved into an apartment, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to grocery shopping and preparing meals for myself. For a long time, I lived off of canned soup, ramen noodles and fast food. Yeah, not the best diet. Right now I have a pretty fast metabolism so thankfully I didn’t gain much weight, but I definitely had less energy. I also just wasn’t happy with how I was eating; I wasn’t giving my body the nutrients it needed.
I know how hard it can be to eat healthy in college. You don’t have much time to prepare food and you don’t have much money either. What makes it especially difficult is that most college students aren’t on a regular 9-5 schedule with time in the evening to cook a meal. A lot of the time we’ll have a few classes in the morning, a couple classes in the afternoon, meetings and extracurricular activities in the early evening and studying that can go well into the night. Most likely, students don’t have more than 20 minutes to quickly heat something up and eat it while getting ready to go back out again.
During my junior year I really tried to figure out a way to make it possible to eat clean while also on a budget and using as little time as possible. I think I’ve figured out a few key tips that have helped me out, so I’m going to share those with you today!
Save Time Cooking and Grocery Shopping in College
It’s not realistic to expect to be able to cook a full-on homemade meal every evening. It’s just not. Buying fresh ingredients for five meals a week is totally unrealistic, and the time it would take just isn’t there either. My first time-saving tip is to choose one breakfast, lunch and dinner recipe for the entire week. This might sound really boring, but it’s not. If you make sure to change up the meals every week, then you’re still getting to eat different things all the time. Plus, you can keep a couple staple items in your kitchen, like oatmeal packets or eggs, so that if one morning you’re sick of eating your breakfast you planned for the week, you can always switch it up for that one day. This will also save you a lot of money, because you’ll only have to buy ingredients for three different meals instead of 15+. Plus, as college students we’re pretty much only cooking for one person. But, most ingredients come in packs with enough food for more than one person. If you only use it for one meal, you’ll be wasting a lot of food. If you use it to make five meals for yourself throughout the week instead, there will be a lot less waste.
I also always try to prep the meals on Sundays. Of course this depends on my schedule for the semester, because sometimes Sunday just isn’t a good day with enough free time. Just pick a day that works for you and carve out some time during that day to cook your meals for the week. Typically, I only cook dinner, and then breakfast and lunch are just sandwiches and smoothies or eggs that I make every day. But, they’re really quick to make, so that’s fine for me. I usually try to make sure to make dinner a little bit more elaborate so I don’t get bored.
When meal prepping, clean as you go. This way you’re not left with a huge mess to clean up afterward. While something is cooking, clean up the kitchen. This will save A LOT of time. Trust me.
Cook more one-pot meals. These recipes are so much faster and easier to make. I made one a while ago that was lemon herb chicken over rice. It was really yummy and only took like 30 minutes. Then, you can pack up the rest to eat throughout the week.
My last time-saving tip is to pick recipes that don’t have a laundry list of ingredients. There are so many great-tasting meals that require less than 10 ingredients. If a recipe calls for more than 10, I usually skip it. I’m not a chef and I definitely don’t have the time (or money) to go grocery shopping for and use all those ingredients. Plus, after you’re done you have all these random foods sitting around that you’ll probably never use again. That’s wasteful, yo!
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Save Money Grocery Shopping in College
Shop week by week. Don’t go shopping and think, “I’m going to buy all the things I need for my breakfasts for the next month!” because it’s not going to work. Food will go bad, you’ll forget you bought some food and never use it, and other things you’ll just decide you didn’t even want in the first place. Trust me, it’s way easier to just get what you need for one week at a time. This way you’re also spending less money each shopping trip, and you’re buying things you know you’re going to use very soon.
OK, so you should definitely stick to only buying food you need for a week. But, if you find that there are a few things that you always use and keep reaching for every time you’re in the store, I would buy them in bulk – as long as that food isn’t something perishable, like fresh fruit or vegetables. This will save you a lot of money in the long run. For me, this is breakfast bars. I love Clif Bars because they’re super filling and taste really good. Plus, buying large packages are way cheaper than buying them individually. They’re not the most healthy thing to eat in the world, but on days when I’m running late for class, it’s nice to have something to grab on my way out the door.
Before you go grocery shopping, make a specific list of everything you need and stick to that list no matter what. When I first started grocery shopping on my own, I would just wander up and down the aisles, picking up whatever looked good. This resulted in me spending way too much money on food, and I also ended up having a really unhealthy diet for a while. Make a list of all the breakfast, lunch and dinner items you need and buy only those things.
Another thing I try to do before going grocery shopping is to pick recipes that use the same few spices. Spices are EXPENSIVE, dude. Like, crazy expensive. If you need to buy two spices, that adds like 10 dollars to the bill. So, I like to have a few core spices – some I always have are chili powder, coriander, cumin and Italian seasoning – and stick to recipes that only use those spices. That way, you don’t have to buy new ones every time you want to cook a meal. This will save you a ton of money.
These were my tips people! I really hope they helped you out. And, if you have any tips, I would love to hear them!