Eating healthy on a budget

Lorna Wounded Head is the Family Resource Management Field Specialist at SDSU.

Lorna Wounded Head is the Family Resource Management Field Specialist at SDSU.

Lorna Saboe-Wounded Head, SDSU Extension Family Resource Management Field Specialist

There is a myth that college students have to survive on Ramen or generic Mac n’ Cheese because they don’t have money to buy “real” or “good” food. With a little planning, students don’t have to limit themselves to low cost foods or raiding their parents’ cupboards when home for the weekend.

The first step is to make a plan for how much you have to spend on purchased food and what foods you want to buy. Think about the week, what meals do you plan to prepare? What meals will you eat on campus or at restaurants? What is your capacity for cooking? 

If you live on campus, you may be limited to a microwave and blender. If you live off-campus and have a stove and pots and pans, you can have more variety. How much time do you have to prepare meals? Will you pack a lunch? Make your coffee? Or have snacks for those days when classes are back to back? 

Plan your meals for the week. Keep it simple. You know what you like and what you need to be satisfied with. Consider repeating a few meals since you are cooking for one and may have leftovers.

Because you are probably limited on storage space, make a plan and shop for just one week at a time. At first, this will help you figure out how long your food will last. From week to week, you can make adjustments on how much to buy. 

Write down your meal plan, if you like what you have developed, you can easily repeat the plans from month to month. This will also help to reduce food waste. If you know you will only eat three bananas in a week, don’t buy six. Always check your food stash as you make the menu plan for the next week.

To save money, shop for sales. As you are making your shopping list, check the grocery store ad for the week. You can usually find the ad online. Buy the brands that are on sale. Adjust your meal plan for the week if there is something that you like that is a good deal. 

Select fresh fruits and vegetables that are on sale. Consider buying items in bulk that you know you will eat regularly. Items like granola bars, soda, bottled water or other snacks that will not spoil are good ideas. Don’t buy fresh or frozen foods in bulk unless you know you have the storage space. 

Remember to consume these items before buying more or something similar. 

College students can eat healthy and spend less when there is a plan. Having a plan also reduces the impulse to go out to eat, which saves money. For more information about health eating and personal finance, go to