Meal Prep and Food Budgeting for College Kids

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Meal Prep and Food Budgeting for College Kids

Meal Prep and Food Budgeting for College Kids

It is that time of year when our children are transitioning to adulthood and leaving the nest. Heading off to college can be a stressful enough time for students. With a little education and some discipline, college weight gain and food budgeting doesn’t have to be part of that stress. It turns out that the so-called “freshman 15” (the idea that college students gain about 15 pounds during their freshman year of college) is really a myth. Studies have shown that college students gain on average between about 2 and 5 pounds in their freshman year. And while disposable income is difficult to come by in college, it is still possible to eat healthy and on a budget.

Check out these tips researched and compiled by Currituck County 4-H member, Ashton Lowe to help college students as they prepare for life away from home.

Tip 1: Know Your Nutritional Needs

Females age 19-30 require about 1800-2400 calories per day while males of the same age require 2400-3000 calories per day. At each meal, half your plate should be fruits and vegetables. Half your grains should be whole grains. You should eat a variety of proteins. Choose low fat or fat free milk or yogurt. Limit your intake of added sugars, saturated fats and sodium

Tip 2: Make Smart Food Choices

In the dining hall:

  • Opt for the hot foods section instead of the all you can eat pizza station
  • Add a salad or vegetables to every meal
  • Choose a low fat dressing option and limit the amount you put on your salad
  • Opt for water to drink instead of sugar sweetened beverages
  • Stay away from high calorie dessert options (like cakes and cookies) and choose fruit, frozen yogurt, dark chocolate or pudding instead
  • Save the ice cream bar for a special treat once a week
  • If you do go for the pizza, avoid meat toppings and opt for veggies. You can also dab any excess grease from the top with a napkin to reduce the fat content.

For smarter snacking in your dorm room:

  • Choose pretzels, nuts or plain or lightly buttered popcorn instead of chips
  • For  sweets, choose fruit or some yogurt with granola
  • Snack mixes and bars can be an easy go to between classes, just be sure to read the ingredient list. A good rule of thumb is to choose bars with fewer ingredients and more nuts and fruits.

Tip 3: Get Active

Aim for at least one hour of physical activity every day.

Tip 4: Shop Smart

Pre determine your budget and stick to it. You may need to shop at various stores and figure out who has the best prices on your needed items. Always shop with a list. Know what you are going for and shop your list. Store reward cards and sales can really increase your savings. If you can, grab a friend and buy your most commonly used items in bulk. 

Tip 5: Meal Prep

Preparing your meals ahead of time will help you stick to your plan and avoid reaching for high calorie and expensive snack foods. Check out the video for some ideas on simple meals. 

For more information on the 4-H presentation program, nutrition for young adults or other N.C. Cooperative Extension Educational programs, contact the office at 252-232-2261.


Fending off the ”freshman 15”. FS1243: Fending off the ”Freshman 15” (Rutgers NJAES). (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2022, from

Funke, L. (2020, August 18). Best healthy college meals (budget-friendly). Fit Foodie Finds. Retrieved August 16, 2022, from

Home: Dietary guidelines for Americans. Home | Dietary Guidelines for Americans. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2022, from