Meal plans. To some college students, they’re God’s gift, allowing you to eat as much food as you want from the campus dining hall. To others they’re a curse, a mandatory expense that only allows you to eat food you don’t like and know is going to make you sick afterward. But regardless of which camp you fall into, the idea of leaving your meal plan behind can be intimidating. Here are a few tips to keep you healthy and full once you’re no longer eating campus food.
Grocery shop on a regular basis
If your schedule allows it, go grocery shopping about once a week. More often than this and it’s easier to overspend your budget. Less than this and you run the risk of letting your fresh food go bad. Neither of these is good for your wallet. One week will give you enough time to eat your produce and dairy without burning gas money or paying the extra bus fare of going more frequently.
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If there is a variety of grocery stores nearby, try them all out. Every store is different, with varying products and prices. A gallon of milk might cost $2.50 at one store while the exact same brand is $4.00 at another. Also be open minded about going to non-traditional grocery stores. When I was a senior in college, my roommates and I shopped at a little Mediterranean market we dubbed “the cheap fruit store”. The fruit was cheap, but oh my God it was good and it kept me going through my last year of college.
Learn to cook
Just a little. Nothing fancy, unless you’re into that. But learning a few basic recipes can give you some variety in your diet. Think about the foods you like to eat, then check out Pinterest for recipe ideas.
Senior year I lived on zucchini and onion over rice. Though now I’m much more aware that white rice is far from healthy, I do recommend something simple like that if you’re intimidated by the idea of cooking anything more complex than a bagel. And if you don’t like zucchini or onion, substitute the veggies of your choice!
Here’s how I did it:
-Cook the rice. Put 1 part rice, 2 parts water on the stove and bring it to a boil. Once the water begins to boil, turn the burner down to its lowest setting and cover. Let the rice simmer until all the water is absorbed, stirring occasionally. How long it takes will depend on how much rice you’re cooking and what kind, but for reference, one cup of white rice generally takes about 15 minutes.
-Heat a little olive oil in your frying pan. While that’s heating, chop up your veggies. Put them in the pan and add some garlic salt.
-Cook the veggies in the frying pan until they have a little brown to them.
-Serve the veggies and rice together. Add some more garlic salt if you want.
Stock up on spices
It took me years to realize how much spices can make or break a meal. So stock up on the ones you like. And don’t be fooled by the price tag on some of the fancy organic ones. You can find the same spices cheaply both in stores and online.
Buy in bulk if you have space
This is one I wish I’d known in college. I ate so much rice, but I bought the smallest bags available. A bigger bag would have been more expensive immediately, but it would have saved me money in the long run. While realistically I could not have one of those ten pound bags of rice in my campus apartment, I could have bought the five pound bag once every couple months instead of the one pound bag on most shopping trips.
Utilize your freezer
Push the vodka aside and use that space for some food! Keep a few frozen dinners on hand for the nights when you really don’t feel like cooking something but don’t have the cash for takeout. On nights you do make dinner, make a little extra and freeze it for later. This will help you eat better down the line.
A little planning can keep you from going hungry or mooching off your friend’s meal plan. Do you have any other suggestions for succeeding post-meal plan?