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The Paleo lifestyle has been growing in popularity recent years as more and more people are looking to go “back to the basics” to get their health in better order. In short, Paleo focuses on eating the real foods that our caveman ancestors ate and avoiding chemically-loaded processed foods, grains, dairy, legumes, and processed foods.
It’s possible to go Paleo without going broke in your college years. Here’s a complete guide to clean-eating on the most frugal of college budgets. And yes, it is possible. In fact, I did a “Whole 30” my junior year of college, where I went strict paleo for 30 days!
1. Get Creative in the Dining Hall
Getting all your meals from the salad bar will become so boring that you might end up sneaking over to the cookie line. Stay excited about eating healthy by mixing it up a bit and don’t be afraid to wander around the hall. For example, take some plain chicken or steak from the grill station, and then put it over some brown rice from the burrito line, top off with salsa, guacamole, and lettuce and it’s a burrito bowl that didn’t run you $9 at Chipotle.
2. Know What to Avoid
With the florescent lights and seemingly endless options, the college dining hall can easily become sensory overload. Have a plan and don’t go starving. This way, you don’t get suckered into standing with your friend on the pasta line or justifying a not-so-nutritious binge. The plan doesn’t have to be strict, but knowing that you’re going to get the meat and veggie option or snack on a piece of fruit will prevent wandering and non-clean eating.
3. Invest in a Slow-Cooker.
If you live off-campus or if your dorms will allow it, buying a slow-cooker is 100% worth it. Really affordable ones can be found at places like Target and Wal-Mart and they’re so simple to use. Just throw in some ground beef, a can of beans, some seasoning, and frozen peppers and onions (this step takes about 2 minutes!) and by the time you get home from a long day of classes and club meetings, dinner will be waiting for you! No more “I’m too tired to go to the dining hall, I’ll just order pizza”!
4. Split Meals with a Roommate.
If you constantly find your roommate munching on your food, turn that problem into a solution by agreeing to split meals. For example, the slow-cooker chili mentioned above can definitely feed two, with room for leftovers! As long as there is a solid agreement that one roommate will not eat most of the meal and leave two bites for the other, this can chop costs in half!
5. Load your Freezer with Frozen Fruits and Vegetables.
Frozen produce is definitely the budget-friendly way to go. Frozen fruits are great for smoothies on the go, and frozen vegetables are a quick and easy addition to any meal– mix them with meats, spices and sauce, or just pop them in the microwave if you don’t have access to a stove. Plus, frozen produce lasts a lot longer than fresh fruits and vegetables, so you won’t find yourself trying to eat as much kale as humanly possible in the three days before it gets funky.
6. Pack Mid-Day Snacks to Avoid the Coffee-Shop Treat.
We’ve all been there before: your three-hour lecture just ended, your stomach is making the kinds of sounds that come from a small monster, and you have twenty minutes before your next class. It’s tempting to head over to the campus coffee shop and grab a croissant, bagel, or other overpriced treat that will end up being a waste of money and calories. Instead, throw a piece of fruit from the dining hall and some nuts in your bag before heading out to class. These natural, more nutrient-dense foods will also keep you fuller for longer to avoid crashing in your next class.
7. When Eating Off-Campus, Know What to Get
Fast food and pizza, two college-staples for many, are obviously off-limits, but that does not mean that you have to go into an anti-social deprivation mode when you commit to a paleo lifestyle. At a pizza shop, try opting for a salad dressed with oil and vinegar instead of a greasy slice. Even better head to a Mexican restaurant (like Chipotle) and order a cheese-less burrito bowl with carnitas, grilled steak, chicken, or vegetables. Get the guacamole if you’re wallet can spare it! Chinese take-out is another college favorite and still isn’t off-limits. Order simple steamed veggies and meat (hold the rice) and then dress it up with your own spices or sauce!
Gabrielle Urciuoli is a senior Journalism and Professional Writing major with a minor in Political Science at The College of New Jersey.
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