Eating clean on a budget in college

By Jordan Thornsberry 

The cost of groceries has risen more than 10.2% in the last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While diet culture and workout trends are topics many college students are trying to avoid, most just want to eat clean and healthy on a low dollar. One of my goals has been to eat as healthy as possible for as cheap as possible. Through trial and error and figuring out what works best for me, I have finally grasped how to eat clean and avoid sticker shock at the grocery store.

When making a list of what I need at the grocery store, I start by planning meals and snacks that use the same ingredients to avoid overbuying products. For example, I’ll buy spinach to put in smoothies as well as in salads for lunch and in stuffed chicken for dinner.

Another tip to avoid overbuying while grocery shopping is to order your groceries for pick up. After I make my weekly grocery list, I add everything to my cart online, so I don’t pick up items that aren’t needed.

Before your weekly grocery trip, go old school and start couponing. While you don’t necessarily need to be cutting out coupons from the local newspaper, look online at discounts grocery stores are offering on certain products. Target frequently offers sales on its Good & Gather branded items and Aldi posts their weekly grocery specials online. Looking at sales prior to going to the grocery store is helpful when creating my weekly menu.

Another, more obvious, tip is to drop the name-brand products. Usually, the quality is just as good at a lower cost. The Good & Gather brand at Target is similar to Walmart’s Great Value. Some grocery stores have their own branded products for less, like Aldi and Trader Joe’s. According to Consumer Reports, “In comparing store-brand and name-brand versions of 19 products, our savings ranged from 5 percent to 60 percent.”

To avoid adding a few dollars to your grocery bill from herbs and greens, try growing your own. Plants like mint, basil, rosemary, and green onion can easily be grown in your house or apartment and will add a pleasant hint of greenery on your windowsill. Plus, home-grown herbs add a bit of freshness to any meal or drink.

Buying frozen fruits and vegetables is another easy way to save money at the grocery store. For meals like stir fry or roasted vegetables, buying frozen vegetables is cheaper and doesn’t take away from the nutrients. Plus, frozen fruits and veggies last longer if you are aiming to plan meals further out. Frozen fruit can be used for smoothies or bowls, but also for desserts or a refreshing afternoon snack. I like to add frozen fruit to my water in place of ice for a little extra flavor.

If your meal plan includes cold cuts, buy them at the deli instead of the pre-packaged lunch meat. By going to the deli, you can get the exact amount you need at a lower cost, and it will be significantly less processed than pre-packaged deli meat.

Don’t give up on healthy eating in college because of the notoriously higher cost. There are countless ways to get all the nutrients needed through clean eating without stretching your wallet.


Jordan Thornsberry graduated with honors from the Missouri School of Journalism

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