Eating Healthy on a College Budget

It can be done. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people complain about how expensive it is to buy healthy foods.

False.

Healthy eating does not have to be anymore expensive than eating junk. Sure if you buy organic, fair-trade, 100% raw, granola that’s sprinkled with gold dust and unicorn tears, things can get a little expensive. But healthy eating doesn’t have to be. In fact, I spend way less on groceries (and eat out less) than my friends, while buying just as much food (if not more – I love to eat!). I have a $50 a week grocery budget, but I try to keep it below that if I can to put a little extra spending money in my pocket.

Here’s a typical weekly grocery haul – 

Produce:

1 bag of kale, 3 lbs of apples, 1 lb green beans, 1 bag of baby carrots, 1 bell pepper, 2 avocados, 1 pint of strawberries, 1 bundle of bananas, 4 plums, sliced mushrooms and 2 bags of frozen vegetables

Proteins:

Cottage cheese and a dozen eggs (I had a couple of leftover blocks of tofu, which are usually on my shopping list)

Plus 2 cans of garbanzo beans and some bulk raw pumpkin seeds.

My grand total for the week? $30.00 (full disclosure: I have a few other staples,  AKA peanut butter and oatmeal, that I buy on a less regular basis that weren’t included in this week of groceries)

A typical family living off foods stamps gets $35 per person per week for groceries. See? Healthy eating on any budget is completely doable.

Here are a couple of tips I follow for healthy eating on a budget:

  • Embrace the produce aisle. Produce is where you can get the biggest bang for your buck. Eating seasonally and keeping and eye for store deals can score you a lot of wholesome food for cheap. Last week I bought a $1 bundle of kale that I used in 5 salads this week, deal.
  • Know your grocery store. Different grocery stores have better prices on different foods. I typically shop at two different grocery stores, Harris Teeter and Earth Fare. I get bulk and specialty foods at Earth Fare, because even though they have a bad rap for being expensive (they’re basically like a Whole Foods) you can’t beat their prices on bulk grains/nuts or their store brand prices, and they offer a 5% student discount. Harris Teeter is usually touted as being a higher priced grocery store too, but they have the best prices and selection of produce, so I save money shopping there. There’s no grocery store that has an all-around best price (unless you live near a Trader Joe’s!) so shopping around is important.
  • Don’t be an organic snob. I would love to buy organic everything, it’s good for you and they environment, but let’s be honest, it’s dang expensive. If you can’t afford 100% organic and that’s important for you, get the dirty dozen organic and do what you can for the rest.
  • Get a loyalty card, if your grocery store has one. I used to work at PetSmart and it always astounded me the amount of people that refused to sign up for our loyalty card, it was absolutely free and would have saved them so much money. It’s such an easy way to save money without even having to clip coupons.
  • Embrace store brands. They usually don’t taste much different from name brands and they’re way cheaper.
  • Cook more. Frozen meals are so expensive, for the $3.50 you spent on that one frozen lasagna you could have made a whole pan’s worth. Sometimes it’s work sacrificing the convenience factor.
  • Meatless Mondays. I save a crazy amount of money being a vegetarian because I don’t have to spend money on meat. Meat can get pretty expensive and non-meat protein alternatives like tofu, tempeh, eggs, beans and nuts are much much cheaper. And no animals are hurt in the process (: Even if you’re happily omnivorous, cutting back on your meat consumption even once a week can make things a little cheaper.
  • A No-Frills approach. There are a lot of fun healthy foods and trendy foods out there (think chia seeds, super foods, fancy nut butters, kale chips) but being healthy isn’t about all those frilly things. The core of healthy eating is whole, un-processed, nutritious foods. You don’t need to buy that $4 organic vegan gluten-free raw bar to be healthy, those types of things are a fun treat, but they don’t have to be part of your daily routine. You get all the benefits of that food for much cheaper by just incorporating a few extra veggies in your life.

 

What’s one way you save money at the grocery store?

Do you spend a lot on food, or save it for other things?

 

 

 

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9 Comments

  1. I agree with you completely about all of this! One of the most common questions I get about my vegan diet is if it is more expensive. Most people seem to think it is.

    I save money by looking out for cheap prices on staple pantry items like canned beans, peanut butter, baking ingredients etc and stocking up then, instead of waiting until I’m all out and desperate to buy something no matter what the price. I do work in a grocery store so its very easy for me to keep track of prices on my favourite things, and know when they are the cheapest they ever get.

    Also, when it comes to buying produce, I usually go mostly for whats on sale (which at my local produce market is usually whats pretty local and/or organic from their garden) and then figure out what to use it for, rather than going with a set list of stuff to buy.

    Reply
    • I almost never go to the grocery store with a list, I just look to see what’s on sale. And vegan eating definitely isn’t more expensive! At least as long as you’re not trying to buy faux everything.

      Reply
  2. I spend WAY too much on food. Probably a little over $100 week. I save money where I can though!

    Reply
  3. This is a good post that makes good points! LOL at the unicorn tears thing. I think that people who spend too much money on food are often buying into trends like organic this or gluten-free that. Beans are such a cheap form of protein – as are eggs!

    Reply
  4. Troy

     /  September 25, 2012

    You should try to go to Costco or BJ’s and get everything in bulk. You can get nuts, chicken,beans, eggs, oatmeal and other healthy foods. I went this weekend and did not spend too much money and all of the foods were healthy!

    Reply
    • I would but I don’t have one near my school! The biggest store we have is a Super Wal-Mart! My hometown has a BJs though so I’ll have to check it out sometime.

      Reply
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