Much like how carefully planning an itinerary will help reduce the costs of travel, carefully planning meals will help reduce living expenses while in college. You can find many excellent meal plans on the Internet that feature inexpensive and healthy recipes (I particularly enjoy the ones from Clean Eating magazine which change weekly), but the best way to find a meal plan tailored to your tastes is to make one yourself. Spending half an hour each week to outline what you will eat for the next few days can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run.
A good place to start when making a meal plan is to brainstorm a list of dishes that you enjoy eating and are able to make. From there, you can allocate foods to different days of the week – burgers today, burritos tomorrow. Carefully consider how much time you will need to prepare and cook these dishes, especially if you are trying to save money by making things from scratch. What with classes and homework and studying (not to mention extracurricular activities), you may not have the time or energy to recreate Grandma’s authentic Italian meat lasagna every Tuesday night. In your meal plan, include some dishes that you know you’ll be able to make with minimal effort on those days when you’re just too tired to cook.
When planning what you will eat each day, try to use up leftovers from the day before. For example, the leftover chicken Parmesan and tomato sauce from last night’s pasta could easily form the basis of a delicious pizza tonight. Alternatively, packing all your leftovers into sandwiches for lunch is another way to cut costs and reduce waste. If you’ve got a stockpile of cheap (but not particularly healthy) instant foods in your dorm, such as Kraft Dinner or ramen, adding some leftover vegetables is a great way to increase their nutritional content.
Finally, keep your meal plan in mind when you go grocery shopping. Stock up when foods you like go on sale. Look for cheap cuts of meat which can be frozen in portions and used later on. Almost any kind of meat can be turned into a filling, delicious meal by frying a small amount of it with some vegetables, an egg, your preferred sauce or seasoning, and some rice. Don’t forget to check out canned goods as well; for instance, stores often sell cans of Vienna sausages for around 50 cents a can, and they are especially useful for quick and tasty breakfasts. You can save even more money by buying fewer processed snacks and soft drinks. Many other options exist; have a look around your local supermarket. With some detailed planning, you can eat well and stay healthy while keeping your budget in check.