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Quick and Healthy Meals for a College Budget

Creating quick and healthy meals while you’re on a strict college budget can be difficult. Read on to find some tips and tricks for maintaining a healthy diet while staying within your budget.

The trick to eating healthy in college, whether in a dorm or an apartment, is stocking up on food staples, and making a plan to prepare quick & easy meals that are full of healthy carbohydrates, high amounts of protein, fruits and vegetables.  

Whether you are living in a dorm, or in an off-campus apartment, wanting to eat healthy and avoid the dreaded “Freshman 15” starts with what you put in your mouth. As a rule of thumb, weight loss is generally 75 percent diet and 25 percent exercise. Ensuring you get in your daily fruits and veggies, while avoiding high carb and processed foods is key to staying healthy.  

The amount of space you have for various appliances will determine how many appliances you can utilize (counter space, storage space, cabinet space, etc.). See which of these gadgets best suit your needs and available space, and don’t be afraid to try out new-to-you appliances!

College Dorm Appliances

Here is a list of appliances that are perfect for your dorm room!  

Fasta Pasta

This is a great and inexpensive item to have in a dorm, all you need is a sink and a microwave. The Fasta Pasta quickly makes all different types of pasta, right in the microwave, no waiting for water to boil, and no stirring.  It can also cook rice, vegetables, and even soup.  

Recipes: The Original Fasta Pasta cookbook 

Microwave

Perfect for quick cooking, and they can reheat just about anything. They are available in a variety of sizes to fit any space.

Hot Plate

If you don't have access to a full-size kitchen, and your dorm allows it, having a hot plate can be invaluable. It allows you to create sauces and soups, make scrambled eggs, or cook your protein very similar to having a full-size stovetop.

Instant Pot

There is a reason that this has become such a popular item! It can cook protein in minutes, it can make casseroles, soups, cook vegetables, and do it quickly and easily! 

Recipes: Instant Pot recipes

Air fryer

If you haven't used an air fryer, try re-heating and crisping some of your favorite leftover pizza, and you might just be sold! Air fryer takes foods that you normally fry in oil, and instead uses hot air, which makes foods such as french fries, chicken wings, and all sorts of other foods crispy and delicious, without the added fat and oil of regular frying. You can reheat so many foods, and some models have a bake function that you can use just like an oven on a smaller scale, making an air fryer the top suggestion for those without a lot of space.

Tips and Recipes for an air fryer

Veggetti

The Veggetti is a spiralizer that you can make quick zoodles (zucchini that has been spiralized into a noodle shape) and is a great pasta substitute when cooked in a skillet and softened to the right consistency.

Ideas for how to use the Veggetti 

Recipes: Veggetti

Dash brand Waffle and Pancake Griddle

This TikToker makes amazing meals with just these two inexpensive gadgets! Omelets, pancakes, toasted sandwiches, etc.

Personal Blender

Fruit smoothies with a handful of ice and spinach tossed in are a great start to any day, and you can also use the blender as a grinder in a pinch. They are an extremely healthy option that will give you all day vitality. Smoothies are especially great for the morning.

Crock-Pot

The Crock-Pot has been around for decades, and there is a reason it is a continuing mainstay in the kitchen. Throw in the ingredients, set it, and let it cook low and slow during the day. When you come home, there is a warm, home-cooked meal waiting for you. This can be anything from a pot roast to chicken for tacos and other meals throughout the week, soups, etc.

Recipe ideas: Crock-Pot

Food Staples 

The following is a list of cheap food staples to have on hand, to help make filling, healthy, and satisfying meals on a budget.

Pasta

Simple is not a bad thing! There are a ton of healthy, more sustainable pasta options today. Some options include chickpea pasta, red lentil pasta, and protein pasta. These will help you diversify your pallet and help you increase your protein intake for the day. Add a jar of your favorite sauce with some garlic bread or a steamed vegetable, and you have yourself a perfect meal!

Eggs

Also high on the satiety index, eggs are so versatile and can be cooked so many ways, and incorporated into a variety of recipes, everything from omelets to cakes to casseroles. Eggs are an excellent source of protein, and can be included in your everyday meal plan! Hard boiled eggs are a quick and easy sustainable snack to have in your fridge. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on them and enjoy! 

Nuts

Nuts are high in nutrients, antioxidants and fiber. They have been proven to lower inflammation and may reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke due to their benefits for cholesterol levels . Nuts make for an excellent sustainable snack. Some healthy nuts include almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, and pecans. Trail mix or nut bars are also great to bring on the go. 

