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Nutritious food choices on a college budget

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Preparing meals at home can save money. Photo by RF. studio from Pexels

With rising food costs escalating as we move toward the holidays, even food banks are struggling to meet surging demands. 

Shortages in supplies, inventory, and labor make the challenge of securing nutritious food harder. It may seem like it costs too much to eat healthily, but there are ways to save and still eat nutritious meals, including:

  • Planning meals ahead and stick to a list with those ingredients. Healthier choices are approximately $1.50 more than unhealthier choices so grabbing fast food may seem easier and less costly. However, eating out costs more.
  • Replacing meats with plant protein foods such as tofu, peas, peanut butter, and beans. Other low-cost protein foods are eggs, chicken, and canned meats.
  • Shopping when hungry frequently leads to impulse buying. Having a snack first will stave off hunger. 
  • Stocking up on items that do not require refrigeration, such as whole grains, lentils, and brown rice. Oatmeal and sweet potatoes are packed with fiber and are inexpensive, but also good choices.
  • Buying store brands instead of name brands can pare the grocery bill, as can taking advantage of store coupons.
  • Asking about student discounts when dining out.

As a college student living on a budget, preparing meals at home is a good choice. It may take some planning, but it will be worth it.

The MyPlate suggestions provide a great guideline for balancing starch, protein, fruits, and vegetables. If fresh produce is not in the budget, substitute frozen and canned fruits. Try to select low sugar and sodium items when selecting canned foods.

Eggs add protein and are a great addition to a vegetable salad. Photo by Cats Coming Pexel

Some nutrient-dense foods can be expensive, so here are some healthy food suggestions that will not break the budget: 

  • Broccoli which has vitamin C, K, and folate
  • Onions provide antioxidants, vitamin C, B6, manganese, and potassium
  • Bagged spinach vitamin C, A, folate, and manganese
  • Russet potatoes, fiber, vitamin C and B, potassium
  • Sweet potatoes are cheap and loaded with beta-carotene, B vitamins, Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.
  • Canned tomatoes have 37% of the Vitamin C daily requirements. 
  • Carrots are about the best sources of beta-carotene, providing 428% of Vitamin A’s daily requirements.
  • Brown rice is super cheap and has fiber, B vitamins, and minerals.
  • Oatmeal is a whole grain with B vitamins, iron, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium.
  • Canned beans are easy on the food bill and have fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Quinoa has loads of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Promotes a healthy brain!
  • Air-popped popcorn is super cheap and makes a great snack. Try topping with parmesan cheese instead of butter and salt.
  • Bananas, apples, and oranges are all great snack foods. Berries are super healthy but tend to be a bit expensive. Buying produce when it is in season will improve quality and cost less.
  • For high-quality sources of protein, eggs and chicken breast are great buys.
  • Milk is the most affordable choice to fulfill dairy requirements, but yogurt and cottage cheese are also great sources of calcium.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created a suggested healthy eating diagram to get maximum nutritious benefits. MyPlate.gov suggests that half of the meal plates should be colorful fruits and vegetables. The more color in the fruits and vegetables, the more antioxidants and nutrition.

The other half of the plate should be split between whole grains and protein. Whole grains are higher in fiber than refined foods like white rice and white bread.

Protein should include fish, lean chicken, seeds, nuts, or beans. The recommended daily amount of dairy is one cup of milk or yogurt or 1½ ounces of natural cheese. Soy milk may e substituted for cow milk.

An excellent model for everyday nutrition. OpenStax College, CC BY 3.0

To learn more about nutrition and positive goal setting, check out Nutrition Education Action Team (NEAT). For an appointment, call (805) 546-3171 or visit the SLO Student Health Center, building 3100, room 3150.

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Growing up in Santa Barbara, California, the beauty of the central coast has always inspired my creative abilities. With an employment history deeply steeped in typography and graphics, I have continued to expand my knowledge of graphic design over the years to keep up with the rapid growth of technology. I pride myself in creating visual concepts, using computer software to communicate ideas that inspire, inform and captivate. During my three years at Cuesta College, I have achieved an E-Commerce Certificate, taken Culinary Fundamentals, Health, Nutrition, and multiple graphic arts classes. Now, with a major in Journalism, I am very excited to be Graphics Editor for the Cuestonian at Cuesta College.