Finances

Meal hacks for the frugal dental student

You’ve been sitting  in lectures or clinic for eight hours each day. Some days you don’t get a lunch because clinic runs late and there are pages of notes and treatment plans to finish before food is even in the equation. Instant ramen has become a mainstay or you find yourself buying cookies from the vending machine and spending two dollars on a soda for lunch. Do you, like so many of your classmates, feel that stress, a busy schedule and a tight budget negatively affect your eating habits?

Here are five meal-planning hacks to stay healthy and save money:

  1. Shop smart
    • NEVER go grocery shopping hungry. You will spend more money and buy food that doesn’t make sense (chocolate bars and sushi are NOT great choices). Save money by looking at the supermarket ads in advance. Then plan your weekly menu accordingly. Make a list and stick to it.
  1. Plan meals in advance
    • Pick a recipe website or your favorite social media as your go-to for meal ideas. Plan meals for the upcoming week that fit into your schedule and budget. Try to avoid packaged and prepared foods. Often they are more expensive than just buying the ingredients. They are also full of sodium and, in most cases, preservatives. Plan a substantial meal for the beginning of the week when you have time to prepare and cook. Pasta dishes and casseroles are filling and the ingredients are generally inexpensive. This gives you leftovers for a few days for lunch or another dinner.
  1. Prepare lunches and snacks in advance
    • Portion out bags of crackers, chips or pretzels into snack-size bags or divided containers. Add a few slices of your favorite cheese, fruit, veggies or nuts for a quick healthy snack or light lunch.
  1. Look for quick sales
    • Often when produce, packaged meats or prepared foods are nearing the “sell by” date, stores will discount them. Packaged lettuce, spinach or salad mixes that usually sell for $3-4 can be marked down as low as $1.50. If you are planning a salad to eat that evening or within a day or two, this is a great way to save money and add something fresh to your meal. Also, veggie and fruit trays are often discounted after a few days and you can save a lot of money by purchasing these expensive items when they are marked down.
  1. Buy in bulk
    • Shopping at big warehouse stores is a great way to save money and stock up on items you use daily. Warehouse sizes are great for families, but if you’re single this may not be the best way to shop. However, if you have roommates you can split the cost of expensive foods like meat, fish, frozen foods and paper goods. Dividing up bulk produce can be a cheaper option than buying the same amount at the grocery store.
    • If you can’t eat up what you buy, freeze what you won’t use right away. This strategy works for anything that freezes well. Divide fresh meat such as hamburger into meal-sized portions, wrap well and freeze. Frozen meat is good for about 6 months if wrapped and frozen properly.
    • For expensive foods like nuts, granola and trail mix, look in your grocery store’s bulk section. You can save a lot by just buying the portion you need. Most bulk sections carry flour, sugar, popcorn and spices as well. If you only need a cup or two of flour for a recipe, you can save money by not buying the five-pound bag that you may never use again.

Plan ahead what you’ll need and build in time to prepare. This will help you manage your time, stick to your budget and get the nutrition you need to thrive in school. Do you use other hacks to set yourself up for success? Tell us in the comments below!

~ Anjanette Walsh, Utah ’19

Anjanette Walsh

Anjanette is a second-year dental student at the University of Utah School of Dentistry. She currently serves as the Utah ASDA Fundraising Chair and is a member of the school newsletter committee.

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1 Comment

  1. Very informative. Found this article useful.

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