Healthy Cooking For One College Grad on a Budget

By Rachel Berman, RD, Director of Nutrition at

Whether you are a new graduate off your campus meal plan and living on your own for the first time, or just need tips on how to stock your kitchen without breaking the bank, below are tips and staples for eating healthy at home when it’s a setting for one.

Plan Your Menu

Meal planning reduces stress, saves money, and reduces food waste. A fun money saver is to pick a “theme” each week. For example, if you pick Mexican food for one week, versatile ingredients for various meals might include salsa, black beans, avocados, cheese, corn, and whole wheat tortillas. With these ingredients plus staples (see below) you could make plenty from black bean quesadillas to spicy egg scrambles and southwestern salads or wraps.

Minimize Mess and Save Time with One Pot Methods

Slow cookers are inexpensive, come in many sizes, and recipes that use them do not require a lot of effort or clean up.  Same idea goes with anything that stir-fries and just uses one skillet.

Prepare Ahead of Time

Washing and preparing food ahead of time saves you time during the week and also helps keep you from making impulse food decisions. If the veggies are already washed, you are more likely to grab and eat them.

Don’t Wear Yourself Out Cooking

It’s pretty time consuming to cook single portions over and over again. Instead, prepare a little bit more and store the leftovers for a later meal. For example, you could cook a couple of chicken breasts in advance for use in your Mexican food themed week in a salad, sandwich, quesadilla or wrap.

Stock Your Pantry

By keeping these staples in your kitchen, you can make healthier meal decisions when in a bind and on a budget.

Must Haves for the Fridge/Freezer:

  • Eggs – they last for a long time so buy the dozen, it’s cheaper than the half dozen
  • Low fat milk – you can also buy shelf stable almond/rice milk
  • Frozen fruits and vegetables – packed on site so they are plenty full of nutrients AND they don’t sit and spoil as quickly
  • Frozen lean meats/seafood – bought in bulk to save money
  • Low fat yogurt and cottage cheese – great protein for on-the-go breakfast or a post-workout snack
  • Whole grain bread – loaf in freezer lasts 4-6 weeks
  • Condiments can be stored in the pantry, then the fridge once opened.

Must Haves for the Cupboard

  • Instant brown rice – easy to make single servings
  • Whole wheat pastas
  • Natural peanut butter or other nut butter
  • Canned foods –   low sodium soups, beans, tuna, chicken, tomatoes
  • Spaghetti/pasta sauce
  • Olive oil
  • Whole grain cereal

As you adjust to your new life “in the real world,” it will be as important as ever to save money by cooking at home, and preparing wholesome, nutritious foods to stave off the weight gain that can occur post-college when you take up residence behind a desk eight hours a day.

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