I was bad. No. I was horrible. When I first moved off campus, I was struggling to find time to prep food between work, school and my extracurricular activities. This lead to my excessive drive-through visits, eating out, food deliveries and the inevitable weight gain.

I didn’t realize how much I was eating out until my number stretch marks (or as I like to call them my tiger stripes) started multiplying. Only then did I realize what I had to do… grocery shopping. Before that eggs, tater tots and a grapefruit made for a balanced breakfast. I bought some cheap junk food to fill me up during class before I went my job. There I would usually buy a meal costing around $7 (shout out to all employee discounts).

Sometimes I’d get a $5 salad from McDonald’s or something else I could pretend was healthy. My fridge stayed empty, I felt more bloated every day. My first shopping trip cost me $50 and I was used to paying per meal. The seemingly large cost felt like a let down. I can assure you a single $50 charge is less than the $15-20 I was spending daily on less nutritional food.

I put myself on a strict diet. The plan didn’t work because the diet food was bland. It rarely made its way to my stomach and mostly landed in the trash. I decided I needed a better plan. I needed to figure out what I would eat, the time it took to cook, and the budget available for food.

I started with research. I had no idea how to cook food that would keep my interest long enough to eat before the expiration date. I kept track of the recipes with repeat ingredients, which meant I could prep all at once in one container. I didn’t pick recipes and foods I knew I’d never enjoy. I eventually crafted a carefully selected shopping list of foods for recipes that not only peaked my interest, but also made me excited about cooking.

Frozen or canned foods became my friends. When I do buy fresh fruits and vegetables, I make sure that it is something I know I will eat soon or use in a recipe I can store. For spices and seasonings, I bought the ones I used consistently for multiple recipes (salt, pepper, garlic, etc.) and purchased seasoning packets if a recipe called for something more specific. If you really like your seasonings, I suggest buying one every few times you go shopping. That way the cost is spread out.

Most importantly have fun with your food. The more fun and exciting things you try the more likely it won’t feel like such a chore. You can do all this while being friendly to your health and budget. Thanks for reading and happy eating.

By Stephanie Avery