How I Meal Plan on a Budget
Keep your mouth – and your wallet – full.
This May, I was faced with a new dilemma. After seventeen years living in my parents’ house, and two years living on campus, I was on my own for the first time.
This came with a whole new set of responsibilities, from paying rent, to taking out my own trash, to cleaning my own bathroom. But the one that I dealt with most often was having to fend for my own food.
I had to buy my own groceries (which I did every week), pack my own lunches, and make my own dinners most nights each week. And most importantly, I had to budget my own meal plans – and make sure I didn’t blow all my earnings on delicious, delicious teriyaki chicken from my favorite sushi restaurant.
Today, I’m sharing some tips on how I was able to eat well while saving money. Sound like something you can use? Keep reading!
Streamline Your Grocery List
The easiest way to save money on food? Buy less of it. There are a lot of ways to do this, but the ones that won’t leave you hungry are pretty simple: don’t buy food you won’t eat, and buy foods that you’ll eat a lot of.
It’s cheap to buy lots of simple staples: rice, pasta, eggs, chicken, and whole veggies. Each of these items can be eaten for all kinds of meals, and will keep for a long time if properly stored. This means that you don’t have to throw out a bunch of food because it got moldy in your fridge, and you’ll maximize each dollar spent on groceries.
Spice Things Up
Your grocery budget will go the longest way if you buy nothing but basic staples. While they’ll keep you from being hungry (and from getting scurvy), they can turn boring pretty quickly.
The way to fix this is through a bit of an investment – in versatile but tasty items such as minced garlic, a well-stocked spice cabinet, real maple syrup, and plenty of butter. These are relatively small items in comparison to your overall food budget, but spending a bit more money on these flavorful additions will keep you from getting tired of the same ingredients over and over.
Learn to Love Leftovers
The biggest enemy to my food budget is my love for convenience foods. While I know I can make myself a breakfast scramble using ingredients I already have, I want to buy a single premade one for $4 and just stick it in the microwave.
If you also tend to reach for the most convenient possible meal item, a great way to save money is to meal prep. Instead of buying that single boxed mac n’ cheese, try making a large batch of it on the weekends, and putting individual servings into containers that can easily be put into your fridge or freezer.
The next time late-night cravings strike, you don’t have to reach for an expensive boxed item – you can grab something you’ve already made – giving you an equally tempting, but cheaper (and healthier) item.
Be Mindful of Menu Items
While eating in is much cheaper than eating out, college life is social – and you don’t have to say no to invitations out if you have a plan. There are a variety of ways to save money at a restaurant: eating an appetizer as a main course, splitting an entree with a friend, or sticking to cheaper menu items (like chicken, pasta dishes, or sandwiches). This will keep your costs down without missing out.
One big way to save money at a restaurant is to avoid buying drinks, whether they’re alcoholic or not. Sticking with water is a great way to get the most bang for your buck – and stay hydrated!
How do you save money on food at college? What do you do to eat well without a meal plan? Let us know in the comments below!
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