It’s simple: eat better to feel better. Not only does healthy food improve your physical health, but also positively affects your mental wellbeing. So while you might be tempted to snag a chocolate bar or order pizza for late night study sessions, a healthy diet can be much more beneficial for calming stress.
Before diving into some tips for eating healthy while sticking to a budget, it’s important to note that “healthy” means something different for every person. Generally, you should strive to eat a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, unprocessed carbohydrates and good sources of protein, said Katie Shepherd, a registered dietitian at the IU Health Center. But optimal combinations of these food groups varies for each person. Here are some suggestions for maintaining a healthy diet without going broke:
- Simple foods are always best. Healthy foods don’t need to be fancy. While instagram bloggers post trendy recipes with ingredients like chia seeds, coconut oil and collagen, Shepherd said eating a healthy diet doesn’t need to involve such expensive ingredients. Low-cost foods like eggs, peanut butter and whole wheat bread are good for you, too. Plus, generic brands are generally cheaper than brand-name products, and typically taste similar.
- Eat foods that are in season. As fall approaches, for instance, apples are likely to be less expensive, Shepherd said. Check out the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market for fresh, local, inexpensive produce.
- Avoid processed foods — or eat them in moderation. Instead, choose whole grains and foods low in sugar.
- “Organic” is not the end-all to healthy eating. Choosing conventional fruits and vegetables can help keep costs lower. And eating non-organic fruits and vegetables is still better than not eating any at all, Shepherd said.
- Meal prepping saves money and time. Try cooking a large meal during the weekend, and eat leftovers during the rest of the week. Not only is this convenient for long school days, but when temptation hits to order delivery, you might think twice about wasting food you’ve already bought and prepared.
- You can also make variations on the same prepared foods to change things up. A rice and bean bowl one night can be a quesadilla the next day and tacos the night after. Invest in some reusable containers to portion your meals, so when you return home starving after a long day of classes, you won’t fill your plate with a serving size that will leave you feeling overstuffed.
- Stock up on frozen and canned foods. That way, when your meal-prepped food runs out, you’ll still have healthy options on hand. Big bags of frozen vegetables can turn into a delicious stir-fry, frozen fruit can become an energizing smoothie, and canned beans can serve as easy protein sources.
- Stock up on snacks. Peanut butter is a great source of protein. Add it to sandwiches, apples, oatmeal or just grab a spoonful for a quick protein boost. Natural nut butters can be cheap and low in sugar, but there are also lots of flavorful variations if you’re feeling adventurous. Pumpkin spice peanut butter or chocolate almond butter can instantly turn a PB&J into a more gourmet experience. Other good snack options are bags of granola, trail mix, yogurt, whole wheat crackers, tortilla chips or hummus and veggies. Buying these in large quantities is cost-effective and will save you trips to the store.
- Students who struggle with food insecurity can take advantage of resources on campus and in the community. Crimson Cupboard is an on-campus food pantry open to anyone in need. Hoosier Hills Food Bank and Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard are other local options.
Healthy food doesn’t have to cost more money. But if it does, remember that nutritious foods will keep you full longer, saving you money in the long run.
Keep in mind that eating healthy is all about balance, but there is no magic solution to being healthy. Do what works for you!
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