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I was a victim of the Freshman 15.

I had lived with my parents up until university and was unprepared to properly feed myself once I moved out. My skills ranged from boiling water to calling the pizza delivery guy, and ramen noodles and carbs made up a big portion of my diet. Adding to the fact that I was on a tight student budget and a good meal was something I only expected when I was home for Christmas.

Upon return to university in my second year, I was determined to make some changes by teaching myself basic kitchen skills and expanding my knowledge from there. What began as a determination to trim down my waistline grew into a passion for cooking and experimenting with budget-friendly dishes. I quickly realized that it’s totally possible to eat well on a student budget—and healthy too!

Food falling from the sky and African Canadian student catching and eating it.

Here are 12 ways to eat like a boss on a student budget.

1. Try Plant-Based Protein Instead of Meat

We need protein in our diet but it doesn’t all have to come from meat. There are plenty of non-meat alternatives that cost less and can satisfy your body’s daily requirement.

2. Choose Snacks That Are Filling and Healthy

No one can argue that Cheetos are delicious but they just fill your body with empty calories. Snacks like apples and peanut butter nourish the body can help you feel full longer and curb your cravings.

3. Devote a Day to Meal Prep

Devote your Sundays to meal prep — cook and portion out individual servings that can be stored in the freezer. You now have meals for the week that can be reheated in minutes! Get freezer meal inspiration here.

Bored Asian man with glasses eating popcorn.

4. Quit Snacking From Boredom

Mindless snacking is dangerous for your calorie count and wallet. Next time you get the hunger pains, ask yourself whether you’re actually hungry or looking to break up your study session.

Chef puppet dancing.

5. Embrace the Kitchen

I get it…the kitchen can be a scary place. But with time and practice, anyone can learn how to cook (yes, even you!). YouTube is a great resource for this. Learn the basics first, then put your knife skills to practice with simple recipes.

6. Spice Things Up

Incorporating spices into your dishes can take them to a whole new level. They add so much and aroma, and enhance the taste of your food.

7. Grow Your Own Vegetables

Growing your own food is incredibly fun, rewarding, and easy! Take advantage of your backyard space and transform it into a garden. Even a sunny windowsill can make for the right condition to grow herbs and garlic greens.

8. Skip the Campus Meal Plan

Meal plans offer convenience but they limit you to the overly processed fast food options found on campus. Skip the meal plan and opt to make your own food. You’ll end up saving more money and eating much healthier.

Pantry filling up with food.

9. Stock up With Staples

Keeping staple ingredients like olive oil, garlic, rice, milk, and spices stocked in your pantry makes it super easy to whip up a meal in a crunch.

10. Upgrade the Classics

Mac and cheese is my favourite comfort food but I’ve since moved from powdered cheese to more sophisticated recipes. It’s so easy to create dishes like mac and cheese and ramen noodles from scratch. You can also jazz them up with different ingredients to change up the taste. No powder packets required!

11. Eat Breakfast Before You Leave the House and Pack a Lunch for the Day

Homemade meals and saving money FTW!

Girl biting into hamburger.

12. It’s All About Balance

It’s okay to dine out once in a while and treat yourself. You deserve it! Just remember to keep your personal budget in check, along with your finances in all aspects of student life.