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How to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Cleaning up your diet doesn't have to mean cleaning out your wallet. These strategies will help you bulk up on nutrients without breaking the bank.

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I’ve had to learn many things this summer. Learning how to live by myself in my very own apartment, learning how to pay bills, learning how to balance my work life with my social life, etc. However, the thing that I think is the most important thing I’ve learned this summer is how to cook healthy for myself. My mom and dad are both great cooks and here I am, living by myself, without having cooked for myself at all.

This feat was also made more difficult by the fact that I’m working at an unpaid internship and therefore am living on a rather strict budget. So how does a poor college student learn to cook on a budget and still eat relatively healthy? It’s a lot of figuring it out for yourself, but here are a few easy-to-follow tips that can help you along the way.

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Don't Eat Out
This is actually an unfortunate problem that a lot of my friends have. Fast food can seem super cheap with things like the Dollar Menu or coupons for 2 for 1 burgers and shakes. It’s so easy to just pick it up and bring it home for five bucks a meal, and a lot of my friends see it this way. Why bother cooking when it seems even less expensive to just grab something at the closest fast food place?

The fact is that it actually isn’t cheaper than going to the grocery and cooking a meal for yourself. For instance, I bought a package of raw chicken thighs yesterday for about five dollars. Once I cook those chicken thighs, coated with some milk and Bisquick, that one package of chicken thighs will last me about three or four meals. So for five dollars, I can feed myself for four nights. If you pick up a meal at a fast food place, you get one meal for the same amount--and probably three times the calories.

Cooking for yourself is a little more work, but becoming self-sufficient and learning to cook is a much better use of your time and money than waiting in line at a fast food joint.

Cut Down on Meat, Make More Veggies
Most meals, especially dinners, focus around meat as the main protein. However, meat is expensive, especially red meat. So to cut down on costs, eat less meat per meal. To get your filling protein quota, rely more on beans, nuts, and eggs. These options are just as healthy for you, will fill you up because they are also protein-filled foods, and cost less.

Robert Post, deputy director for the US Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, says that you should typically be spending 40% of your food budget on fruits and vegetables. Your best bet is in-season fruits and vegetables, but another great option is frozen products. Because these foods are processed right after they’ve been harvested, most of the nutrients have been preserved. I, for one, am a big fan of frozen green beans. I especially prefer frozen packets over canned green beans which are less healthy due to their high salt and sugar content. Check out which fruits and vegetables are in season by visiting fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.

Drop Your Bad Habits to Be Healthy
Bad eating habits are usually expensive, and so since you’re trying to cut down on cost, you might as well cut down on your unhealthy food intake as well. Kill two birds with one stone. One of the biggest things that can make a difference in your diet and grocery bill is sodas. They provide basically no nutritional value and have a lot of sugar. Other things include excessive alcohol and cigarettes as well as sugary items like cookies and candy. Now I am a self-professed chocoholic and can never give it up, but I do eat it only when I really, really need it instead of splurging on it every day. It makes it more special and helps me practice self-restraint.

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