When you’re short on dough, eating can be like walking a tightrope. Any one slip – deciding to order a $17 pizza for Grey’s Anatomy night, or dropping $30 on nachos and beer – can have you skipping meals for the rest of the week. Not a good idea if you have exams and assignments due – or a job interview lined up, for which you’ll need all your mental agility to answer those multi-layered, stress-inducing questions.
Still, health doesn’t rank high on the Things-I-care-about list for students. So we're is making it easier for you, by providing the following tips on how to eat healthy on a budget.
During his first year at the University of Guelph as a political science major, Thom Weresch, like many students living in residence, was given a meal card. “I ate it all in the first month,” he says, laughing. “Having that card doesn’t make you appreciative; it’s like a Visa. You’re just swiping... you don’t think about it until you try to order a poutine and they say ‘Sorry, you have thirty cents on your card.’”
Do a little food court reconnaissance before you get a greasy meal card trigger finger, recommends Shauna Lindzon, a registered dietitian in Toronto. “Go through the cafeteria, ask to see the meal plan, check the prices.” This way you now what you can afford daily, which will extend the life of your meal card.
Sudden weight gain, as in the dreaded Freshman 15, is a clear indicator that you may be spending too much money on the wrong kind of food. “Grab some fresh fruit for a snack and put it your bag,” suggests Lindzon, which will help top up your gut throughout the day. “Grab a few nuts, grab a yogurt container and stop the feeling of starvation.”
Weresch’s dietary habits changed when he moved off campus during his second year and was forced to fend for himself, minus a meal card. “You start looking for the cheapest things ever. Like looking for ketchup; instead of buying Heinz, you buy PC or the No Name brand.” It’s actually a good trick as paying for name brands can add serious dollars to your food bill. However, Weresch says he and his roommates were eating out more often than not.
“Instead of going to a supermarket where we could pool our money, we would order pizza, or on Sundays at McDonalds, it was cheeseburger day, and you could get those made like Big Macs, so it would be ‘I want twenty cheeseburgers made like Big Macs’.” It was a habit he developed out of laziness, he admits.
In order to help tap into your inner Jamie Oliver, Lindzon recommends students “…open cookbooks, read recipes on the internet, have people over, start learning different techniques in terms of cooking, talk to your foodie friends,” and, she says, talk to a dietitian, which every campus has on staff.
Weresch only started cooking at home after he graduated, but his budget was still tight. “I remember I was so broke … the only thing I had left was pasta, and gravy in this can. Mother Hubbard’s cupboard. And all of a sudden this muse came to me and said ‘Why don’t you put them together?’ So I cooked the pasta, put in the gravy and ate pasta and gravy.”
Lindzon isn’t a fan of The Thom Weresch Diet. “You can put canned lentils in tomato sauce and you have the benefits of the protein. So rinse the kidney beans off, put it in the tomato sauce, and have that with pasta. That would be a more balanced choice than just the pasta with the gravy.” If your budget is really tight, Lindzon says that above all else, eat breakfast.
“Start by eating a healthy, balanced breakfast that is high in fibre, with a healthy protein and fat added into the equation. That boosts your metabolic rate, gets your metabolism going, gets your brain thinking and gets your energy rolling.” Then snack every few hours. “I always say, if you have time to go to the bathroom, you have time to have a snack.” jp
We're taking you grocery shopping with registered dietitian Shauna Lindzon. Check out Eating On a Budget at jptv. And we keep it cheap.