One of the first things people will warn you about when you start college is the “freshman 15.” It’s added weight that you will put on from eating unhealthy foods in the dining halls and also eating cheap fast food in the area. You can get everything from waffles to grilled cheese to pizza in an abundant supply at your campus, and those three large meals a day can definitely add inches to your waistline. You also may start to feel more tired and sluggish from the poor food choices you’re making.
It’s even more stressful to stay fit and healthy when you’re overwhelmed by not just school, but your responsibilities as a fraternity or sorority member. How do you keep up the energy, eat healthier, manage with a tight budget, and save time when preparing meals for yourself?
Here are some tips for how to eat healthier when you’re living in the dorms in the most inexpensive way — it might inspire you to save some money and cancel your meal plan.
Rice Noodles Over Ramen
One of the staples for students in college is ramen noodles. But cheap 33 cent ramen noodle packets are not healthy by any stretch of the imagination. Try something different: look for rice noodles, which are similar to ramen noodles but much healthier. You can buy a pack of three (and stretch it to six) for a couple of dollars at the supermarket or a Whole Foods. Find seasoning packets and Pho broths that are lower in sodium and free from monosodium glutamate.
Breakfast is one of the most difficult meals to commit to when you’re a student in college. to make things easier and make sure that you have a healthy protein-rich breakfast, make little mini breakfast bowls that you can pop in the microwave. Crack a couple of eggs in a small microwavable bowl (spray the bowl with olive oil if you have it) and add a bit of kale or spinach. Heat for 1:45 minutes and add a bit of shredded cheese if you’d like. Choose a low sodium breakfast meat (preferably turkey bacon or sausage) and heat it up in the bowl as well. Grab it along with a fork and go!
Mini Casserole Meals
One of the benefits of being a single college student is that you only have to prepare meals for yourself. Your local dollar store sells small circular baking pans that are perfect for creating one serving meals that can stretch to 2 servings. Here are a few ideas for what to put in your small pan to bake on 375 for about 20-45 minutes:
- Chicken drumsticks (they cost about $2 per pack) and chopped onions (season everything with salt, pepper, and garlic powder).
- Lasagna bake (one pack of oven ready lasagna for $3 will last you for over a month). Get an 8-ounce pack of mozzarella (about $2) and a jar of tomato sauce from the dollar store. Add a little spinach between the layers to make it healthier.
- Roasted vegetable medley (for vegans). You can either buy a package of pre-chopped veggies for a few dollars (look for ones that are on manager’s special for a discount). Or get a head of broccoli, a bag of carrots, and snap peas or green beans. Add olive oil, salt, and pepper before roasting.
Salad Bar Runs
You can get a lot of ingredients to keep in the fridge at your dorm from salad bars and only spend a few dollars at a time. These ingredients can help you put easy and tasty meals together. If you’re lucky enough to have a healthy and clean salad bar in your area, visit every few days to get these items and more:
- Shredded cheese that you can sprinkle on things
- Chicken breast slices for salads
- Tomato slices
Word to the Wise: Invest in an Air Fryer
Many modern college dorms have stoves and ovens, but some do not. Even if you do have an oven or stove, you probably don’t have a lot of time to crank them up, cook, then clean up between studying and going to sorority or fraternity meetings.
You might hear angelic music playing when you finally get an air fryer for your dorm room. It’s a portable kitchen tool that “fries” and bakes things in about 15 minutes. There is no need for unhealthy oils. You just put your food inside, set it, go back to studying, and come back when you’re ready to eat. A small one costs about $60 and it’s worth every penny. Ask your parents for one for your birthday!
These pro tips for eating healthy in the dorms will change your college life — and your waistline — for the better. And best of all, you can make better daily food choices inexpensively by getting a little creative.