Dec 14, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Making healthy choices is hard enough when you’re a busy college student. Factor in limited funds, and it’s easy to fall victim to unhealthy habits. The good news? You don’t have to subsist on junk food just because your bank account isn’t flush. Read on for a roundup of six tips aimed at helping college students live well for less.

1. Plan ahead.

According to research from the Harvard School of Public Health, the healthiest diets cost roughly $1.50 a day more than their unhealthiest counterparts. While this may not sound like much, and sometimes eating healthily works out cheaper than junk food, it can add up over the course of a year -- especially if you’re already pinching your pennies.

One way to offset the higher cost? Buy in bulk and plan ahead. Preparing multiple meals and freezing them for later not only saves money, but also saves time. Rather than rolling through the drive-through for a fast food fix when time is tight, you’ll be able to just reach in the freezer to pull out a home-cooked, healthy meal.

2. Shop smarter.  

Not all healthy foods are as costly as others. Fitness Blender suggests, “Sticking to a budget, means understanding which sources will be less costly. Protein options that will be lower in cost include: eggs, canned fish/chicken, chicken and deli meat. Carbohydrates, preferably the complex and fiber-filled carbohydrates, that are lower in cost include: oatmeal, brown rice, beans, sweet potato, fruits, broccoli, spinach, peppers and green beans (though of course this will vary by location and season). For fats it is best to stick to the unsaturated, healthy, plant-based fats that are lowest in price such as: nut butters, nuts and seeds and olive oil.”

Avocados are another example of a healthy food with prices that vary significantly according to the time of year. Seek out in-season produce for the freshest and most affordable fruits and veggies.

3. Take advantage of coupons and student discounts.

Coupons are a great way to trim costs on many different types of foods, and apps like Grocery iQ and Grocery Pal make it easy to do everything from comparison shop to find coupons.

And while cooking at home is generally a more prudent move -- both financially and when it comes to healthy eating -- it is possible to eat out as a student on a budget. Many restaurants offer discounts for students; others offer deals depending on the night or time of day. Keep an eye out for offers like free appetizers and early-bird specials to eat out without maxing out your budget. Looking at the menu in advance, meanwhile, can help you identify healthier options in advance.

4. Use your school’s fitness center.

Many university fitness centers are as nice as any private health club with the added benefit of being free for students -- or at least heavily subsidized. Build time into your schedule to go to the gym every day. Even if you’ve just got 20 minutes to spare, working out during this time can make a huge difference in your health.

Don’t have time to make it to the gym? Take advantage of the abundant supply of free videos on the internet. From 10-minute upper body routines to 84-minute total body workouts, there’s something guaranteed to fit your preferences and time constraints.

5. Pick a low-cost sport.

If you lean more toward outdoor activities than the gym, there are near-endless possibilities on that front, too. If you’re not on a school sports team, consider joining an intramural team or participating in an extracurricular activity which involves movement -- and little to no equipment. (Think soccer, not golf.) This can be anything from pick-up soccer on the quad with a few friends to joining your school’s ultimate frisbee club. Not one for organized sports, either? Go for a run.

Speaking of moving more, do your part to save money -- and the planet -- by walking or biking instead of driving. 

6. Download a fitness app.

Working toward a goal can help keep you motivated, as can tracking your progress. Here's where workout apps come in. Many offer free diet plans, recipes, trackers and workout tips, all designed to help you get fitter without spending a dime.

While the journey toward better health can seem overwhelming at the start, these six tips can help get you on your way to wealth and wellness -- a win-win for today’s college students. Are you a health-conscious college student on a budget with advice of your own to share? If so, let us know in the comments section below.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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