If we’re perfectly honest, the Cup-O-Noodles-for-every-meal stereotype, dubbed to most overworked and unpaid college students, is not far off, and the accuracy of it is far too cringe-worthy. Those convenient, backpack-able cups full of carbs in soup form are way too cheap and easily made for college kids to pass up. I get it, it’s not exactly a life choice, but what student has the time, let alone the money to spend making an Instagram-perfect, low-calorie, low-carb, gluten everything-else-free meal?
Getting a new year’s health resolution knocked down by a budget that can only support Ramen is not the way to start off 2018, but it’s what a lot of us are stuck with. Are we left to deal with it and wait until next year? No! Before you spend the next grocery trip deciding which 12-pack flavors of Ramen to take to the register, walk past the Ramen and start shopping for actual food, without nervously looking at your account balance before you check out.
So, where to start? If it’s low-budget but high nutrition quality, is it even possible (without becoming a dumpster diver)? Two and a half years of college-ing, with plenty of trips to the grocery store, and I’ve learned that it is. No, it won’t be something coming out of a five-star restaurant, but it will make you wonder why hot noodles and flavored water was always the go-to.
First on the list: potatoes. (You’re probably thinking, “potatoes? The most basic food in the world, are you kidding me?”) Hear me out. Potatoes are amazing, and even the worst of cooks can’t ruin them. They’re cheap, versatile, easily stored and last forever. They have tons of vitamin C, fiber, potassium and cost only a few bucks for a five pound bag, which lasts forever when you’re cooking for one.
Carrots. The majority of us like them in “baby carrot” form, at which point they’re a bit pricier, but you’ll find raw, by-the-bunch carrots for less than 50 cents a pound. A whole pound of vitamin A, beta-carotene-packed, perfect-for-snacking carrots, great cooked or raw, for less than a dollar? Try baking them, slicing thin for stir-frys, adding to smoothies, grabbing for an on-the-run snack before class.
Canned pineapples might’ve been a childhood “part-of-this-balanced-meal” side-dish, but you should think about adding them back to the grocery list if you haven’t recently. When I went to the grocery store a few months ago to pick up apples and bananas, I had to stop myself. I asked myself, when was the last time I bought fruit other than these two. They’re great, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve been surviving off of them since I started college just to save a few bucks at each grocery trip. Once I started looking for something other than the two, I found myself in the canned aisle–scarred by mixed fruit as a kid after being forced to eat those gag-worthy unpeeled grapes created a grudge that still stands–I wasn’t too keen on the canned fruit idea, but pineapples changed my mind. I get the ones in their own juice, (no added sugar, nutrition-packed), and they’re my favorite fix to a sweet tooth. The best part? I don’t spend more than I would on the apples and bananas.
Besides the Ramen phase, spaghetti dinners have also been a popular contender on my list of go-to meals. And no, I’m not talking about the Prego-prepared-just-add-noodles spaghetti; I’m talking crushed tomatoes, flavor-however-you-want spaghetti. Easy. Healthy. Cheap! So cheap! Crushed tomatoes are the way to go, whether you want spaghetti, chili, easy casseroles… versatile, like the potatoes and last longer than anything else since they’re canned. Probably the best bang for your buck, and they’re vegetables!
Now ditch that Cup-O-Noodles and don’t itch your new year’s resolutions. Or flavor. Good food does not, ever, ever need to be compromised because of a college budget. I had to get out of my comfort zone from the dinner-in-a-minute aisle and do a bit of searching, but I found what works for my budget, taste buds and free time. Go past what you’re comfortable with, and you’ll find something for your budget and your New Year’s resolution. Bon Apetit!