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.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. Jamie

    Great article!!! I've learned to keep fruit and vegetables (like Baby Cut carrots) around for snacks instead of always buying cookies or ice cream.

    March 18, 2009 at 13:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Steve Norman

    I find this article very informative and a sure time & money saver. Thanks Miss. Silvaggio on a well written article and wonderful advice.

    March 18, 2009 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Tyler

    These are all great ideas. One thing that I've found to work well is a peanut-butter and banana sandwich stored in my backpack. Two pieces of bread with PB spread on each, and then cut a banana lengthwise into 1/4 inch sections. It's easy to make, doesn't need to be stored in a certain temperature, and using whole-wheat bread along with peanut-butter provides a good amount of fiber and protein to keep you feeling full without the spike in blood sugar.

    March 18, 2009 at 16:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Debbie D.

    I am not a college student, but work 35 hours a week and am a single mother. I make less than 18,000 a year. I make too much money to get food stamps, but not nearly enough to eat healthy. How can I pay my bills and still eat healthy, and lose the extra weight I need to lose?

    March 18, 2009 at 18:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. darya

    Since I started eating healthier by focusing on vegetables, grains and legumes and began cooking almost exclusively at home I have saved tons of money. Ironically, I buy more organic produce now then ever. Dried grains and beans cost next to nothing. It is amazing what you can afford when you stop eating out.

    March 18, 2009 at 19:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ying Chu

    I agree! Cooking = healthier = feel better = continue eating healthy

    The circle of goodness!

    March 19, 2009 at 12:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Nupur

    Wonderful article. I am currently in university and know exactly what you mean. Anyone heard of the term "Freshman fifteen"? They say that university students usually tend to gain 15lbs in first year!!! This weight plus the university stress...just imagine the condition of the heart. One of my favorite snacks is baby carrots and green, yellow or red peppers with hummus! It spells HEALTHY!!!!!!

    March 19, 2009 at 20:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Dominique

    It isn't very easy. I have an intermittent problem with my gall bladder so I have to cut out on fatty, greasy foods. I just had to learn to buy yogurt, pretzels, granola bars, and things like this and carry them around with me or I will be tempted to buy some McDonalds. My grandma gave me the bright idea of cooking with a crockpot because you can set the pot on low in the morning when you leave home and by the time you return home 8 hours later...you have dinner ready for you to eat. But mostly I eat healthy anyway: Pasta, Bread, Cheese, Eggs, Dairy, few meat..have been a staple for me since i was a child. that's really all i eat. with some fresh vegetables and fruit more often in the summer.

    March 19, 2009 at 23:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Austin

    Thanks Jessica this is great advice! I'll definitely take it to heart!

    March 21, 2009 at 17:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Kmac2009

    Im a senior in highschool, going to college next year, and from visiting friends at school, and seeing what it is like living away from home and living on a very tight budget, the freshman fifteen defiently seems like a strong possibility. I stayed over night with a friend at UMASS a few weeks ago and in his dorm were bags of goldfish, and cans of soup, the tips from this article have given me some good ideas about eating habits and budgeting next year, plus Im a vegetarian, so the bags or fruits and veggies sounds awsome 🙂

    March 24, 2009 at 14:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Ruth

    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



    March 26, 2009 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Sarah

    I found out about a farm share near by. It's fairly cheep organic veggies, and the variety is awesome. I find if I'm excited or surprised by my veggies each week I'm way more likely to eat them. You pay up front so there is no thought to it. My frig so full of yummy fresh from the farm veggies I'm ten times more likely to snack on them then get in the car and drive to a fast food restaurant.

    March 31, 2009 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Katie K.

    I am a junior in college and my favorite healthy-eating tip is to eat breakfast (before my first class and within an hour of rising). I find that even a cup of coffee and a granola bar makes me more alert and not starving by lunch time. My favorite morning meal is 1/2 c. of Quaker instant oatmeal mixed with ground flaxseed and cinammon with a piece of fruit. Delicious!

    May 26, 2009 at 11:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Nazish Muzaffar

    I learned the first time around when being in undergrad and my diet consisted of junk food and all things bad- and the wright I gained took at least 1 1/2 to lose and it happened because I changed my diet and exercise changed drastically. When returning back to school I knew better. Well I am a pre-med major and have been looking into foods that help with memory and energy. I found that Salmon is loaded with omega-3 which help the neurons in the brain work better- in return increasing memory and keeping you more alert. So I've been making a grocery list which will be efficient for a whole week- and prepare foods that will last me 2 or three days worth of lunch and dinner. Its takes time out of the day, but I've found that my new diet has made me much more healthier and my concentration level have increased when doing school work. So it might be time consuming but the payoff is great.

    May 27, 2009 at 20:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. QueenT

    Those are all great tips. A big and healthy breakfast will help minimize the hunger you might feel mid morning before lunch. Although, I'm a big believer in having a quick and healthy snack if you really are hungry, I also think people should steer away from snaking just for snacking's sake. I know often times when you're in class, you're so bored, that a snack seems wonderful–but ask yourself if you are really hungry.

    When out with friends who you know are going to want to get pizza, burgers and so on–pack your own food and snacks. It might seem pretentious or obnoxious at first, but you'll feel good about it later. Also, your friends will start to admire your commitment towards good health and might even follow your examples.

    July 1, 2009 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Kylie

    I liked this article, it was good. But I've read 100 articles it seems and I've tried making healthy choices. Being on the go all the time and having almost no money its hard. I feel like I need help more than just myself reading articles. What can I do?

    July 20, 2009 at 18:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Dave Sherwood-Adcock

    Great Article! I am not a student either but do shop on a budget only because by doing this I not only spend less but am in a position to plan. Plan for the months shopping and only purchase healthy choices. One thing I do find helpful though is that I have a shake in the morning which keeps me full up until lunch, then a health snack bar which has all the nutrients my body needs for that particular meal. Eat fruit throughout the day and make a light dinner being sure to eat early if possible. i think the greatest tip is to not shop when you are hungry – if so, you'll buy under impulse and that can blow the budget. http://www.healthy-eating-made-fun.com

    May 13, 2010 at 07:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dave

      Please remove this post. I no longer have this business.

      February 10, 2014 at 18:06 | Report abuse |
  18. mike

    Choose whole foods instead of processed and packaged ones whenever you can
    By “whole,” we mean they should exist in nature and have just one primary ingredient (for example, bananas, broccoli, chicken, brown rice, milk). Ninty percent of the time, these foods are the healthiest, and eating mostly whole foods makes it more likely that you’ll get enough protein, fiber and whole grains . And eating fewer packaged foods should help you avoid excess sodium, sugar and calories.

    July 20, 2010 at 04:09 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.