If you find yourself regularly relying on restaurants or Chinese take-out for weeknight dinners, you could be spending a lot more money on food than necessary – and all at the expense of your health.
Studies say that the average young adult eats at fast-food restaurants several times per week. If that sounds familiar, you may want to reconsider your habits. People who eat out regularly consume more calories, saturated fat and sodium compared to those who cook and eat at home, according to an article on Forbes.
As far as cost goes, try multiplying $10 to $15 by the number of times per week you eat out for an estimate of how much you’re really spending. On a cost-per-meal basis, you can most likely do much better on your own by buying a few essential groceries that will go a long way. Eating out is convenient, which is why it’s so hard to resist. But you can make eating at home time-efficient and convenient, too.
One of the easiest and most satisfying meals you can get is a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. For under $10, a whole chicken can turn into at least four meals. As long as you’re not too chicken to carve it yourself, it’s a smart way to feed yourself well for days.
Want a really cheap dinner? Ground meat and sausages are always inexpensive, and they’re very versatile for cooking. For about $7, you can have sausage (cooked on the stove) with beans with sautéed broccoli or canned tomatoes.
Speaking of beans, they’re an economical and healthy option for vegetarians and omnivores alike. They work great in soup and pasta, or simply over greens. Canned soups can also be a good option if you don’t have time to do all the prep work.
And let’s not forget our old friend, the PB&J; sandwich. There certainly isn’t any shame in incorporating this staple in your diet, as long as you make it nutritious with whole grain bread, all-natural peanut butter (the only ingredients should be peanuts and salt) and jelly with no added sugars.
Produce can be tricky because it does add up, but most college students could really use more fruits and vegetables in their diets. The essential nutrients found in fresh produce can go a long way in making you feel and function at your highest level. Bananas are one very economic option, and grapes are good because you can buy in bulk. Pears and apples are in season in the fall, so right now is a good time to buy them.
For vegetables, opt for cruciferous veggies like broccoli, brussels sprouts and kale to get the most bang for your nutritional buck. Pre-packaged salad greens can be expensive, so try buying romaine and washing and cutting it yourself to save money. Sweet potatoes and red potatoes are a good deal and are a healthy source of carbohydrates. Many winter squashes are also available this time of year for good prices.
Obviously, the importance of rice and pasta to the college student cannot be overstated. But next time you restock, choose long-grain brown rice and whole-wheat pasta. They contain more fiber and, unlike their white counterparts, give your body a steady supply of energy from complex carbohydrates to keep you feeling full all night. For other grains, invest in quinoa (which doubles as a vegetarian protein) and oatmeal, two quick-cooking and satisfying whole grains.