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How to eat healthy on a student budget

Vegetables

Living on a graduate student stipend can be a balancing act at times. Between paying for your rent, bills and transportation, a lot of that stipend can be eaten up pretty quickly, leaving little for personal well-being.

One aspect of your life that can suffer when you’re on a budget is your diet. There are a few things, however, that we can do to ensure we keep our diets in check. This month, Ben Withers, Graduate Students Council health and wellness representative, and I have come up with ways to eat healthy on a student budget.

Grocery shopping on student discount day
Most grocery stores in London give students a 10 per cent discount on Tuesdays. That 10 per cent adds up pretty fast, and saving anywhere between $5 to $10 a month could translate to saving thousands of dollars throughout your tenure as a grad trainee. One store to keep in mind is the Sobeys located at Fanshawe Park Road and Adelaide Street. It may be a little out of the way, but it provides a 10 per cent discount to students on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

Taking time to cook
Cooking can be a lot of fun, especially when you make a social event of it. Setting aside time to meal prep with your roommate, friend or significant other can be constructive and healthy, and is much cheaper than ordering pizza. Picking new meals to try together can make a really fun and tasty experience that could end up feeding you for days.

Planning your meals around what is on sale
This may seem obvious, but if something has a reduced price and you know of a recipe you can use it in, guess what should be for dinner tomorrow night? Recipe Key is a handy tool that can help you find recipes based on the food in your pantry.

Investing in spices
Spices and herbs tend to be on the pricey side, but they can make a huge difference in the flavor of your food. This will likely make you more willing to cook for yourself.

Keeping your fridge and pantry organized
Finding old food at the back of your fridge and pantry isn’t pleasant, and it’s also a reminder of the money that has gone to waste. By having an organized space to store your food, you will see what you have available to cook with. You might even get crafty and think of new ways to repurpose your leftovers.

Forgetting the name
Are you brand loyal? Don’t be. The food is not worth the price difference, especially for things like rice and pasta. Additionally, shopping for some foods in bulk can help cut down on costs, so places like Bulk Barn and Costco can be useful if you can access them, especially for things that keep for a long time.

Freezing your meat
Buying a larger portion of meat to portion and freeze out. Stockpiling it can save a lot of money, especially when you can get the larger portions at a discount. Additionally, cutting the meat portions in half for some recipes can leave you with a delicious and filling meal while saving money.

Getting protein from alternative sources
There are many sources of protein you can explore that are much more affordable than meat. You don’t have to become a vegetarian to take advantage of them, but it can really make a big difference to how satiated you feel after a meal. Chickpeas and legumes are a great example. Remember to make sure you are getting all of your essential amino acids if you really decrease meat intake, as you can’t get all of them from one plant source, and your body can’t make them on its own.

Buying produce that will last longer
There are a few ways to do this. First, you can buy frozen or canned fruits and veggies. I know they may not taste the same or smell as delicious as fresh produce does, but they have a very similar nutritional content at a fraction of the cost. Second, there are some fresh produce items that keep for a relatively long time, and others that don’t. Potatoes are a good example of veggies that you can hold on to for a while before they start to go bad, whereas berries tend to go bad faster.

Growing your own food
Do you have a yard or a balcony? One thing you can try with your roommates is growing a few fruits and veggies, or making an herb garden. It’s fun and rewarding, and might make you more willing to cook using the fruits of your labour…

Purchasing produce in season
Don’t want to grow your own? Take a look at what is in season — sometimes you can even find great deals at the local farmer's markets. The Covent Garden Market makes for a lovely afternoon.

What to keep in your pantry and fridge

Recipes to get you started

Recipe #1: Great Great Breakfast
1 egg — prepared any way you want
Avocado guacamole (1/2 avocado mashed, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1 pinch chilli pepper flakes, 1 tsp olive oil)
1 slice of whole grain bread

Recipe #2: Chicken Avocado Spinach Salad
1 cup spinach
1/2 avocado
1 grilled chicken breast
Cranberries and nuts (at your discretion)
Dressing (1 tbsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp minced garlic, 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard, 1 tbsp olive oil mixed separately)

Recipe #3: Legendary Bean and Chicken Sausage Stew
1 tbsp olive oil
12-oz package fully cooked chicken sausage (sliced)
2 tsp minced garlic
19 oz can beans (any kind), rinsed
14.5 oz chicken broth
14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 bunch kale leaves (torn into 2-inch pieces)
Salt and pepper (to taste)
1 loaf bread (optional)

Directions
1) Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring once until browned — this should take 2 to 3 minutes.
2) Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 more minutes.
3) Add the beans, broth and tomatoes and their liquid and bring to a boil.
4) Add the kale and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until wilted — this should take 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with the bread, if using.

Resources

Eat Right Ontario — Healthy Eating on a Budget

Strong Lifts — 20 Simple Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget

Kitchn — 10 Smart Tips for Eating Healthy on a Super Tight Budget

Nerd Fitness — Help! I'm Poor but Want to Eat Healthy!

Self — 11 Ways to Eat Healthy on a Budget

WebMD — 15 Health Foods for About $2

Alex Moszczynski
PhD Candidate, Department of Neuroscience
Chair, Graduate Students Council, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry