According to a recent study by the Coach K Show, the average college student spends anywhere from $45-100 per week on food. This leaves very little leeway for students who might want to go out with their friends or buy clothes, electronics, or other items. Just think about it, some of these students are working full-time or part-time jobs that pay the minimum $7.25 per hour. That means the most they can make is about $290 per week before taxes! Don’t forget about the monthly cost of living space, utilities, cosmetics, and gas.

That’s why we formulated some great ways to save some extra cash during those tough college years. Cutting back on your food budget can help you save some extra cash, cut debt, grow savings, or buy something other than food. We’ve also included great easy to make recipes and meal prepping advice for college students. The following article is The Thrifty Eater’s Guide for Students. Check it out and read about the best tips for college students to save on food.

Saving Cash on Food for Students

Our first section is dedicated to saving some extra cash during those rough college years. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives for you to keep enjoying delicious meals while cutting your spending habits.

Sticking to and Tracking a Budget

Every thrifty eater should set a realistic budget as well as figuring out what items fit in that plan. You can start by calculating how much you spend on a weekly basis and try to slowly cut it down by 20 percent. For example, if you usually spend $100 per week on food, lower your budget down to $80 by limiting where you buy from and the types of food you spend on. Of course, we’ll dive into the details as we move forward on our Thrifty Eater’s Guide for Students.

Prepare Food Instead of Eating Out

Most fast food or restaurant meals range from $7-20 per person. Although preparing your own food can be time-consuming, it can help you lower the average amount of money you spend per meal. In general, fresh produce from the supermarket tends to be cheaper than fast food because there are fewer labor costs. Preparing your own food can also help cut back on the amount of un-fresh produce you consume. They also tend to taste better and be healthier for consumption.

Cutting Out Sides and Junk Food

Another great way to cut down your spending budget is by leaving out sides and desserts. Bistro MD says these yummy treats tend to make us feel hungrier, which can contribute to spending more money on food.  So if you find yourself always eating large meals, examine if you are consuming too many foods that make you want to eat more.

cherries in a bowl

Leave Meat Out of Some Meals

Some meats including chicken, fish, and beef can end up being pretty costly when you go to the grocery store. Apart from promoting healthy habits, a great way to work around this monetary problem is by leaving out meat from some meals and substituting it with organic protein. This includes beans, lentils, broccoli, peas, sweet corn, and other healthy vegetables.

Buying In Bulk

Family packs can cost a bit more but offer better deals for the most part. Stores like Sam’s Club and Walmart tend to sell larger quantities at excellent prices and can save you plenty in the long run. Just remember that not everything that is being sold in bulk is a great investment. Some of the best deals come from purchasing generic brands that offer a competitive quality.

Taking Advantage of Meal Plans from Your College or University

Most colleges and universities offer meal plans as an alternative for student meals. For the most part, meal plans include 3 to 5 buffet-style meals per week which can really help a lot. If you’re living on campus, chances are that you’ve automatically been enrolled in a meal plan through the school system. Whatever the case may be, make sure you take advantage of your meal plan because you might already be paying for it!

Invest in a Water Filter

Water filters can end up saving you thousands on water bottles by the time that you graduate. Although investing in a quality water filter can be costly at first, it’s always a valuable investment. Think about the extra space in your garbage can and your living space. Just make sure to change the filter every once in a while and you’ll be set to save.

Cut Out Juice, Sodas, and Other Flavored Drinks

Flavored drinks can also be costing you hundreds every 6 months. Stick to drinking water and milk and you’ll see a good decrease in your grocery and restaurant bill. Not to mention all the calories and unhealthy sugars you’ll be cutting out on.

Instead, you can try making your own smoothies and juices from the fruits and vegetables you buy. They’re much more nutritive and contain natural sugars that you’re body needs.

coupons and a pair of scissors

Using Coupons, Discounts, and Rewards

Let’s face it, you’re going to end up going out to eat sometimes. Just don’t leave out any of the places that mailed you some coupons. Plenty of restaurants that may offer coupons and online reward programs for everyone. Lastly, you can always ask if the restaurant does any student discounts. Just don’t forget to take your student ID for proof!

Quick Recipes and Meal Prepping Tips for Students

Now that we’ve finished covering the essentials on our Thrifty Eater’s Guide for Students, the next step is preparing easy meals and prepping for the week. Whether you want to cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner or not, these tips will help cut down the amount of time you’re in the kitchen and help you focus on studying and work. Meal preparations are a very popular way to cook healthy, save time, and money.

Easy to Prepare Recipes

There are very few college students that like to spend time in the kitchen. With all the stress from class, work, and other life problems, who would? We made sure to include some tasty recipes that won’t take more than an hour to cook.

Buying the Right Food Prep Containers

We recommend you buy some glass containers for storing your meals and leftovers if you’re looking for a healthier and longer lasting solution. You can also purchase plastic containers if you’re looking for a cheaper solution. Plastic is also a lightweight solution for meal prepping containers. Just keep in mind that plastic tends to melt and should be replaced more often than glass (when it comes to wear and tear).

How Long Can You Store Prep Meals?

Meals tend to last anywhere between 3-4 days before they spoil. Just make sure to keep sauces and condiments away from your meals because it can speed up the spoiling process. Here’s a great list that can help you know how long you can store your meals:

  • Meals with Beef, Chicken, Steak, and Pork – 3 to 4 days
  • Meals with Seafood – 2 to 3 days
  • Vegan Meals – 3 to 6 days

Freezing Prep Meals

When looking into whether or not to freeze a meal, make sure you take some time to research and experiment on what works. Typically, the best meals to freeze are those that contain high amounts of protein. For example, chicken and steak are some of the best foods to freeze because of their complexity.

You should also refrain from freezing easy-to-spoil foods like vegetables and fruit. Unfortunately, the best way to handle these foods is by storing them in the fridge and eating them the day you prepare or open them. The good thing is that vegetables and fruits are usually easy to prepare.


Found everything in our Thrifty Eater’s Guide for Students useful? Check out A Brief History behind Columbia, MO.

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