I wanted to get this post up before the new year, when many people make it a goal to eat healthy. Eating healthy is hard and expensive. Unfortunately, American society is not structured in a way to make healthy eating accessible for everyone. As students, it is even more difficult because we are limited by our budgets and our time. Many med students cook, but a lot don’t. I save a lot of money on rent by living in med student housing, but I don’t have my own kitchen, so I never cook meals from scratch. Because of that, I try to find the quickest, most convenient food options while still being mindful of nutrition and cost. I’m sharing how I eat healthy on a student budget without actually cooking. In order to make this even more transparent, I’ll also share the prices for all of these items.
Budget Grocery Shopping
- Trader Joe’s is my favorite grocery store by far. When I was younger, I used to think it was a bougie store because everything was packaged cutely and there were so many novelty foods. It’s only in the last couple years that I’ve realized it’s one of the most affordable grocery stores in both Manhattan and Connecticut. That said, I know there are some more affordable options in other cities, but TJ’s is the best option where I’m located.
- Wholesale stores (Costco, etc.) are great for stocking up on nonperishable items and frozen foods, and for getting a good deal. They usually have fresh produce as well, which is great if the store is located nearby. Otherwise, it might be hard to stock up on fresh foods from wholesale stores because they would go bad after a while.
- Amazon Fresh is also a good option for getting fresh foods if there is no grocery store located nearby. It’s tough because eating healthy does require eating a high volume of fresh fruits and vegetables, and even if you stock up on healthy nonperishables, you still need to get fresh foods from SOMEWHERE.
- I have NEVER had an affordable local grocery store available within walking distance of either my undergrad or my med school. It’s such a shame, but a lot of college towns have these small, expensive grocery stores rather than the types of grocery stores students would be able to afford. If you’re lucky enough to have an affordable option nearby, that is great!
No Cooking Meals
I had to do an article on this alone- so see 10 No Cooking Trader Joes meals if you don’t/can’t cook. I included the price per serving of every meal on there. There are probably similar items from that list available at wholesale grocery stores and local grocery stores.
Amazon Fresh also sells similar items, but the variety of pre-cooked meats is limited, and not rated very highly. For vegetables and fruits, though, it seems to be a great option, albeit a bit more expensive than Trader Joes and wholesale stores.
Healthy Snacks: perishable
Prices for these items at Trader Joe’s included below
Frozen berries- cheaper than the fresh version, and these kind of taste like sorbet when you eat them frozen
Fruits- besides berries and seasonal imports, they’re usually relatively affordable at the right stores
Yogurt- I used to think the large tubs were the best value, but it’s actually cheaper to buy individual servings at a lot of stores, including Trader Joes. I am still confused by this.
Cheese + crackers: I think the key is sticking to one serving of cheese (it’s easy to get carried away) and finding a lower calorie cracker like seed based crackers in the chart below
Healthy Snacks: nonperishable
Tea/Instant Coffee- okay this isn’t technically a snack, but it’s definitely something you’d want to have stocked at home rather than buy from a café. I usually keep these in a zip lock bag in my purse for when I’m on the go.
Popcorn- a super cheap and low-calorie snack
Rx Bars, Cliff Bars etc.- these aren’t that cheap, and a lot of them are pretty high in calories and sugar. I try not to eat these unless I’m really busy and won’t be able to eat for many hours, but when that is the case, they’re great.
Baby carrots, celery- if you wash these and then let them dry before packing them up, they can pretty much last all day when you are out and about. Some other vegetables might start to taste a little funky after being toted around all day, but these two don’t go bad easily.
Trail Mix- this is a snack that it’s easy to get carried away with; a serving size is usually smaller than you’d expect. Also, some versions are way healthier than others. I try to avoid the kind with candy and pretzels in them, even though that type is so good.
Prices for all items
|Retailer||Item||Total price||Number of Servings|
|Trader Joe’s||Chicken Asada||$6.79||2|
|Trader Joe’s||Healthy 8 Vegie Mix||$3.29||5|
|Trader Joe’s||Southwest Chipotle Salad||$3.29||4|
|Trader Joe’s||Mediterranean Salad Kit||$3.99||3.5|
|Trader Joe’s||Pre-grilled lemon pepper chicken||$5.69||3|
|Trader Joe’s||Balsamic Rosemary Chicken Strips||$5.69||4|
|Trader Joe’s||Beef Brisket||$6.49||3|
|Trader Joe’s||Baby Arugula||$1.99||2.5|
|Trader Joe’s||Cherry Tomatoes||$2.99||6|
|Trader Joe’s||Balsamic Vinaigrette||$1.99||8|
|Trader Joe’s||Butternut Squash (pre-made)||$2.99||4|
|Trader Joe’s||Meat Lasagna (pre-made)||$6.49||2.5|
|Trader Joe’s||Hasselbach potatoes||$3.79||2|
|Trader Joe’s||Chicken Parmesan||$6.49||2|
|Trader Joe’s||Frozen Raspberries||$2.79||2.5|
|Trader Joe’s||Mandarin Oranges||$2.99||6|
|Trader Joe’s||Pre-sliced apples||$3.99||3.5|
|Trader Joe’s||Yogurt Cups||$.99||1|
|Trader Joe’s||Savory Thin Crackers (seed based)||$1.69||3|
|Trader Joe’s||Mediterranean Feta||$2.99||6|
|Trader Joe’s||Extra Virgin Olive Oil Popcorn||$1.99||5|
|Trader Joe’s||Rx Bars||$1.99||1|
|Trader Joe’s||Baby Carrots||$1.99||8|
|Amazon||Stash Herbal Mint Tea||$12.56||100|
|Amazon||Blueberry Rx Bars||$20.99||12|
|Amazon||Nescafe Instant Coffee||$11.44||12|
If you all have more ideas for healthy snacks, please add them below so I can add to this list! Thanks for reading 🙂
All views expressed are solely mine, and are not endorsed by my academic institution. This post is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, and this site should not be relied upon as health advice. I am a student, and share my opinions and experiences through this platform, but am not qualified to give medical advice, nor am I seeking to do so.