Tips for Keeping Meal Prep Healthy and Affordable for Dorm Life
Maggie Esnard | Food and Health Editor

Meal prepping. Whether it’s planning your meals around the menus of Lakeside or sorority house, or making a Target list with your roommate, every college student meal preps. But nobody tells you how hard it is to prep meals, especially keeping that meal healthy and affordable, when living in a dorm. People often gravitate towards those snack-sized bags of chips rather than the apple that needs to be washed and sliced. It’s easier to eat those prepackaged foods than something you’d have to prepare.

Healthy eating isn’t always easy when you’re trying to figure out your first semester of college. It’s next to impossible to find recipes that are easy, dorm-friendly, healthy and cheap. While the dining halls are convenient, you’re not always going to like the options or have a dining plan to use them. UA offers resources to help you with your meal prepping from the counseling center and a website called “Taste of the Tide” with a few articles on how to prep meals. These resources are helpful, but can be outdated or not exactly what you need. Nobody tells you that you’re going to need to make sure you plan your week around what meals are affordable and convenient to your schedule.

Your mental health is also intricately linked to the foods that you eat, according to studies from Harvard Medicine and National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), “what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.” Hot and balanced meals can do wonders for your mental health.

So how do you create a balanced, inexpensive diet when you’re super busy? Hannah Lee, a pre-med junior, lives off campus in an apartment with her twin sister, Olivia. Hannah describes herself as “perpetually busy” running from class, work, volunteering and keeping up her social life. Meal planning stressed her out before she got a system in place. She provided some tips for people who are stressed about meal planning and how she and her sister prepped together.

“Try to swap out fresh fruits and veggies for frozen ones. You never know when you’re going to eat that fresh produce, and if it’s frozen, you don’t have to worry about food going bad as fast.”

She also recommends shopping sales and using member benefits to your advantage. “I might be making chicken stir-fry and the recipe calls for chicken breast, but Target has a sale on chicken thighs, I’ll substitute the cheaper option. I’ll also check multiple stores to see which have the best deals overall.” You can also take advantage of member clubs like Target Circle or Club Publix which provide perks and discounts for members.

Hannah says that she would always make a shopping list with her sister before going to the store. “Since we split our grocery bill evenly, making a list ensures that we stay on budget and less likely to get things that we don’t need.” Another tip that she says isn’t for everyone is to not have a strict budget. “We would set a price range of what we wanted to spend, and it was okay to go over that by five dollars occasionally. I felt less limited when I did this and had a bit of wiggle room in the total.”

Living with her twin sister also had benefits when it came to cooking meals. The twins almost exclusively used their mom’s recipes. “We already knew how to make everything and what meals we both liked.”

Hannah’s last tip is to freeze your leftovers. “I didn’t do this much since we mostly made servings to last us Friday through Sunday. But I always liked having a meal in the freezer since you never know when something will come up and you’ll need a meal.”

College is about trying new things and discovering yourself. Maybe this means trying food you’ve never even heard of or giving a dish a second chance. You’re going to struggle at first, but everyone does until they get their system down. Having a system can help you to stray away from the chip aisle and down a heathier one.

Maggie Esnard serves as the Food and Health Editor. She is a junior majoring in Public Relations and minoring in Finance. Between her morning yoga classes and trips to Target, Maggie spends most of her time in Reese Phifer studying.