It’s the beginning of a new school year. New classes. New roommates. New clothes. New major and… no meal plan? Juniors and seniors on campus have their own kitchens, and while some retain full meal plans, most lower them drastically or cut their plan all together. This leaves students with the question of what to stock their kitchens with to avoid spending thousands on take out and cheap, unhealthy snacks. Here are some tips on what ingredients to stock your kitchen with to make the most meals over the longest periods of time.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Oil can be used to dress salads, prevent food from sticking to pans, substitute fatty butter and add flavor to dried-out leftovers. I recommend splurging the extra dollar and buying extra virgin olive oil rather than canola oil. Extra virgin olive oil is filled with heart-healthy, monounsaturated fats while having a slightly stronger flavor, making it ideal for dressings and leftovers which, as college students, are likely going to make up the majority of meals.

Salt: While salt in large quantities can be unhealthy, most recipes call for some to heighten the taste of the dish, making it a requirement in even the healthiest kitchens.

Vegetables: Vegetables are filling and healthy, but while raw vegetables can be delicious (especially with hummus), an alternate way to serve them is by steaming them. Steamers can be purchased for only a few dollars at most grocery stores and last a lifetime. From there, select your preferred vegetable and cook them in a pot with the steamer until easily pierced with a fork. The vegetables can then be served drizzled in extra virgin olive oil with a pinch of salt for an even better taste!

Whole Wheat/Grain Bread: White bread may be delicious and of similar price to whole wheat or whole grain bread, but it is also both less healthy and less filling — resulting in more money being spent on snacks. Whole wheat/grain bread can be eaten or prepared in numerous ways for different meals. It can be served with eggs, made into a sandwich and can even be crumbled into breadcrumbs to make chicken cutlets, meatloaf, or other healthy meal options. Still craving some delicious non-whole wheat or grain bread? Buy a ciabatta or sourdough roll.

Eggs: Eggs are a healthy investment for busy college students as they are a great source of both healthy fats and protein. They can also be used either for or in every meal, be it on their own for breakfast, cooked into a dinner recipe to be used for lunch leftovers, or baked into a dessert. A dozen eggs sell for less than $3 and don’t expire for awhile.

Chicken: Meat can be expensive, but it contains necessary proteins. When deciding which meat to purchase, the decision usually comes to choosing between red and white meat. While red meat contains iron and other necessary minerals that white meats such as chicken do not contain, chicken is the better investment — and not only because it is healthier to eat in large quantities. Chicken can also be easily and quickly prepared in a number of delicious and diverse ways, and it is less readily given out at various free campus events.

Pasta/Rice: Carbohydrates are healthy. Maybe not in large quantities, but for the occasional side dish or meal, they are as necessary to the body as protein. That being said, there are healthier types of pastas and rice, such as whole grain or whole wheat and white blends, which have the added benefits of lowering blood pressure and containing more nutrients. While whole grain tastes delicious when not overcooked, it can take a bit to get used to the slight variations in taste to those used to “normal” pasta. To start, purchase a whole wheat and white blend which, while still significantly healthier, will have less of the unfamiliar whole grain taste.

Snacks (Fruit, Hummus, Pretzels, Popcorn): No one expects students to give up their favorite unhealthy snacks, but purchasing a small bag of chips along with fruit or hummus instead of a party sized bag is more beneficial for both one’s health and wallet. Snacks rich in trans fats and oils are not as filling as healthy snacks, leading to larger portion sizes that add up until a bag of chips will be lucky to make it through the week while a tub of hummus can last two. If hummus does not sound favorable, other healthy snacking options include pretzels and popcorn — especially when purchasing popcorn kernels instead of pre-bagged popcorn. Not only will kernels make more popcorn for less money, but there are no surprises about what is in the popcorn and it can be easily bagged for a quick, on-the-go snack.

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