How To Eat Healthy Low Carb Food on a Budget

Last Updated on May 4, 2019 by Michael Joseph

A College Student Dressed as a Chef.In our college years, many of us are guilty of making poor dietary choices.

Students are always looking at how to save money, and food quality is one of the first sacrifices.

However, it is possible to eat cheap, healthy meals; it’s just a matter of knowing what to buy.

For those interested in low carbohydrate diets, this article will provide guidance on how to eat a healthy, affordable version in college.

This will also be useful for anyone who wants to implement low carb on a budget.

Why It’s Important To Eat Healthy in College

First of all, when you are away from home for the first time, it might be tempting to eat instant food all the time.

In general, it’s well known that college students have unhealthy eating—and drinking—habits.

With a busy academic and social life, food shopping, preparation, and cleaning dishes may seem like the last priority.

But they shouldn’t be, and here are some reasons why.

#1. What You Eat Now Affects Your Health Later

Picture showing the aging process of a young girl to an old woman.

The first thing to remember is that our lifestyle gradually promotes or damages health.

As a good example of this, there’s a misconception that certain illnesses and conditions only happen once we get old.

We don’t eat so well now, but we can always change how we live when we’re older, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. In reality, chronic diseases have been progressing for decades (1, 2, 3).

Case in point: coronary fatty streaks, representing an early warning of cardiovascular disease, can be found in more than half of children aged 10-14 (4, 5, 6).

So, while any symptoms of disease at a young age are very rare, you are still increasing the (progressive) internal damage by living an unhealthy lifestyle.

As a result of this, it’s important to develop healthy eating habits at an early age for lifelong health (7, 8).

It’s also a myth that cheap, healthy meals don’t exist, and there are plenty of simple college recipes; dishes that are cheap, quick and nutritious.

#2. Capability of the Brain

A picture of a brain.

Looking after the brain is important for everyone, but for students, it can make or break your grades.

A lot of students believe that energy drinks are an important tool during studying, but this couldn’t be more wrong.

It is understandable though and I used to think this in my college days too. To be honest, it’s not surprising since many of us are taught that sugar is important for energy.

In truth, sugar may give a very short energy burst, but a sugar crash will follow this and so will feelings of tiredness. Not a great state to be in for studying hard (9, 10).

In contrast to short-term energy from sugar, what the brain wants is nutrients.

Overall there are three areas to focus on for improved cognition; the real ways to clean, long-lasting focus and concentration are:

  • Sufficient sleep: aim for 7-9 hours per night (11)
  • Nutritious food: dairy, fish, meat, fruit, and vegetables rather than sugars and potato chips.
  • Exercise: regular exercise boosts brain power, improves memory, and promotes better thinking skills (12, 13).

What you eat affects your whole body, and a clear, focused mind could be the difference in achieving the grades you want.

Key Point: For a long, healthy life, it’s important to learn how to eat healthy in college. Also, eating nutritious food will improve your academic performance.

Good Food on a Tight Budget

Is good food expensive? Well, a lot of it is, but it’s easily possible to find healthy food for a low price.

Especially compared to eating out, homemade food can be much more economical.

So, forget the takeout sandwiches and Starbucks latte, and consider buying some of these reasonably priced healthy foods.

20 Healthy Student Foods For a Reasonable Price

A picture of some almonds.#1 Almonds

One of the most nutritious nuts, almonds are full of healthy fat, protein and essential nutrients such as vitamin E (14).

Rather than buying from a health store, get them online in bulk.

#2 Beef

Despite often being demonized in the press, red meat is one of the most nutrient-dense foods. Additionally, it’s full of important minerals that many students are deficient in (15, 16).

While you’re not going to be able to afford organic steak from Whole Foods, there are other options.

Frozen beef offers the most economical price, and it’s much healthier than a hamburger.

#3 Berries

Small in size, but high in polyphenols; berries are one of the best choices when it comes to fruit.

Given the many studies linking them to decreased oxidative stress, they’re a great food to include in your diet (17, 18, 19).

To save money, buy a big bag of frozen berries.

#4 Broccoli

Broccoli is one of the most nutritious vegetables, but also one of the tastiest.

Particularly high in nutrients, broccoli provides an impressive amount of minerals, as well as dietary fiber (20).

A picture of some canned sardines.#5 Canned Sardines

While salmon sashimi is off the budget menu, canned sardines are available for a cheap price.

They also provide significant amounts of omega-3, which is linked to reduced inflammation and lowers the risk for several diseases.

Also, studies show that omega-3 increases concentration and focus (21, 22).

#6 Cheese

Cheese is another food that has previously received negative press. If you follow the latest nutrition science, you’ll see that has been changing over the past decade.

