By Nia Martin

Academics should be the top priority when it comes to attending college; but other things, like food, should be considered too.

According to Feeding America, “The average college meal plan costs about $4,500 per year or $18.75 per day,” and some students have to make the tough decision between food and education.

Like many, I didn’t have a dining plan this semester. But I chose not to have one, and through my experience I learned some important things.

First things first, determine what’s available to you. Are you just making microwave meals in your dorm room, or can you use a kitchen? Can you get to the grocery store and how often can you go? Do you have the equipment and tools to cook? Unfortunately, when I didn’t have a meal plan, I did not have a car, but I was able to take a shuttle. I live off-campus in an apartment, so I have access to a full kitchen.

Next, ask yourself some questions when you create your budget. What is your income? How much do you have to spend? Where is the money coming from and how often will you receive it? What else do you NEED to spend on? “NEED” is a very important word, and your needs should be taken care of before your wants. Finally, how much do you want to save? I suggest saving around 20%, spending on your needs, and then possibly treating yourself. I remember when I treated myself to a Red Lobster dinner, once.

Budgeting helps you answer important questions about your money and where it is going. Budgeting does not only help you now, but it also helps you in the future. Budgeting now, won’t just help feed you today, but can keep you fed for a while.

So now that you determined your resources and created your budget, decide on what foods are going to work for you. Ramen noodles should not be the only thing you eat. I suggest buying things that will last for a little while, like frozen goods.

I personally bought frozen seafood, meat, fruits and vegetables, and then only cooked what I knew I was going to eat.

Forbes reports, “… Frozen foods can be 50% cheaper than their fresh counterparts, if not more. And since they can be stored for weeks or even months without spoiling, you cut down on waste and the cost of having to toss fresh items that have gone bad before you had the chance to consume them.”

But before you step foot in a store, make a grocery list. Creating a grocery list is essential, again, pay attention and have a priority of your needs over your wants. I loved getting chocolate chip cookies, but needed broccoli in my life.

And don’t go into the store hungry, you’ll buy things on impulse and come out with things you never even thought of.

Finally, you are back in the kitchen, whether that be in the residence hall or your own apartment. Now it’s time to get to work, cooking. My biggest suggestion: Meal prep. Meal prep is having what you want, knowing what you will eat, and preparing it at your convenience.

Dominic Vaiana wrote for College Info Geek about his experience meal prepping in college. He said that he benefited from it so that he has not stopped.

Viana wrote, “But let’s say you meal prep for an entire year and spend $3,600 in a year on food instead of eating out multiple times a week and spending $5,000 in a year. Think of all the stuff you can do with $1,400+, all because of this daily discipline.”

So go into college focusing on your next assignment; not where your next meal is coming from.

Oh, and one more thing, it’s okay if you don’t know what or how to cook. Not everyone is a master chef, like Gordon Ramsay. But do not fear, that is what YouTube is for!

Martin is a sophomore at the University of Missouri, majoring in journalism.