As students furthering their studies in the States without the security blanket of a student meal plan, Marini and Marsya know the struggle. With much time spent in the supermarket and kitchen, they have learnt a thing or two.
Here are their 5 holy grail tips on how to satisfy your palettes without derailing your health and going over a student’s measly budget!
- Cook your own meals at home.
Marini: Cook in big batches, guys. There are days where I return to my apartment and I’m just extremely EXHAUSTED. I can’t be bothered to take my socks off much less start taking out my pots and pans to cook.
Remember the days where you come home from school and see food laid out on the dinner table for you and all you had to do was just scoop this, scoop that and go watch TV? Yeah, I miss it too.
You’re on your own now, kid. Use your weekends to make a huge batch of pasta or fried rice. Think: filling and ready to heat up in 4 minutes. Plus, when you know you have food at home, you wouldn’t eat out, because you will feel bad about the waste. Or maybe that’s just me.
I hope that’s you, too.
Marsya: Yes! Also, one thing I’ve learned from cooking on my own is that you somehow develop a smarter ‘food-sense’ that can be applied to when you eat out.
Back then, anything on the menu is game. Now, I find myself analyzing the menu and checking off meals that I could easily make by myself. Eating out in America is expensive, and where I’m staying, you can easily burn 10 dollars off eating in a standard restaurant. With just iced water as drinks, mind you.
10 dollars can easily give you about half a week’s worth of meals if you plan it right.
2) Substitute meat with other proteins.
Marini: This is my favorite tip. Meat is a major source of protein but that doesn’t mean you can’t find protein in anything else. It’s everywhere. They can also be a cheaper alternative to meat.
You can get at least 35g of protein in a cup of garbanzo beans (AKA kacang kuda) or any other sort of beans. That’s already close to your daily recommended intake of protein (if you’re a female, top up more if you’re male). Tofu, if you’re feeling Meatless Mondays.
But really, though, canned light tuna and sardines are cheap. I’m glad I made Marsya get into it. You can put them in anything.
Marsya: Rule of thumb, tofu cooked the right way can easily taste just like meat. I promise! Tofu is great to cook with especially because it soaks in the flavor of what you’re cooking with. KUL Tip: Seasoning is your best friend.
A problem we do find living in the States is the price of fishes and halal meat. They are usually pretty expensive for our budgets, especially since the price fluctuates from time to time. Canned beans and tuna, however, rarely ever. Sidenote, where I live, they do not truly appreciate the taste of the fish. It makes me sad.
Sidenote, where I live, they do not truly appreciate the taste of the fish. It makes me sad.
3) Buy frozen vegetables.
Marini: I hate, hate, HATE when I buy a pack of spinach and they wilt within 3 days, even being in the fridge. I’m not a fan of frozen spinach, so I’m still trying to figure that out, BUT – frozen broccoli? Frozen peas and corns? I’m all for it.
They’re cheap and they last for awhile. I love baking frozen cauliflower with a mixture of flour, spices, and milk. They come out crunchy and almost taste like fish nuggets.
Marsya: A lot of major supermarkets here in the States like Walmart or Target carry their own selection of frozen vegetables. They’re usually the cheapest of the bunch. You can get a nice big bag of broccoli crowns for a dollar that will complement your meals for two weeks.
I do recommend supporting your local farmer’s market if you’re not entirely budget-compromised! I would suggest getting vegetables that are in season there because they’re usually pretty cheap. Most importantly, though, they’re 100% fresh and delicious. That way, you can balance it out by getting frozen vegetables that are not currently in season.
Also, get fresh vegetables that would taste weird if they’re frozen, like spinach. I agree with Marini, I’m not a fan either.
4) Look out for sales.
Marsya: I’m a hoarder of those weekly flyers you get in the mail from supermarkets that inform you on their latest offers and sales. I’m obsessed. It has come to the point where my housemates, who would usually just throw the damn things out, now stack them up neatly and put them in a pile for me to read.
I know it might sound tedious, but comparing prices between supermarkets and being aware of what’s on sale really does help take the heat off your wallet. Also, trust me, it feels really good to see those sale deductibles on your receipts.
Marini: Unlike Marsya, I don’t get flyers from supermarkets even though I wish I did, so I don’t really know when sales go on. I do take a longer time to scan the items on the shelves for the cheapest, but most nutritious ones by comparing the ingredients.
I typically look for the lowest sugar or sodium content. Also, find out which supermarkets offer the best prices. It took me months to figure this out and even then, there isn’t a store that provides all that you need. It’s okay to make multiple trips as long as you get your grocery list checked with the budget that you have.
5) Manage your snacks.
Marini: We’re college students. We get hungry. We want snacks for when we study or watch our favorite TV shows and more often than not, junk food is CHEAP. But cheap doesn’t always equal healthy.
It’s definitely alright to indulge but save it for at least a day in the week. The good thing is that you’ll have something to look forward to. Keep nutrient dense foods in your fridge and pantry, because an empty one only allows you to fill it up with junk. Once you load yourself up with good food, you’ll learn to lay off the junk because of how it makes you feel.
Don’t overfeed your body with what it doesn’t need.
Marsya: I have to admit that this is probably the hardest tip to follow. Heck, it is for me.
We’re not going to say to cut out junk food entirely – this isn’t a far-fetched new year’s resolution post – because that’s almost impossible for this writer. I do recommend, however, trying your best to balance out really bad junk food with some healthier munchies.
For every pack of Oreos you have in your drawer, keep a bag of almonds at the side of your bed. I also bake my own tortilla chips, which is definitely healthier than store-bought tortilla chips that are usually deep-fried and fattened up with all sorts of wonderful chemicals.
With that, we bid you all the best in your journey as a college student!