How to Eat Well and Plan Meals on a Budget

When it comes to NYC living, one of the trickiest things for many students to figure out is food. If you’re not on a meal plan, it can be challenging to feed yourself without eating out all the time and bleeding your wallet dry. It’s also hard to make consistently healthy choices about food when you’re surrounded by convenient temptations. My first year at NYU, I fluctuated between forgetting to eat for 19 hours while buried in books, and stuffing my face with junk food. Now, in my senior year, I still have friends who make pasta every night because it’s easy and affordable. Pasta is delicious. I could easily eat my weight in farfelle or linguine, especially slathered in pesto, and the way to my heart is By CHLOE’s mac and cheese. But pasta is also not a balanced meal for every night, and there are a million affordable eats you can make to supplement your college-student-pasta-diet. Here are some of the quick and dirty tips I’ve learned for eating healthy and affordably as a student in New York:

Artist Marta Spendowska,

Artist Marta Spendowska,

Prep Your Meals

Planning for the week ahead is the single best thing you can do to manage what goes into your body and prevent over-spending. Pick a day for meal prep; I like to do this on Saturday so I can spend all of Sunday focusing on assignments. Decide what you’re going to make for that week, or at least the next few days, and then: 1. pre-chop all veggies and proteins 2. cook a whole lot of food and store it in the fridge. I usually make a huge batch of salad for the week and store it in plastic produce bags. I also chop vegetables and tofu (and in the past, chicken) in advance for things to make later in the week like stir-fry, which is super easy and healthy. Then, when it’s midweek and you’re exhausted, all you have to do is transfer from tupperware to pan and have a hot meal in moments. And if you make a big batch, which I recommend, you’ll have leftovers to microwave. Future you will thank you.

Trader Joe’s is Your Friend

No place in this city seems to have it all, but Trader Joe’s does have some of the best prices compared to other grocery stores. I’m a big fan of their trail mixes, name brand Greek yogurt, and New Mexico Piñon coffee. For leafy greens and other veggies, Whole Foods tends to have better quality produce. As for fruit, don’t be afraid to stop at one of the street vendor carts! They’re well-priced, and usually very good quality. I’ll often grab a banana for about 60 cents on my way to class in the morning, and one of the best peaches I ever had came from a sidewalk fruit vendor.

Affordable Proteins

Meat is usually the most expensive part of a meal. A 2014 article from states that in 2014 pork averaged $3.90 per pound, while ground beef averaged $3.27 and choice steak cost about $6.86 per pound. Boneless chicken breasts were an average of $3.27 per pound nationwide. Meanwhile tofu averaged $2 to $2.50 per pound, and beans are even cheaper. Bean salads and tofu have become staples of my diet, and recently I’ve been learning how to cook tempeh. Experiment with tofu marinades, and try some of these recipes!

Baked Garlic Tofu

Crispy Tofu & Broccoli

Tofu Scramble

I’m also all about protein-packed shakes and smoothies. Stock up on cocoa powder, peanut butter, frozen fruits, and protein powder! Click here for smoothie inspiration.

Frozen Foods

Speaking of frozen fruit, if you have the joy that is freezer space, use the heck out of it! Frozen veggies are often cheaper than fresh produce. I love adding green beans, carrots, corn, and peas into brown rice or quinoa to squeeze a few more vegetables into a meal, and Trader Joe’s frozen succotash is a great mix in. For breakfast, try frozen waffles (toasted) with peanut butter, a drizzle of honey or maple syrup, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds on top. TJ’s also has some lifesaver frozen meals if you need something instant during finals. Stock up on Amy’s Chili for microwavable salvation. You won’t even notice it’s vegan.

Snack Packs

If, like me, you need something to much on while studying, try plain unbuttered popcorn or carrots and hummus. For when you’re on the move, keep snacks on hand to avoid binging or spending when hunger strikes. Fill sandwich bags with almonds and apricots or popcorn sprinkled with curry powder. Grab one of these to put in your bag before leaving home. Babybel cheeses are also great to keep in your bag. So are bananas!  Goofy as it is, consider a Banana Saver: Best gift I’ve ever received (thanks, Mom & Dad).

Happy munching, everyone!

By Sofia Lerner

Sofia Lerner is a Campus Clipper publishing intern who is studying English as a senior at NYU. Passionate about literature, dance, and wellness, Sofia aspires to help the arts thrive and help others pursue healthy lifestyles. For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourage them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing and services. 

At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during the Welcome Week of 2015.


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