I currently have a few consults who have the same exact problem: They are vegan, in college and broke. The general consensus is that these 3 factors lead to dinners of freezer burnt Morning Star patties, a wardrobe that hasn’t changed since 11th grade and quite a bit of nights out, staring in admiration at your friend’s food. Darlings – I have been there!
Whether you are at the University of Oregon (vegan options galore) or community college in the middle of Nebraska, it is VERY possible to eat vegan and healthy on a minimal budget. While your at it, you can dress like the compassionate hipster you long to be and show all of the naysayers how fabulous being vegan really is.
While these tips are targeted at college students, they can be incredibly useful to anyone who lives on a strict budget or who is looking to save some money. I use most of these tips every day!
I broke this post into two parts. This first part is about eating vegan and healthy, even when it seems like all odds are against you. The second will be about staying fashionable and fabulous even if you are beyond broke and have 2 minutes to get to class.
Only eat out twice a week, tops. I understand that in college it is almost impossible to have every meal at home. Going out to eat with friends is a huge social event, and sometimes you just don’t have time to eat and then you get stuck in the middle of your bustling day, starving. Try to plan out your weeks so you can have the majority of your meals at home (or take them with you). However, when you do go out to eat try to make your meal under $10 and healthy. How do you do this? Research and trial and error. You can find menus online to almost every eating establishment in existence. Research what is offered on your campus and go try it out. Make a list of each business and what they offer. You could even put your list online and share it with other vegans on your campus! Eating out is actually not so bad once you do your research. Here is a list of vegan items at chain restaurants and Happy Cow allows you to search out veg and veg-friendly places in your area.
Eating at Home or in a Dorm
Not many people have the option to cook big elaborate meals everyday. While in college, you may be able to do this once in 4 years. If you are lucky enough to have an apartment or still live at home, your task is relatively easy. To save time and money, make things in bulk. Make a huge pot of chili, soup or stew and store in the fridge or freezer. Now you have at least one meal a day covered for 7-10 days, for relatively cheap. Chop up veggies and store in bags or containers in the fridge so you can quickly make salads if needed. If you like big fancy meals, cook one once a week and invite some friends over. Or even throw a monthly potluck. It is much cheaper than going out to dinner.
If you live in a dorm, things can get tricky depending on how your building is set up. If you have a “floor kitchen” then you can just try out the ideas listed above. If you do not, then your task just got a bit harder! You can purchase a portable stove top and a small refrigerator (with your college logo on it!) for cheap on Amazon. If you feel like getting really gourmet you can get a George Foreman Grill. But please, please, please try not to burn your dorm down! For some easy and dorm-friendly recipes check out The Vegan College Cookbook.
If you purchased a meal card and your college does not offer sufficient vegan options, then you need to make a huge deal about it. Petition, write letters, and perhaps talk to the person in charge of your school’s meal plans about how important it is that EVERYONE has something healthy to eat. If they know the demand is there, they will deliver. Another option is to tell them you have serious food allergies.. if it is something that might lead to a potential emergency situation, they will probably go out of their way to accommodate you.
Do not buy prepared and pre-packaged foods. Buy limited processed food. (You should actually not buy any processed food, but I’m thinking about what I ate when I was in college and I’m being realistic here.) Pre-packaged food is WAY too expensive for what you get. I know, it’s quick and easy, but if you cut it out of your shopping list, you will save loads of money. Processed food is at times, a bargain but not worth it for the nutritional content. A bag of chips may be 99 cents and a bag of spinach may be $3, but the bag of chips has absolutely zero nutritional value and you will just end up being hungry again, soon after. Try to buy primarily produce, grains, beans, legumes and nuts. Grains, beans and nuts in bulk are typically the cheapest. You don’t have to buy all organic produce as long as the dirty dozen always is. Only buy enough produce to last you a week.
Figure out a budget and calculate exactly how much you can spend a week on food. Make sure you stick to this figure. After a few weeks of shopping you will be able to figure out how to get the most bang for your buck. Farmers markets are a great place to find cheap produce. You could also sign up for a CSA share and split it with a roommate or friend.
Do you have any tips for eating vegan and healthy on a college student’s budget? Let me know if there is anything else you would like covered and I’ll add it in part 2!!
Stay tuned for Part Two of this post that covers staying fashionable and beautiful with $3 in your bank account and no extra time!
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