If this is your first year living off campus, you may find yourself struggling to cook for yourself. College meal planning doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Use these tips to keep yourself fed, healthy and on budget.
Low Budget College Meal Planning
College meal planning is essential when facing student loan repayment. Even though you might only be shopping and feeding one person, grocery costs can easily get out of control. Let’s find out how to manage food, fun and the budget.
Creating a Budget to Manage Meal Planning
The first step is to create a household budget to know how much you can ultimately spend on food. Since you probably can’t work full-time while attending school and want to avoid any more student education loans, a budget is critical. Follow these steps to get started:
- Track your spending for a month or two to see how much you spend on groceries and other expenses.
- Create a monthly household budget with all your income and expenses. Try this budgeting worksheet.
- After covering all your fixed expenses, necessities and debt repayments, start adjusting categories if you spend more than you make or if you need more in certain categories.
- Cut spending on entertainment, clothing, subscriptions and dining out to have enough for fixed expenses and necessities.
- Balance the budget as best you can. Reevaluate your spending half way through each month as well as at the end. Make adjustments as needed to optimize your budget.
Easy College Meal Planning Tips & Ideas
With your budget in hand, it’s time to get to the food! Follow these tips and ideas to make the most of your budget and to save as much as possible to repay student loans on time.
Create a weekly meal plan. Literally write down what you intend to eat for all your meals and snacks for the upcoming week or two. Use similar ingredients across several meals so you can get a discount on bulk purchases or sale items.
For example, if there is a good deal on peppers, you can make a variety of meals, like:
- Stuffed peppers with quinoa or rice
- Chili with rice
- Peppers, sausage and onions
- Omelettes with peppers and onions
Try meal sharing with roommates. Splitting costs of meals on a limited basis could be beneficial. It can save you some time and money by sharing responsibility. Buying supplies and grocery items in large quantities is always a money saver. Hit up a Costco or BJ’s, but always have a shopping list.
Make one-pot meals or casseroles when you know you have a lot of work or studying to do. You will get a ton of servings for very little effort. This is a great way to get some extra meals to freeze for later or to share with your roommates. Here are a few ideas:
- Mac n’ cheese
- Mexican skillet pasta
- Pineapple fried rice
- Chicken or vegetable dumpling soup
- Broccoli, quinoa and toasted cashews
Try making some of your favorite snacks at home. Prepackaged and pre-made food costs a lot more. Trail mix or granola is simple and cheaper to make at home.
Limit the amount of meat you use. Not only is it healthy to cut back on processed meat, it can be a big budget saver. Use beans, nuts, tofu, eggs and other grains for protein.
Splurge a little. If you’re anything like me, I use a grocery list but also need to have some fun with unexpected purchases. Having a little fun or impulsivity can actually help you maintain a budget by giving you room to let loose. Don’t buy a pound of white truffles, think small and yummy.
With these college meal planning tips and ideas, you will be able to manage your budget and debt reduction efforts while still eating well.