How to Prepare Healthy Meals for Cheap at College

The moment we hear mention of a typical college student’s diet, we immediately conjure up the image of the infamous “freshman 15,” the ubiquitous 15 pounds that every college freshman is supposed to gain during the course of that first year of college. Although it isn’t possible to exercise much control over the meals that are served in dorms or college and university food service facilities, one can control their own meals when they are preparing them on their own, and it’s possible to prepare meals that are reasonably cheap.

WHAT TO AVOID? –

The main thing that you should avoid if you want to eat healthy meals that are relatively inexpensive is packaged and prepared foods. They are loaded with fat, sodium and calories and other fillers. Whatever you can make on your own is going to be cheaper and infinitely more healthy.

EASY, QUICK AND CHEAP –

*Chili –

For easy, quick and cheap meals, consider things like chili. With some canned beans, canned tomato sauce, seasonings and ground beef or turkey, you’ve got a pot of chili that costs less than $5.00 and that will serve you for at least 5 meals. Top it off with a salad, sprinkle cheese on top and maybe add some corn bread.

*Salmon patties –

A can of salmon can make you two or four burgers, depending on the size of the can. All you need to add is egg, breadcrumbs (and lots of them,) and scallions. Panko breadcrumbs make a burger with an especially nice texture. Mix the dry and wet ingredients together, form into patties and saute in canola or olive oil. The outside should be lightly brown and crispy and the inside will be nice and moist. Drizzle some lemon juice on the burger before serving it.

ONE DISH MEALS –

*Chicken, rice and vegetables –

Anytime you can throw a one dish meal together, you’ve got something incredibly easy. Things like rice, chicken breasts and vegetables, can all be baked together in the oven in a 9 x 13 inch pan. Instead of water to cook the rice, use chicken broth or stock. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.

*Home made bean soup –

Make your own bean soup using a mix of dried beans, canned Italian style diced tomatoes, a ham hock or shank, and cut up celery, carrots and onions. Cook the onions, then add the carrots, celery, and other ingredients. You can even add potatoes, and the starch from the potatoes will thicken the soup. Make it in a crock pot so you don’t have to bother to watch it. Serve it with a big salad, crusty bread and Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

*Home made leek and potato soup –

One of the easiest and fastest home made soups is a leek and potato soup. Saute onions and leeks (after you wash the leeks thoroughly,) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add about 3 cut up potatoes, peeled or not. Then add a large can or two 32 ounce cartons of chicken broth and cook over a low heat until the potatoes get soft.

Allow the soup to cool before ladling spoonfuls of the liquid and solids into a blender. Puree all of the contents and then pour back into a pot to reheat. Season it with salt and pepper. The potato starch thickens the soup.

*Crock pot meals –

A crock pot is an easy way to prepare a one dish meal that combines protein and vegetables. You can even add grains. A crock pot is also a great place to cook beans and rice and there is probably nothing you can cook for less money that will pack more of a nutritional punch than rice and beans. Soak dry beans over night. Cook them with onions, carrots, celery, canned tomatoes (seasoned however you like,) the rice, some meat, ham or a small amount of pork for flavoring and water.

Be aware that you will have to add water as the beans and the rice absorb the liquid. After a good 8 to 10 hours, you will have a pot of beans and rice that is large enough to feed you for a good week. If there is more than you can eat at one time, freeze the extra. It will still be good after it’s been frozen, and it will provide you with hearty, low fat and healthy meals for very little money.

When it comes to preparing healthy and cheap meals, the key is to plan ahead. Keep ingredients on hand, or shop for what you need when you need it. Check store websites to find out what is on sale, and stock up on non-perishable things when you can. Avoid using processed, prepared, packaged and instant foods. They may be cheap, but they clearly aren’t healthy.

There are countless websites that offer incredible ideas for inexpensive and healthy meals. Kraft Foods has a website with meal suggestions, recipes, shopping lists and more. You can even keep track of recipes you like and put them in a file on the Kraft website.

College students may not be able to afford to buy huge amounts of fresh produce or expensive meats, poultry or fish. Canned salmon is great, beans are an ideal and very healthy protein and the freezer section offers a wealth of different vegetables. The key to being able to prepare healthy AND cheap meals is to plan ahead, keep basic ingredients on hand, and not wait until you are so hungry that you’d eat anything you could grab. Healthy eating is possible, and it can be affordable.