Recent studies show that full-fat dairy increases satiety, and even reduce diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk (23, 24).

Furthermore, cheese is a major source of calcium, vitamin K2 and several other nutrients (25).

#7 Coffee

Coffee is delicious, and it’s also the number one source of polyphenols in the American diet (26).

However, instead of paying several dollars for a cup from Starbucks, just make it yourself.

All you need is a cheap grinder, or you can just buy ground coffee.

Instead of spending $10 on a few coffees from a cafe, you’ll be able to make about 15-20 cups for the same price.

#8 Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is another incredibly healthy option that’s full of protein, vitamins, and minerals (26).

Happily, it’s also available for a budget price.

Just one note – check the ingredients label and make sure it doesn’t contain any unnecessary additives.

A picture of some dark chocolate.#9 Dark Chocolate

Put the sugary candy down, and treat yourself to some dark chocolate instead.

In the first place, dark chocolate improves blood flow to the brain and results in improves memory and cognitive function (27, 28).

Additionally, dark chocolate is full of polyphenols that fight inflammation, and essential minerals such as magnesium (29, 30).

Unlike typical milk chocolate, it may help improve your academic performance.

#10 Eggs

Eggs are among the most nutritious foods on the planet, and they can be used as the base for many cheap, healthy meals.

Specifically, they are extremely high in vitamins and minerals. In fact, many people are deficient in choline and several more of these minerals (31, 32).

At the same time, they are not expensive; one great option is to buy several trays direct from a local farm.

Cutting out the middleman results in cheaper eggs for you.

#11 Frozen Mackerel

Some of the best fish choices include salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines.

While these fish are very high in omega-3, they are also extremely low in mercury (33, 34).

Unfortunately salmon is a little expensive, but mackerel has many of the same health benefits for a lower price.

In other words; mackerel is a very student-friendly food.

For the lowest prices, look at getting some frozen mackerel.

A picture of some garlic.#12 Garlic

Garlic is one of the healthiest foods around, and it’s a good source of prebiotics for gut health (35).

Added to that, it helps make all sorts of food taste delicious.

It’s also relatively cheap, making it a great choice for meals on a tight budget.

#13 Green Tea

Similar to coffee, green tea is also high in health-supportive antioxidants.

Several studies show that green tea consumption may help fight protect against diseases such as cancer and diabetes (36, 37).

You can buy large packs of green tea for a relatively low price too.

#14 Kale

A very popular vegetable in recent years, Kale is a leafy green that is full of nutrients.

In particular, Kale is very high in vitamins A and C (38).

If you get it from a local market, the price is also much more reasonable than health food store prices.

#15 Milk

Milk is a cheap, nutritious drink that’s full of calcium, protein, and healthy fat.

As earlier mentioned, recent science shows that dairy fat has some positive benefits on our health.

In fact, dozens of studies show that whole milk beats low-fat milk regarding health.

You can also use milk to make coffee drinks such as a latte; making a latte at home is significantly cheaper than buying from a cafe.

A picture of some onions.#16 Onions

Similar to garlic, onions are also a healthy prebiotic food that add lots of taste to meals (39).

With an economical price, they are perfect for use in cheap, healthy meals that taste great.

#17 Pork

Pork is a little bit cheaper compared to beef, making it an excellent choice for students.

Despite the lower price, pork is still extremely nutritious, and it’s particularly high in B vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus, selenium, and zinc (40).

#18 Spinach

Spinach is another vegetable that’s extremely nutrient-dense, but available for a reasonable price.

Buying from a local market or — even better — a local farm is the best option.

Most notably, spinach has a very high level of vitamin A (41).

#19 Tomatoes

First of all, tomatoes are a fruit – not a vegetable!

They are also very healthy and contain an important antioxidant called lycopene (42).

Lycopene has many beneficial effects on the body, and it is believed to help protect against skin cancer.

In addition, several studies show that lycopene supplementation reduces overall oxidative stress in the body.

Lastly, tomatoes taste great and are cheap to buy – making them a great ingredient for use in all your college recipes.

#20 Yogurt

Greek yogurt is very affordable but filled with beneficial nutrients and probiotics, which makes it a great option.

Mix it with berries and dark chocolate shavings for a tasty but healthy treat.

Key Point: These twenty foods are all incredibly nutritious, cheap, and can be combined to create some delicious meals on a budget.

Cheap Healthy Meals

A Cheese, Mushroom and Veggie Omelet.

To make cheap meals, we can use any of the ingredients above to come up with a healthy recipe.

For example, how does garlic pork with melted cheese, a side of fresh vegetables, and a cup of coffee sound?

