Ask the Dietitian: How can I eat well on a tight budget?

November 15, 2016

Q: I don’t have a lot of money for food. How can I eat well on a tight budget?

A: Unreliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food - aka food insecurity - is an unfortunate reality for many UC students. Food and other basic needs insecurity among students is gaining attention of campus and state leaders, and efforts are underway to improve the problem from many angles.

In the meantime, what will you eat for lunch? Here are some tips for eating well on the cheap:

  • Prepare more food at home. Restaurant meals are definitely more expensive than home cooking. A few big batches of food will provide dinners and leftovers for lunches to get you through most of the week. You’ll have to invest in some tupperware or other containers up front, and it’s not easy lugging food around campus with you, but this method will save you a lot of money and probably be more nutritious, too. Check out this beautiful FREE cookbook for affordable recipe ideas. New to cooking? Try the new course, NUSCTX 20 Personal Food Security and Wellness (2 Units) and watch for free monthly cooking classes at the Morgan Hall teaching kitchen.

  • Plan ahead. Meal planning, grocery shopping, and prepping ingredients are skills that many people don’t learn before starting college. If you’re just getting started, keep it simple.

    • Think of one to two recipes you want to try for the week--or ditch the recipes and just think of simple meals you could put together (e.g. frozen turkey burger on whole grain bun, with lettuce, tomato and other condiments, with a baked sweet potato and leafy green salad). I recommend trying to include three items from three different food groups, ideally one protein (turkey burger), one starch/carb (sweet potato), and one vegetable and/or fruit (green salad, and add sliced apples or persimmons if you want to get fancy)

    • Make your grocery list based on your plan. Don’t forget to plan for breakfasts and snacks too!

    • At the grocery store, stick mostly to the perimeter of the store, where you’ll find mostly fresh foods. Buy in bulk when you can. Look for specials on in-season and ripe produce.

    • Prepare some of the items right when you get home (e.g. wash and dry the lettuce, scrub and bake the sweet potatoes for quick reheating at mealtime) to make your mealtimes smoother.

  • Avoid spending money on beverages. Tap water is free and better for your body and the environment.

  • If you’re on the campus meal plan, use it wisely. Spend points on cooked meals rather than packaged items on campus. Here’s a meal points budgeting chart.

  • In a pinch, you can pick up a few high-quality items at the UC Berkeley Student Food Pantry at it’s new location, MLK Student Union, room 68 (Basement Floor). Note: if the main entrance is closed, you may still access the Pantry by taking the elevator inside MLK to level B and follow the signs. Open to all students. For up-the-minute info about the pantry check out their Facebook Page.

  • Consider applying for the Food Assistance Program through Financial Aid.

  • Find more food resources at Tang.

Stay tuned for more Ask the RD articles in future issues of The Monthly Buzz. Find out more about Toby’s services here.