Eating healthy on a budget is hard for anyone, but specifically college students. In this post, we’re sharing our best healthy college meals and tips for budgeting and meal planning.
College is an interesting time. There are so many changes and opportunities to learn about yourself. Most college kids are very intimidated when it comes to cooking. You go from mom and dad making your meals, to 100% dorm food, to holy shit I have to feed myself AND feed myself on a budget. Linley and I were quite the anomalies because we’ve always had a major interest in cooking, even in high school (heck, middle school!).
My $40 Weekly Budget
We both knew the basics of how to cook grains on the stove, meat in the oven, veggies in a pan, etc. and I remember allotting myself $40 a week for groceries and meal prepping every weekend before meal prep was a thing all over the internet.
Speaking of the internet, blogs weren’t even a thing yet and neither was Pinterest– two major resources for recipes and meal inspiration today. If you’re a college kid today, consider yourself lucky with the amazing technology and resources we have! Don’t know how to make chili? Google it! Out of brown rice? Buy it off Amazon and get it in 12 hours. NUTS.
I remember when my little brother went to college, he called me and asked me if I could teach him how to make a handful of meals that wouldn’t take him all day to make, were healthier options, and inexpensive. I loved spending time with him, teaching him, and sharing tips and tricks.
Good news, my brother cooks healthy meals all by himself now. I figured, why not share all the tips and tricks I taught him and used myself. If you’re just starting your healthy food budgeting journey, welcome! I hope this helps :)
How to Eat Healthy on a Budget
Set a budget + Make a Plan
I am so thankful that I learned how to budget at a young age (thanks Dad). I know it doesn’t always come naturally to some people, but the more you practice the easier it is! Figure out how much you can afford to spend on groceries, make a budget, and try and stick to your budget. I would budget $40 a week for groceries, knowing that I would meal prep meals for the whole week. I chose recipes that could possibly share ingredients (like overnight oatmeal + oatmeal cookies) so that I could buy things in bulk to save cash.
I would also budget out some cash-money for going out. I tried to save by not eating out a ton during college and I if I were to do it all over again, I would have gone out a bit more. I would have set more extra cash aside for more happy hours and dinners out with friends!
Where you shop matters
Linley and I shop a couple of different places for a few different reasons. Some places have better prices Trader Joes and Fresh Thyme. Where some places have better produce Lunds and Byerlys and Whole Foods. We also try and make one trip a month to Costco to save money on our bulk items like oatmeal, flour, chocolate chips, paper towels, olive oil, etc. You have to figure out what stores are closest to you and what makes sense!
Shop the sale
Sale prices are a lifesaver. Go to the grocery store with a semi-open mind. If a recipe calls for red bell peppers, but green peppers are on sale for 99 cents –> DO IT. It’s ok to swap out similar ingredients, especially if you can save a couple of bucks!
Buying Bulk Items is cheaper
Bulk items can save you SO much when you’re on a budget. Try to buy all of your staple items in bulk, that way you will be able to spend your budgeted grocery money on specialty items more often. I made you a list below to give you an idea of my staple bulk items:
- Olive Oil
- Brown Rice
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Chocolate Chips
- Maple Syrup
- Whole Wheat Pasta
- Chicken (I buy a ton of chicken and freeze it!)
I stretched my money out by making larger meals and bulk snacks at the beginning of the week. It’s no secret that I love to meal prep. If you’re new to meal prepping or just need a refresher, check out my Meal Prep Kitchen Essentials post for products and tips that will make the process easier and check out our Meal Prep page for all meal prep recipes.
Here is a starter meal-prep plan for you –>
- Breakfast: Peanut Butter Overnight Oats
- Lunch: Mexican Sweet Potato Casserole
- Dinner: Crockpot Honey Garlic Chicken
- Snack: No-Bake Peanut Butter Balls
- Dessert: PB Banana Nice Cream
The Best Meal Prep Kitchen Essentials
Here are a few things I suggest bringing with you to college. Plus, if you’re planning to cook in your dorm room the Instant Pot or Slow Cooker are an ovenless dream.
Don’t forget about BALANCE
Guys, eat whole, fresh, and healthy ingredients as much as you can. However, don’t miss out on fun happy hours, $5 burger nights, and fun events with friends. It is all about balance!
There you have it. Most of the tips and tricks I used when I was roaming around the University of Minnesota. It took some hard work, as I was struggling with an eating disorder for a good chunk of my college career. I am happy to say it all worked out and today I am so excited for you to start your budgeting journey. Below I am sharing some of my favorite budget-friendly recipes. Remember to choose recipes that sound good to YOU and have fun!
Easy Recipes for College Students
And now, here are all of our best healthy and easy college meals that are affordable and simple to make! Remember, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone.