Despite being full of real, nutritious food, this will only cost a few dollars.

To put it differently; it’s much cheaper than eating out. It’s probably even cheaper than one coffee from a cafe.

Obviously, the most important factor in preparing nutritious but economical meals is to find the ingredients for a cheap price.

With this in mind, buying in bulk is always a good idea whenever possible.

Buying in Bulk = College Food For Less

Buying in bulk and getting cheaper food is all about making smart swaps.

For example, a fresh pack of blueberries is going to cost a lot more than 2kg of frozen berries.

While you may believe that fresh fruit is better for you, studies show that there’s not so much difference (43, 44).

Likewise, buying half a dozen eggs from Whole Foods will set you back much more than the purchase of a tray from a local farm.

Even if you don’t have access to a farm, all sorts of websites offer delivery for a reasonable price.

Here are some more ways to eat healthy on a budget:

  • Use bulk retailers such as Costco.
  • Buy what you can in bulk online.
  • Visit local markets towards closing time; you can usually find discounted deals on produce, meat and fish.
  • Cheap meat doesn’t necessarily mean bad meat. The most inexpensive cuts of meat are often very nutritious, with many consumers ignoring bone-in cuts due to the preference for muscle meat. The good news is that this meat is perfectly good for you, and even has the added health benefits of providing gelatin.
Key Point: Making smart choices is the key to eating healthy in college. While the best food may not be affordable, we can still buy good food for a cheap price.

Healthy College Recipes

A Female College Student Dressed As a Chef.Here are seven cheap, healthy meal ideas; a dinner for every day of the week.

All of these meals take less than 30 minutes, and they only cost a few dollars to make.

#1. Cheese and Vegetable Omelet

Combine 4 eggs with some cheese and your vegetables of choice. Add some seasonings such as salt, pepper, and garlic.

#2. Grilled Beef, Onions, and Garlic

Grill a piece of beef along with chopped onions and garlic. You can also add some melted cheese if you want, or some leafy greens.

#3. Steamed Mackerel in a Parsley Sauce

Steam, grill or poach a mackerel fillet and make a parsley sauce to pour on top. Serve alongside some vegetables.

#4. Finger Food

Make a quick, healthy ‘platter’ of finger food: some cheese, dark chocolate, nuts, and a handful of berries.

While it may not look like a typical meal, this combination is full of nutrients.

#5. Sardine Salad

Put some sardines and chopped tomatoes on a bedding of leafy greens, and then add some olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a healthy dressing.

#6. Pan-Fried Pork

Pan-fry some pork, broccoli, onions, mushrooms, and garlic. Add a touch of tamari soy sauce or a soy substitute such as Coconut Aminos.

#7. Garlic Butter Roasted Chicken and Vegetables

Buy a small chicken, stuff it with garlic and rub some butter over the skin. Following this, roast it in the oven with vegetables.

Depending on the size, you can refrigerate the leftovers and eat them for several days.

For some more recipes, see these 30 low-carb recipe ideas.

Key Point: All of these meals feature 100% unprocessed, whole foods. Eating healthy homemade meals saves you money (and your health).

Other Important Ways To Stay Healthy In College

Picture of a male and female student exercising together.

Despite nutrition being the priority, several other lifestyle factors can either promote or damage our health.

Namely, these include:

  • Exercise
  • Sleep
  • Stress


It’s vital to keep up an exercise regime; time may be limited, but even 20 minutes a few times a week is great.

Try to do intense exercises such as lifting heavy weights or body weight exercises.

As well as this, try not to be too sedentary and walk and move each day.

I realize that being a student makes this tough, but walking is crucial for health.

In fact, studies show that a sedentary lifestyle raises the risk for type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease (45, 46, 47).

So, try to go for a walk whenever you can, or set off earlier and walk rather than using public transport.


Sleep is also paramount for our overall health; try to make time for 7 to 9 hours sleep per night.

Science shows that this amount of sleep helps our body in several different ways, such as:

  • Better regulation of blood glucose levels  (48, 49)
  • Improved concentration, focus, memory, and overall cognitive function (50, 51)
  • Sleep helps fight oxidative stress in the body, which results in inflammation and faster aging (52, 53)


With extensive coursework and exams at regular intervals, it’s understandable that students feel stress in their daily lives.

However, it’s important not to let this build up. When you feel stressed, exercise is a great option for stress relief (54).

It’s also important to make time for yourself from time to time and enjoy social and family relationships.

While studying is important, so is happiness.

Several studies show that happy people live longer (55, 56).

Key Point: To live a healthy life, as well as the food we eat, we also need to focus on exercise, sleep, and stress.

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