Contributed by Jennifer Dawson
Every year nearly 5 million students graduate from colleges around the USA, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. One of the hardest parts about flying the nest and fending for yourself is learning to cook independently. Not only can preparing appetizing, nutritious meals be harrowing for someone who has never had to do it before, but it can also prove to be very expensive. Thankfully a few easy-to-follow tips are all that you need to eat well once you're out of the house, without having to spend exorbitant amounts of money.
Plan your meals in advance
One of the simplest yet most-effective ways to stick to a budget while still eating healthy, great tasting food is to plan your meals in advance. Put aside one day a week (or month) and plan your meals for the remainder of the period. Decide upon a simple, varied menu and draw up a shopping list according to it. Peruse the internet as well as any grocery store flyers you can lay your hands on, and make a note of any specials worth your while. Once you have planned your menu and compiled your shopping list, stick to it. It is far too easy to get distracted once inside the supermarket, which can lead to costly impulse purchases. It is also important to never shop while you're hungry, as you will more than likely end up buying a lot of unhealthy, expensive, and completely unnecessary things.
Stock up on freeze-dried foods
Freeze dried foods are, without a doubt, a great addition to any pantry. Apart from retaining most of their nutritional value, freeze-dried food also doesn’t require any refrigeration, and can last on your pantry shelves for months or even years. While these food items can be slightly more expensive than their fresher counterparts, you end up saving money regardless, thanks to your food wastage being reduced significantly. Although freeze-dried products are becoming more commonplace in supermarkets and delis, you can also purchase everything from rolled oats to bacon-flavored bits from reputable online suppliers.
Buy cheaper cuts of meat and embrace other proteins
Although fresh meat, fish, and chicken are undoubtedly very tasty, they can also be very expensive. Thankfully most supermarkets, butchers, and fishmongers do stock a variety of cheaper cuts that can be used in anything from soups and stews, to burritos and stir-fries. Where possible, buy your protein in bulk and use it in a variety of dishes during the week ahead. Cutting down on your meat consumption can also save you a substantial amount of money. Try incorporating a couple of meat-free dinners into your menu, opting for proteins such as eggs, lentils, beans, and tinned fish instead. These protein alternatives are not only generally a lot cheaper than meat, but also boast a long shelf life, as well as an impressive nutritional profile.
Preparing healthy, cost-effective meals for the first time in your life may be somewhat overwhelming. As long as you have a good plan, and stick to it, you will soon become a pro at not only budgeting, but cooking up a storm in your new abode as well.