Brown Rice

Brown rice is a much more nutritious option than white rice. Brown rice is a great source of fiber and magnesium. Whether prepared out of a box in the microwave or on the stove or rice cooker, rice is a perfect ingredient to pair with protein, sauce, and vegetables for endless creations. Anything from stir fry to creamy chicken and rice, to rice meatballs, to sushi, and a variety of other Asian-inspired dishes, rice is so versatile in what you can do with it. 

 

Beans

Canned beans are a great way to add additional protein to a meal, and the canned variety is shelf-stable and ready without the boiling and additional steps needed to use dried beans.  Combine and even make a black bean burger to replace meat in a meal. Beans are heart healthy and can reduce your risk of cancer! 

Potatoes

Potatoes have gotten a bad rep in the past; however, they score very high on the satiety index, meaning they will keep you feeling full and satisfied longer than other foods. The most healthy potato is the sweet potato, as they are rich in antioxidants that protect your body from free radicals. Potatoes are a great food to cook in your air fryer! 

Frozen veggies

Fresh vegetables are always a great choice if readily available, but having frozen veggies on hand can make meals come together in a snap, and often go on sale at great prices. You can steam your frozen veggies by putting them in a glass bowl of water in your microwave. The Steam-In Bag microwavable veggies can cause toxins to enter your food, so it’s better to remove the veggies from the plastic packaging before cooking. 

Frozen fruits

Like vegetables, fresh is always preferred, but having a variety of frozen fruit on hand to make smoothies or soups can make a quick, healthy snack on the go. When fruit is frozen, the nutrients get locked in and can last for a long time in the freezer. 

Shelf-Stable Milk/Minis

For those in the dorm or where space is a commodity, shelf-stable milk now comes in a variety of forms, from almond, soy, or oat, as well as in full-size cartons or minis that can be used quickly, and not go bad in the fridge once opened. 

Canned protein

Canned proteins such as chicken, beef, tuna, and even spam are all high protein options that make for a quick and cheap meal.

Tips & Tricks

Follow these Tips & Tricks to stay on budget and eat healthy, while having fun! 

Shop Grocery Store Ad Deals

Decide in advance which store(s) you will be shopping, peruse their weekly ad, and plan your shopping around the deals they offer. Having a loyalty card at each store can present even bigger savings as many offer digital coupons and other incentives for signing up and using their loyalty card.

Plan Meals

Making a meal prep plan before you head to the grocery store will help you stay on track to buy healthy nutritious foods. Try to stick to your list and avoid impulse unhealthy purchases that you hadn’t planned into your weekly or monthly budget. Planning out your meals for the week might decrease your stress of thinking about what to make for dinner and instead help you get excited about cooking whole meals. Check out Tiktok to find a bunch of quick, easy & healthy meal prep ideas! 

Meal prep parties

Meal prep parties are a great way to get a variety of meals cooked and prepared while making it a social event at the same time. Invite over a few friends and each comes prepared with the ingredients to make a certain meal. Together you prepare the foods and cook, and then share the meals, so you have more variety than what you would have prepared on your own and at the same time have some social interaction.

Stock Up When Items Are On Sale

When certain food staples like the ones listed above go on sale, be sure to stock up at a great price if you have the storage space. This way, you will have them on hand and at a great price. Costco is a great place for college students to buy in bulk, it’ll help your wallet, and the environment! Costco has a bunch of organic nutritious food to choose from, and they also have other helpful items for your dorm like laundry detergent, shampoo and conditioner.  

Crock-Pot Meal group parties

Make food prep a social and fun event! The idea is that each person brings over their crockpot and a recipe to make. Either the group goes grocery shopping together or comes prepared to the party with the ingredients. Each person goes home with the recipe and several servings of each crockpot meal that was prepared.

Another variation is making several crockpot meals at once, then freezing them flat in freezer Ziplock bags, that can easily be dumped back in the crockpot and reheated, with no additional prep work required.

Buy Generic

When at the store, be sure to price check the name brand items versus the generic, by figuring out the price per ounce (often listed on the price tag, and if not, simply divide the number of ounces into the cost of the item). Often the generic is the exact same product as the name brand but offers a lower price.

Conclusion

Don’t use limited time or budget as an excuse to eat unhealthy. There are a ton of quick and inexpensive ways to make nutritious and fulfilling meals and snacks. Having the right cooking appliances and available food staples in your fridge, freezer, and pantry can make tossing together a budget-friendly meal quick & easy! Let’s get cooking. 

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