One of the biggest expenses for a college student is undoubtedly food.  Some students choose to go the cafeteria meal plan route, and depending on your school and the plan you choose, that may be an economical solution.  But for those of you living in an apartment (and especially those of you that live off of campus), learning how to meal plan can save you a lot of cash.

What is meal planning?  Well, it is exactly as it sounds.  A plan that lists every meal you will eat for the next week, two weeks, or month – all depending on your preference.  With my crazy schedule and my need for a bit of flexibility, I find that planning my meals for the week helps me save time, money, and eat way healthier than I would otherwise.  I can get delicious food made for the least amount of time and money.

Here are some tips for how to meal plan:

  • Take your schedule into consideration.  On crazy busy days, you don’t want to have to spend a lot of time cooking a meal.  My crazy day of the week is always Wednesdays because I’m at school all day.  To make it easy for me, I make Wednesdays my leftovers night.  On the flip side, my generally carefree night in Sundays, so I often pick that day to cook more elaborate meals and have friends over.
  • Since the goal is to be budget conscious, check the sales ads and coupon selections before you go.  This will give you an idea about what is on sale and help you brainstorm recipe ideas that correspond to what is on sale.
  • But also be flexible.  Let’s say you get to the store planning to buy the pork chops that are on sale  but you discover that the value pack of chicken breasts are on sale for $1.29/lb (great price!), then perhaps you change your meal plan to include chicken rather than pork chops.  Or, if you can afford it, you buy both and freeze them.
  • Look for two-fer meals.  For example, if I make roasted chicken breasts one day, I can easily use the chicken the next day in a chicken alfredo with pasta.  If I make ground beef for spaghetti, I’ll often make double and use some the next day for tacos or burritos.  This saves me time and effort later.
  • Build some routines into your meal planning.  Maybe you always eat sandwiches for lunches or have pizza on Fridays.  Having a routine in place will be one less thing you have to think about.
  • Make your meal plan high tech by saving your meal plan, recipes, and grocery lists in a program like Evernote.

Have you ever tried meal planning?  What are your favorite recipes?

[Photo Courtesy of Flickr User LizMarie_AK and used with Creative Commons License 2.0 Attribution]