College is a tricky life stage. You’re likely away from home for the first time, working with limited free time and sticking to a tight budget. And if you’re not careful, it’s easy to let takeout pizza and convenience foods (looking at you, boxed mac and cheese) consume your diet.
Get back on track with our budget-friendly college meal prep plan. We’ll teach you how to set a budget, shop for groceries and prepare meals for the entire week. Let’s do this!
If you’re cooking on your own for the first time, get started with this student-friendly menu.
Set a Budget
The first thing you need to do is set a realistic weekly food budget. Start by keeping track of how much you spend on food (and drinks!) in a given week. You may find that you’re spending $25 on Starbucks (you can actually make your faves at home) or dropping $6 on organic strawberries that end up going bad. Take a hard look at what you’re spending—then determine how much you actually want to spend. When I was in school, I tried to reserve about $35 a week for groceries and $20 for takeout or meals with friends.
Plan Your Menu
Once you have your budget, start planning a menu. You can decide if you want to meal prep for the entire week or just Monday through Friday. Then, start scouring your local grocery store ads. Make the most of your budget by buying items that are on sale—especially when it comes to pricier items, like meat and fresh produce. Use these sale items to guide your menu choices for the week, then supplement with cost-effective pantry staples, like brown rice, frozen vegetables and canned beans. Psst! Here’s how to stock your college pantry.
Once you have a menu in mind, get ready to shop. You’ll want to head into the store with a detailed list. Some grocers offer special discounts if you shop on a certain day of the week, so keep that in mind if you’re looking for extra savings. Break down your list by department, then work your way around the store.
Since you put extra time into planning, you should be in and out of the grocery store a little faster than usual. After all, you’ve got studying to do! Here are more grocery shopping tips you might not know.
Set a Date
With your menu planned and your groceries bought, now you need to prep the food. Pick a date and time each week that you’re typically free—like a Sunday afternoon. Label that time in your planner as “meal prep time,” then treat it as any other commitment.
Prep! Prep! Prep!
Use your allotted time to prep as much food as you can. Chop up fresh fruit for breakfast, boil a big vat of rice or quinoa for lunch and roast a tray full of vegetables and chicken for dinner. I found that baking my meals was most time effective, as I could throw the items in the oven, then go and do homework for 45 minutes. If you need recipe inspiration, these sheet pan suppers are a great place to start.
Once your meals are prepped, it’s time to store them. If you’re going to be eating on the go, invest in a set of compartmentalized containers. For meals you plan to eat at home, store ‘em in larger containers and just scoop out one serving at a time. Most meals will last 3-5 days in the fridge.
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