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Balanced Meals on a Budget

Lifestyle & Opinion

By Cassidy Slockett

College can be a difficult time in a young adult’s life; especially when it comes to maintaining a balanced diet. In a National College Health Assessment done by the American College Health Association, only 7.8 percent of students surveyed eat the recommended number of servings of fruit and vegetables a day. For most, the combination of attempting to save money, moving out of a parent’s house, and stress from college classes can leave a student feeling that there is no choice but to settle for the dollar menu at fast food restaurants. Julie West, 17, a student at Saint Petersburg College, claims, “I don’t bother eating healthy because it’s way too expensive. There aren’t many coupons for healthy foods.”

While the term “healthy” can be ambiguous, the majority of people are aware that fresh fruits and vegetables are preferable over processed, high sugar, high fat foods. A healthy diet follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) “food pyramid”: fats should be eaten in moderation, while proteins and fruits should be eaten more frequently, followed by vegetables, then carbs.

For others, simply following a meal plan can result in nutritional benefits, improved focus, and monetary savings. Dr. Albers, a Registered Dietitian in Saint Petersburg, has her patients follow a 3-3-3 meal plan. “Ideally, you should eat three small meals a day, with little snacks every three hours, and three items at each meal. The meals should include one serving size of a protein, a carb, and one fruit or vegetable.” Examples of proteins include cottage cheese, chicken, turkey, yogurt, milk, hummus, peanut butter, cheese, eggs, and beans. A few carbs include potatoes, cereal, rice, bread, crackers, oatmeal, or pasta. Lastly, a fruit or vegetable can include anything from carrots, salsa, raisins, or orange juice. Dr. Albers suggests getting creative with meal plans. A simple bowl of cereal with milk and berries counts, a peanut butter and banana sandwich fits the plan, and even spaghetti with Bolognese sauce (tomatoes and beef) will work. The combination is designed to keep students full and focused while guaranteeing they receive nutrients from all categories of the food pyramid.

Still, it can sometimes be impractical to follow a scheduled meal plan. Even so, it is still possible to eat more nutritious foods and save money. For example, if a person switches from a regular can of coke as their drink with lunch every day to a bottle of water, he or she can eliminate around 1000 calories from his or her diet in one week. This cuts back  a total of 273 grams of sugar, not to mention tap water is nearly free compared to spending a dollar to get a vending machine coke. This simple lunch alteration can save seven dollars each week! More calorie and nutrition facts can found on

Another idea, if you wish to eat more fresh produce, is to opt for buying it whole instead of the pre-cut variety. For example, Publix charges at least $1.50 extra to buy a pre-cut, cored, and skinned pineapple because someone else is getting paid to prepare it for the customers. If you cut your fruits and vegetables at home, you could save a significant amount of money each time you go to the grocery store! Similarly, making a salad at home instead of grabbing a “to-go” salad can save you the added service fee as well!

The Daily Titan, the online newspaper for California State University, published an article about the benefits of eating healthy in college. In this story Darany Hoang, a nutrition specialist at California State University, claims that eating nutritious foods can help the brain function and increase retention of information while studying.

Trying to eat healthy and save money can take extra time and effort and may even be a mild inconvenience, but in the long run, the human body and the wallet will be happier. A few simple tweaks to the daily meal plan can result in big savings, better focus, and even improved grades.

Header photo by marcelebrate (flickr creative commons license)


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