Money College: Eat on less than $38 a week, without starving

how college students can eat for lessThe starving college student stereotype is well-known: a bleary-eyed co-ed surviving on ramen noodles and Easy Mac. But don't worry if you're starting another semester with a near-empty wallet: You can eat on a college budget and still be healthy. While dinner at a fancy restaurant can cost upwards of $35, you can eat for an entire week for about the same price. Here's how.

The first step to eating cheaper is to shop smarter. Before you even walk out the door, log on to your nearest grocery's Web site. Almost every grocer puts the circular ad online. Take advantage of a good sale and stock up on nonperishable foods that you will eat every week.

It requires some forethought, but if you plan your menus for the week before heading to the store, you can save money. Choose meals based on what's on sale that week. The fresh fruit and vegetables in season and on sale may actually end up being the cheaper than the canned fruit you assume is a good buy. Make a list of what you'll need for those meals and stick to it. Don't impulse buy.

At the beginning of the semester, make a trip to the grocery and buy spices that you like and a bottle of olive oil. Seasonings take forever to use up unless you're using them daily, so what you buy on this visit to the store will probably last you all semester. Just pick some things that strike your fancy.

Save some serious cash by brewing your own cup of coffee. Your $3.50 latte from the campus coffee shop sure tastes good, but you can get just as much of a caffeine jolt from a cup of brewed coffee. You can make your own 12-ounce cup of coffee with a flavored non-dairy creamer for as little as $0.14.

While you're shopping, buy generic products whenever possible. The packages aren't as pretty as the name-brand goodies your mom buys, but they taste just about the same. Don't be tricked by the shelves. Look up and down. Name-brand products are at eye level. The cheapest things are usually at the top or bottom of the shelf.

Individually-packaged products are tempting to college students who eat on the go and don't want to measure out portions, but these products are significantly more expensive than their larger-quantity counterparts. Don't buy them unless you have to or they're on sale.

So, how do you actually put this all to use? Here are examples of 21 healthy meals and 7 snacks for a total price of $37.32.

Breakfasts
Total: about $8.19

Option 1 for $1.03

  • 1 pack of flavored Quaker Instant Oatmeal
  • 1 serving of fresh fruit
  • 1 glass of milk

Option 2 for $1.31

  • 1 cup of Yoplait yogurt
  • 1 serving of fresh fruit
  • 1 glass of orange juice from store-brand concentrate


Lunches

Total: about $13.32

Option 1 for $1.97

  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 1 serving of brand name pre-packaged deli meat
  • 1 slice of reduced fat American cheese
  • 1 cup of prepackaged fruit in light syrup
  • 1 serving of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers

Option 2 for $1.31

  • 2 slices of whole wheat bread
  • 1 serving store brand peanut butter and jelly
  • 1 serving fresh fruit
  • 1 serving of Wheat Thins

Option 3 for $2.43

  • 1 can of Campbell's Select Harvest Soup
  • 1 serving fresh fruit
  • 1 serving of Wheat Thins


Snacks

Total: about $1.77

Option 1 for $0.22

  • 1 serving store brand bite-size tortilla chips
  • 1 serving store brand salsa

Option 2 for $0.20

  • 1 store brand chocolate chip granola bar

Option 3 for $0.25

  • 1 store brand fruit and grain bar

Option 4 for $0.21

  • 1 serving of Jell-O Pudding from mix

Dinners
Total: about $14.04

Option 1 for $1.60

  • 1 individually frozen boneless skinless chicken breast with seasoning of your choice
  • 1 serving of fresh broccoli
  • 1 serving of macaroni and cheese

Option 2 for $1.51

  • 1 serving of store brand pasta
  • 1 pound of lean ground beef
  • 1 serving of Ragu pasta sauce
  • 1 serving of canned green beans

Option 3 for $2.75

  • 1 Stouffer's Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice Cafe Steamer frozen entrees

Option 4 for $2.16

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 serving of frozen stir fry mix
  • 1 serving brown rice


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