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Eating Healthy on a Budget: Tips for Student-Athletes

June 28, 2012

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Most student-athletes have little free time and even less extra spending money. As a result, they end up compromising on their nutrition and giving in to highly processed convenience food and take-out. Although eating healthy on a budget may seem impossible, research has shown that eating better actually costs less. Because good nutrition is important to both sports and academic performance, it’s smart to follow guidelines for eating healthy on a budget.

Start Planning

An eating plan can help you stay on target through study, training and competition. Try focusing on a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods—e.g., lean meats, yogurt, fruit smoothies, poached eggs, bean salads—as opposed to deep-fried, over-processed snacks and foods that are high in sugar, fat and calories.

When making a shopping list for your plan, be aware of food that you still have in stock. Studies have estimated that the average person throws out almost $150 worth of meat, fruits, vegetables and grain products per year. Cutting back on food waste can save you money. But it's also important to stick to your shopping list. Shopping online can be a viable alternative if you tend to give in to temptation at the grocery store.

Buy in Bulk

Staples like oil, grain, cereal, bread and even meat are cheaper when bought in bulk. When stored appropriately (you can put breads and meats in the freezer), these items can last for quite a while. Team up with friends when buying fresh produce at wholesale markets or local grocers to take advantage of buying in bulk.

Along with shopping in bulk, attempt also to cook in bulk. Cooking extra quantities saves you time and money. When you're busy, leftovers can be quickly reheated for a quick lunch or dinner, avoiding unhealthy convenience food. Organize a food co-op among friends or teammates to participate in bulk cooking and food sharing. This not only saves you time and money but also ensures that a variety of food will be available during busy weeks.

Scour for Specials

Most supermarket chains publish weekly and daily specials. If you don’t get them mailed to you, subscribe online, which allows you to compare prices among supermarkets. If time permits, late-night shopping is another great way to save, because you can often take advantage of price reductions on perishable items like roasts, salads and breads. Just make sure you use them within twenty-four hours.

Go Generic

Substitute generic or house brands for premium brands. They generally cost far less but taste about the same. Look at the unit price of the item instead of the final price to compare across brands and package sizes. Also, try purchasing cheaper cuts of meat for use in soups, casseroles, salads and sandwiches.

Visit the Frozen Section

Whenever possible, buy fresh, in-season fruits and veggies from local grocers. They are often cheaper and higher quality than off-season produce. However, when fresh is not available, frozen veggies and fruit are viable alternatives, since they’re picked and packed at the peak of the season. A package of frozen veggies allows for a quick nutritional boost to your meal. Don't neglect canned tuna, chicken, beans and fruit (in natural juices) either. These are often relatively cheap and excellent for snacking and eating on the go.

Take Second Helpings

School dining halls can ease the food budget of student-athletes staying on campus. If you know you have extra requirements due to tougher training schedules, and if they fit within your energy budget, help yourself to seconds. Pack breakfast items for your lunch or a midday snack if permitted.

Eating healthy on a budget may seem like a challenge, but with adequate planning, healthy, tasty meals can be quick and affordable.

Julian Ong
- Julian Ong, APD, holds a master's degree in nutrition and dietetics from the University of Sydney. A member of the Dietetics Association of Australia and...
Julian Ong
- Julian Ong, APD, holds a master's degree in nutrition and dietetics from the University of Sydney. A member of the Dietetics Association of Australia and...
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