The Starving College Student Diet

Okay so yesterday I recounted a bit of my life as a starving college nomad, but actually through lots of time and research I ate pretty well on a low budget. No Ramen or anything like that, just some basic, fast and easy meals. So I thought I would share some wisdom from my journeys into feeding myself on $20 a week. Note: this is sadly not a particularly Celiac/gluten-free friendly diet.

First, Trader Joe’s is your friend. I’m serious. A lot of the staples I purchased from Trader Joe’s because they were the best food and the least expensive compared to the typical grocery store. Some things I always kept in stock from Trader Joe’s:

  • Granola, vanilla yogurt, and frozen raspberries. I was able to get these mostly organic for a great price. I used them to make parfait for breakfast.
  • Pasta and pasta sauce. Pasta is $1/lb and pasta sauce is about $2 for a 26 oz. bottle.
  • Thai Green Curry sauce, rice, and tofu. I frequently substituted tofu for meat since it is far less expensive.
  • Canned black beans and corn. I used these to make Southwest Salad (lettuce, bell pepper, corn, black beans, tomato, cotija cheese, champagne dressing).
  • Garlic
  • Olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Trader Joe’s has these for 50% cheaper than literally anywhere else.

From the traditional grocery store, I bought bread, chicken stock, tomato juice, fajita packets, tortillas, lunch meat, cheese, condiments.

All fresh veggies were purchased from Henry’s/Sprouts. I think these stores are pretty limited to the southwest United States, but just imagine them as a Whole Foods without the gigantic price tags and pretentiousness. Usually this was lettuce, bell pepper, avocado, parsley, onion, tomatoes, basil, and butternut squash.

My basic dishes were:

  • Parfait
  • Pasta
  • Curry and rice
  • Tofu fajitas
  • Parsley stew (tomato juice, chicken stock, and parsley with sauteed onions and tofu) over rice
  • Southwest salad
  • Butternut squash soup
  • Caprese and/or bruschetta
  • Sandwiches

So for only $20 a week I was able to eat pretty well, and I never got tired of the food. To add flavor to any dish I would saute garlic and onion and sometimes bell pepper if it was appropriate. I shopped by bringing only a $20 bill to the store and keeping a mental total of everything I put in my basket.

Here’s a visual guide to my Trader Joe’s shopping:



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