Eating Well on a Budget

three students with an apple, banana, and sandwich having lunch together  at a table

Affording tuition, books, rent, and utilities, let alone purchasing food, can already be hard in the Bay Area. Here you can learn about affordable nutrient-filled foods, how to save money when eating out and in, and helpful tips on getting the most for your dollar!

Inexpensive Staple Items:

Each food group has nutrient-filled foods that can fit into just about any budget. Aim for whole, unprepared foods when grocery shopping. Convenience items (like sliced apples, pre-chopped vegetables, or pre-made rice) will typically cost more. The items from each food group listed below tend to be the most affordable:

  • Grains: oats, brown or white rice, whole wheat couscous, pasta, bread, or corn tortillas
  • Protein: beans, peas, lentils, or eggs
  • Vegetables: carrots, leafy greens, or potatoes
  • Fruit: apples, oranges, or bananas
  • Dairy: low-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese

Fruits and vegetables can be purchased fresh, frozen, canned, or dried and still pack nearly the same amount of nutrients as fresh ones. Aim for low-sodium versions if possible. Shop for sale items at grocery stores and purchase in-season fruits and vegetables for better deals! 

Produce Storage:

Storing produce properly for the longest shelf life can help save money by reducing waste. Click here to download our Produce Storage handout.

 Eating Out vs. Eating In:

Eating in and preparing food at home can be a great way to save money. Here are a         few tips for eating in:

  • Experiment with simple preparations. Cooking doesn't need to be fancy. Search for simple recipes online if you are in need of some inspiration. Start with simple meal preparations like boiled noodles with pasta sauce, microwaved beans and cheese in a tortilla, or scrambled eggs with toast, and then gradually move into more complex meal preparations if you feel comfortable.
  • Assembling, not cooking. Assemble simple meals like sandwiches or put together quick snacks like cheese and crackers or apple and peanut butter. These don't involve the skills we think of when we say "cooking" but still can help save cash.

   Preparing the majority of the food you eat can save money, as eating out can quickly        become expensive. Follow these tips to help keep costs to a minimum if you choose to      eat out:

    • Order water. It can help reduce sweetened beverage intake and keep you well hydrated.
    • Split a meal with a friend. If you know the portions at the eatery you are dining at are much larger than your body needs, split the meal – it splits the cost as well. Or, if you don't have a friend to eat with, order the meal for yourself and take half home for a future meal.
    • Order an appetizer or a side dish as your entrée. Appetizers are typically smaller than main entrees. Aim for appetizers that are full of fruits and vegetables. If you worry it won't be enough food, have a light snack before you eat out.
    • Bring half, buy half. For example, bring an apple and a yogurt to campus and purchase a sandwich. It can help round out a meal without becoming too pricey.

Recipes Galore!

Interested in cooking but not sure what to make? Visit USDA's What's Cooking? website for tons of great ideas. There is a search box where you can look up recipes by ingredient, browse the many cookbooks they offer, or use the Recipe Tools to create your own!

  • Under the "Spotlights" section, check out the Healthy Eating on a Budget resources.
  • Cook it Fast is a great cookbook for busy students who are looking for quick, easy, healthy recipes that are already compiled into one document.
  • All Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipes include cost information (per serving and total cost for the recipe).
  • Nutrition information available for all recipes. 

Spend Smart, Eat Smart

Cooking healthy doesn't have to cost a lot. Looking for simple, healthy receipes created with college students in mind? Check out These recipes and videos are courtesy of ISU Extension and Outreach's Spend Smart. Eat Smart. program.

Food Shelf Dishes 

Unsure how to create simple, balanced meals using items found on our food shelves? Have no fear! We've put together short demonstration videos featuring many of the items commonly found at our food shelf locations. You can watch these 1-2 minute videos by clicking on the videos below or by going to our SJSU CHEW YouTube page:

To enlarge videos to full screen, click on the YouTube logo once video is playing.

      Lentils and Rice                     Macaroni and Cheese                 Pasta with Protein         


​   Rice and Baked Beans                  Cold Tuna Wrap                  Turkey Chilli Burritos

Chicken and Mashed Potatoes

Printable recipe cards for meals listed above can be found here.

For a list of the SJSU food shelf locations, click here

Making Your Dollar Stretch Further:

Making money last throughout the month can be difficult when it comes to buying and     preparing foods. We invite you to explore the links below for some helpful tips and         information on getting the most for your dollar.

 Library Resources

 Other Online Resources:

 For more information, please check out the following websites:

If you would like more information, the SJSU Student Health Center Dietitian Cassie Barmore, MS, RD meets one-on-one with students to create plans for buying and preparing healthy meals on a budget. Call the Student Health Center appointment line at (408)924-6122 to schedule an appointment.