March 18th, 2009
11:33 AM ET

Healthy eating on a student budget

By Jessica Silvaggio
CNN Medical Intern

Like most college students, I'm on a tight budget, which means my eating habits sometimes suffer. Nutritionists aren't kidding when they say young people can pack on a few pounds when they go off to school. I did it. Eating out and nibbling on junk food affected my health as well as my bank account. Those quick stops at convenience stores to pick up a candy bar or swing through the fast food drive-thru to satisfy my hunger, didn't help my waistline.

Luckily I became a campus peer health educator in my freshman year and found a healthy alternative that would leave me feeling energized and better about myself. I learned to plan ahead. I began to make a grocery list and avoid the greasy spoons. And that's good. Dietitians say people who plan ahead and cook at home often find they eat more nutritious meals with more fruits and vegetables.

I also found that grocery shopping has saved me hundreds of dollars over the past year. Not only do the store chains provide those great money saving cards, but I found myself eating out less and having dinner at home with my housemates. Now we cook healthier meals filled with eggs, fish, turkey, even whole grains. On the weekends, I enjoy cooking meats and pasta that usually lasts the whole week. It is simple and easy. I come home and pop my chicken or fish in the microwave. While that's heating up, I cut up veggies and toss a piece of bread in the toaster. My dinner is ready in less than five or 10 minutes, the same amount of time it would've taken to get dinner if I ate out.

What happens between classes? One of the worst feelings is sitting in lecture hall while the professor is babbling on and on, and feeling my stomach growl so loudly that it seems like the 374 other students in the classroom can hear it. So I pack healthy snacks to munch on while walking to the next class. I love assorted nuts, fruit, peanut butter, low-fat cottage cheese, sugar-free pudding or Jell-O, and even fresh veggies like carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, an advocacy group for nutrition, health, and food safety, suggests looking for whole grain granola bars that are low in fat and sugars to help ward off hunger. If you choose carefully, you can even find satisfying snack bars that aren't loaded with sugar. And it's good for my study habits. Even the American Dietetic Association says eating small meals throughout the day helps keep you alert.

Before I started cooking at home, I would jump in my car and make a quick dash to the local pizza place or sub shop.. Now eating out is a treat for me. And I've got hundreds of dollars in my pocket to spend on more important things...like shoes!!!!!

Are you a college student having a tough time with your eating habits? What do you do to stay healthy and save money? We want to know.

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