Struggle Meals: 5 Tips for Staying Full on a College Budget

It’s no secret that college students are broke–like, really broke. Balancing tuition, rent, utilities, groceries and gas on a part-time or entry-level salary feels nearly impossible most of the time, but it might not be as difficult if students knew every resource available to them when it comes to food.

As a graduating senior, I’ve picked up on some unspoken ways in which money can be saved during college years. One of my biggest realizations throughout the college experience has been that no one will hand you the resources you need to succeed; you have to go looking for them.

Here’s a list of recommendations for students who are tired of blowing their budget on food every month. Maybe you’re bored of the drive-thru or microwavable mac and cheese (or both). Either way, these tips will help you eat better and cheaper:

1. Shop smarter, not harder

Even if you have reservations about couponing, try it out. The Krazy Coupon Lady has developed a helpful guide for college students who are interested in getting started–found here.

If you’re not ready to start clipping coupons just yet, try shopping in stores you’ve never been to. By comparing the prices at different places, you’ll be able to figure out where you can save the most money.

Once you have found your preferred grocery store, download their app (if they have one). Most grocery stores have a rewards program, and several offer exclusive discounts on fuel, pharmaceutical products and more.
Lastly, don’t forget to make a list. This will prevent you from purchasing unnecessary items or getting distracted in the store.

2. Cook meals at home

By preparing meals on your own, you’ll not only be eating healthier, but you’ll save money too. And if saving money doesn’t sound appealing enough, The University of Washington has compiled a list of other benefits from eating meals cooked at home.

If you’re trying to save time by ordering out for dinner, think again. It actually saves more time to prepare meals in bulk and have food at hand in case you ever get hungry while working and studying ‘round the clock. There are too many benefits of meal-prepping not to give it a go.

Together, time and experience have taught me that any basic recipe can be reimagined with a little enthusiasm and creativity. For example, adding fresh or frozen vegetables to a simple box of mac and cheese can easily squeeze in a serving or two of greens.

There are plenty of grocery store items that are cheap, filling, and flexible: potatoes, tuna, peanut butter, eggs, rice and beans are some of these.

3. Be resourceful (and don’t be afraid to accept help)

One of the greatest life lessons I’ve learned while in college is to receive assistance when it’s offered. There are food banks and donation drives formed specifically to help students stay full.

The Kangaroo Pantry is a food-drive organization solely for UMKC students. Open Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons and evenings, The Kangaroo Pantry is a one-stop-shop for canned goods, pantry essentials and more. All that is required to use the food pantry is a one-time submission of this form.
If you’re not able to stop by The Kangaroo Pantry during their available hours, or you’re looking for another form of assistance, you can email kangaroopantry@umkc.edu for more information.

Of course, there are other ways to find cheap or free food in Kansas City. Harvesters is a community-based food network for Kansans and Missourians. They have an easy-to-use food locator if you need help but are unsure where to begin.

4. Your student ID is also a coupon

When all else fails and you’ve gotta make a trip to the drive-thru, remember to bring your UMKC student ID along for the ride. There are countless restaurants and fast-food chains that offer special discounts to college students.
For example, you can get a free drink at participating Chipotle and Chick-fil-A locations by simply showing your ID. And what do McDonald’s, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Subway and Taco Bell have in common? They all offer a 10% discount when presented with a student ID (at participating locations only).
If you’re interested in knowing more, here is a complete list list of potential student discounts at places you probably visit regularly as a busy student.

5. Find a recipe that you like and make it yours

With the internet, students have a never-ending recipe book available to them 24/7. It might take some time, but eventually you’ll find a recipe that works for you and your budget.

Lots of us don’t know where to begin when it comes to the kitchen–that’s okay. Websites such as Tastemade take the guesswork out of cooking dinner. Their online series “Struggle Meals” features an array of recipes that cost $2 or less to prepare, and show host Frankie has lots of tips for cooking food that’s cheap, but nutritional.

With the use of these tips, you’ll be feeling full and finals-ready in no time at all. Remember to stay aware of programs and services available to you, spend time on yourself and your health, and let a friend know if all else fails. Affording groceries while going to school can be tough, and that’s why there are a ton of people already in your corner trying to help.

skayt7@mail.umkc.edu

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