Healthy Breakfast Recipes
- Carrot Cake Overnight Oatmeal
- PB Chocolate Chip Baked Oatmeal Cups
- Make Ahead Freezer Breakfast Burritos
- Healthy Denver Omelette Egg Bake
- Sweet Potato Hash Cups
- Crock Pot Maple Cinnamon Steel Cut Oatmeal
- Strawberry Banana Spinach Smoothie in a Bag
- Sweet Potato Power Pancakes
- Crock Pot Maple Cinnamon Steel Cut Oatmeal
- Bagel Ham and Cheese Quiches
- Banana Breakfast Cake
- How to Bake Eggs in the Oven
- Triple Berry Baked Oatmeal Cups
- Chocolate Chia Overnight Oats
One of the best things you can do as a student is pack a lunch to-go. This will save you so much money in the long-run and make sure you’re making healthy choices all day long. Check out some of our fav meal-prep lunches below!
- Meal Prep Cilantro Lime Chicken with Cauliflower Rice
- 4 Healthy Chicken Salad Recipes
- Tuna Egg Salad
- Meal Prep Vegetarian Kung Pao Quinoa Bowls
- Roasted Red Pepper Quinoa Chili
- Skinny Buffalo Chicken Wrap
- Thai Peanut Chicken Salad
- Meal Prep Carnitas Burrito Bowls
- Sweet Potato Green Curry Quinoa Casserole
- Crock Pot Chicken Enchilada Soup
- Shaved Brussels Sprout Salad
- Instant Pot Fried Rice
- Mediterranean Buddha Bowls
- Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala
- Instant Pot Coconut Rice
- Mexican Quinoa Salad
- Creamy Greek Pasta Salad with Cashew Vegan Pesto
- Healthy Buffalo Chicken Recipe
- Golden Roasted Cauliflower and Quinoa Salad
Best On-the-Go Snack Recipes
You can never have enough healthy snacks packed in your bag as a college student. Check out some of our best on-the-go snack recipes you can make in bulk!
- Strawberry Banana Fruit Leather
- Whole Grain Carrot Cake Muffins with Walnuts
- Healthy Peanut Butter Brownie Balls
- Peanut Butter Protein Cups
- Garlic Roasted Kale Chips
- Copy Cat Cashew Cookie LaraBars
- Sweet Potato Hummus
- Peanut Butter Protein Bars
- Homemade Strawberry Banana Fruit Leather
- Homemade Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Lara Bars
- Healthy Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
- Edible Cookie Dough Dip
- Healthy No Bake Peanut Butter Cookies
- Super Fluffy Blueberry Muffins
- All American Hash Brown Egg Cups
- 5-Minute Healthy Tuna Salad
Healthy Dinner Recipes for College Students
Here are a bunch of dinner recipes for college students in apartments. I specify “apartment” because most of these need an oven or stove to create!
- Slow Cooker Coconut Curry Chicken
- Naked Spinach Quinoa Lasagna Casserole
- Chicken Quinoa Soup
- Crockpot Teriyaki Chicken
- Rainbow Asian Noodle Salad
- Instant Pot Pork Roast
- Crock Pot Chicken Salsa Tacos
- PF Chang’s Lettuce Wraps
- Healthy Kung Pao Chicken
- Red Coconut Curry Meatballs with Cauliflower Rice
- The Worlds Easiest White Chicken Quinoa Chili
- Sweet Potato Spinach Lasagna
- Healthy Chicken Enchilada Casserole
- 30 Minute Whole Wheat Pasta Primavera
- 5-Ingredient Honey Sriracha Slow Cooker Chicken
- Pesto Chicken Meal Prep
- Meal Prep Cilantro Lime Chicken
- Grilled BBQ Chicken Bowls
- Crock Pot Sesame Chicken
- Instant Pot Moroccan Chicken Bowls
- Meal Prep Cauliflower Tikka Masala
- 30 Minute Spicy Butternut Squash Soup
And finally, healthy dessert recipes for all of that late-night studying you’re about to do! These sweet treats are made with whole ingredients yet will satisfy your sweet tooth instantly.
- Healthy Vegan Cowboy Cookies
- Fudgy Paleo Brownies
- Healthy Chocolate Ice Cream
- Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Grain Free Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars
- Healthy Peanut Butter Cups
- Chocolate Peanut Butter Brown Rice Crispy Treats
- Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding
- Lightened Up Carrot Cake
- Grain Free Pumpkin Brownies
- Coconut Flour Mug Cake
- Paleo Cashew Butter Cookies
- Cake Batter Cashew Butter Cups
- Fudgey Homemade Brownies with Garbanzo Beans
- Lemon Blueberry Crumble Bars
- Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookie Bars
- Healthy Scotcheroos
- Healthy Oreo Cashew Butter Cups
- Crunch Rice Crispy Peanut Butter Cups
- Gluten Free Banana Bread Oatmeal Bars