Originally Posted: Feb 11, 2017
Last Updated: Feb 13, 2018
What if you could get good, tasty, healthy, AND cheap food for your dorm room? This personal trainer and nutrition specialist explains how.
As a college student, you probably have barely enough money to buy ramen, much less fancy salads, salmon, and other healthy foods.
However, even though healthy food has a reputation for being expensive, it doesn’t have to be that way—even for college students. If you want to stock up on good-for-you foods to keep in your dorm room, use these tips. You’ll get what you need and save cash at the same time.
Learn the sales cycle at your local grocery store
All stores have a cycle for their sale and clearance items, and if they’re near your campus, they might be especially sensitive to cost-conscious college students.
Maybe you’ve seen their weekly sales flyers, which promote the deals for that week. If you can’t get these flyers in person, the grocery store might even share them on social media. At any rate, the key here is knowing when those promo cycles end, because that’s usually when surplus items go on sale.
Some grocery stores even offer double discounts on the day the old sales end and new ones begin. This may not sound like the cheapest technique, but AOL’s finance blog says this can save you as much as 50% off your grocery bill. All you have to do is plan your grocery trip ahead of time.
Buy simple foods and prepare them yourself if you can
Prepping your own meals is an easy way to cut costs and eat healthier in college. You might be surprised by how much healthy food you can keep in your dorm and even how much meal prep you can do if you have mini-fridge and/or microwave. And if you live in an off-campus apartment or an on-campus suite with a full kitchen? Well, the world is your oyster! (Except not really because oysters are crazy expensive.)
For example, pre-bagged salads are convenient, but you pay more for that convenience. To save on cash, grab a head of lettuce ($1–$2), along with carrots (less than $2 for a whole bunch), a cucumber ($1), and maybe a few more veggies of your choice (spend up to $5). Chop everything up at home and store in an airtight container in your fridge for an easy-to-grab base for lunch and dinner salads.
You can likely get at least five small salads out of that, which ends up costing less than $2 per salad. You can even bring some to the cafeteria and eat it as a side with an entree they’re serving.
But salad math is just the beginning. Other great cheap but healthy food choices for college students include:
- Beans and/or lentils
- Eggs (microwave mug omelets, anyone?)
- Peanut butter
- Popcorn (look for low-salt, low-calorie options, not the butter-drenched kind)
- Rice, preferably brown (grab the microwaveable bag if you don’t have a stove top)
- Rotisserie chicken (if you can’t cook a chicken yourself)
- Sweet potatoes
- Tuna fish (look for low sodium/forgiving roommates)
- Whole grain bread
- Whole wheat pasta
- Yogurt, preferably plain, low sugar, and/or Greek
With all the recipes online, you’ll have no trouble finding easy, healthy dishes you can make in a dorm. (Editor’s note: if you have a full kitchen, we highly recommend this “epically frugal” rice and beans recipe!) And don’t forget, cooking is a super-handy life skill, so the more practice you get, the better.
Shop bulk items
The bulk section is where you’ll save on the cost of packaging. You can get the same amount of most granola, nuts, and grains for significantly less, especially if they’re running a sale. If your grocery store has bulk bins—and you aren’t picky—go for the items that are on sale to get a lot of food at a steep discount. Supplement these dry goods with other perishable items mentioned above to make healthy meals and snacks right in your dorm room.
Then there are bulk stores. And just like you might’ve teamed up with your roommate to share big-ticket dorm items like your mini fridge or TV, you might be able to go in on a bulk store membership together. If not, why not ask for one as a holiday or birthday gift? (Just be prepared for a look of amazement from your parents.)
Shop around first
Sometimes the stores we assume are the cheapest are actually more expensive than we realize. While Trader Joe’s is known for their low prices, a recent grocery store analysis found that stores like Aldi, Publix, and Kroger came in above Trader Joe’s for offering the most weekly savings.
If you have access to more than one grocery store, shop around before settling on your go-to. To test the difference in pricing, do the same exact grocery trip two weeks in a row (buying all the same exact items) at two different stores. Compare the total to see where you can save the most.
Take advantage of coupons and pricing apps
Coupons are one of the best ways to save on healthy food. The local papers are packed with manufacturer coupons, and many brands are now promoting newer, less-processed foods, allowing you to save big on the stuff you want most.
You can also use grocery pricing apps that direct you toward the best deals and might even give you cash back for shopping.
Use your student discount
Most retailers and grocery stores in college towns offer discounts for students, so long as they show an ID. Use this to save on healthy groceries whenever you can. Not only is it the easiest way to save but the discount is also usually high, around 20% off in many cases.
Saving money on healthy food in college is totally doable. Whether you use an app, do your research, or rely on the bulk bins each week, you can get what you need without going over budget.
So, what do you do to eat healthy on the cheap in college? Leave a comment and let us know. BTW, you know what else will help you save a lot of money in college? Scholarships! Find ’em here.