Ask a nutrition student: Put your money where your mouth is

Stacey Arnold

It’s almost the end of the month, and my bank account is looking a little sad. I feel like all of my money goes to food (and rent). Is there a way to spend less on meals without resorting to ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner? — Thrifty Foodie

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to eat healthy meals on a college student budget — it just takes a little more planning and mindfulness. Don’t think you have to purchase boutique brands at froufrou stores to get nutritious food. Here are my tips for a diet your body and bank account will appreciate.

Fashion isn’t the only thing you should purchase in season. If the high price of produce has you pinching pennies, focus on filling your cart with fruits and veggies that are currently being harvested. Most will cost less and — bonus —  they will taste better since they’re at the peak of their season. During fall, stock up on apples, pears and squash, all of which are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. 

Buying in bulk and preparing snacks in advance can be easier on your wallet as well. Pre-portioned, snack-sized items are more expensive than buying a larger bag. While smaller portions are great for consuming the appropriate serving size (it’s so easy to overeat when grabbing chips straight out of a bulk bag), the extra packaging and processing will cost you more.

For example, a 10-count box of 0.9-ounce pretzel bags costs roughly $3.99 ­— that’s 39 cents per serving. A 16-ounce bag of the same product costs only $3.09, or 17 cents per serving. Try portioning out snacks as soon as you get home from the grocery store to keep spending and snacking under control.

One of the more obvious tips for decreasing dollars spent on dining is to eat at home. But do you know just how much more you’re spending when you eat out? The average prices for restaurant food increased 2.8 percent last year, while grocery store items’ prices decreased by 1.6 percent, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Put another way, making pancakes from scratch will cost you less than a quarter per pancake. Compare this to your favorite restaurant pancakes, which ring up at around $4 per cake. 

Cooking at home keeps your wallet healthy, as well as your waistline. Eating at fast food and full-service restaurants involves consuming more calories, saturated fat and sodium, according to Public Health Nutrition. 

Another tip: Hit the grocery store armed with a shopping list. Shoppers spend an estimated $2.17 per minute, according to The Food Marketing Institute. If you come with a game plan, you won’t mindlessly wander the aisles. Additionally, predetermining what you want to purchase helps prevent giving in to future unhealthy temptations, according to the journal Nutrition and Diabetes.

My final two cents is to be mindful of how much food you throw away. In 2010, Americans discarded 21 percent of the food they bought, according to the USDA. That’s around 290 pounds — an estimated $371 — of wasted food per person. 

Invest in these tricks and you’ll be able to save some money for textbooks and tuition — and keep your stomach and your wallet full and happy.