Limes, Onions,Lettuce, Chicken all placed around and in a black bowl on a brown wood table.

How to eat healthy as a broke college student on a budget during COVID-19

By Rey Banuelos
KTSW Guest Writer

The stereotypical broke college student diet can be imagined as preservative-rich off-brand Doritos for lunch and 3-minute microwavable ramen for dinner. The nutritional value of eating those is horrendous.

The notion that being a poor college student on a budget and eating healthy do not mesh too well is appalling. I can tell from firsthand experience that the idea of a healthy dinner for many, can be marinated chicken with steamed broccoli.

However, over time the blandness of eating the same meal can be suffocating. There is one crucial sin many fall victim to when buying food and budgeting, and it is ignorance. Especially now, we must find new ways to stay healthy as many students have a low source of income during this pandemic.

For the past 2 years, I have been paying for college and all my bills directly out-of-pocket. This pandemic has made life harder on me financially. Before shelter-in-place, I was serving at restaurants. What I am grateful for is my time waiting tables at quality restaurants throughout New Braunfels.

Seeing how chefs were preparing food inspired me to manage my kitchen as they do. More specifically, I learned how to be resourceful with my ingredients. I realized the power of saving chicken bones and left-over vegetable parts to make awesome home-made broths for soups, sauces and braises.

Thanks to them, I was able to spend 30 dollars a week on groceries to meal prep into serval courses.

The techniques they taught me can be explained by understanding the fundamentals of food pricing. The reasoning behind this is that many times, people will go out and buy single items with a high unit price.

Foods and brands that are marketed as healthy are incredibly expensive.  I manage to read through the blurred lines of food branding to find out that many are not as healthy as advertised and prey upon the consumers’ ignorance.

I am talking to you, Clif Bars and Beyond Meats. The goal as a consumer at the grocery store should be to make the most with the least amount of ingredients. Treat the food you buy as it was an investment.

Understanding diversity and the yields of your food can allow for some amazing cooking deviations. For example, foods that are easy to diversify are onions, potatoes, tomatoes and carrots. These foods can be used for a variety of dishes.

 Also, understand the 80/20 rule of eating healthy. This means portion your meals with 80 percent vegetables and 20 percent meat. Do not spend all your money on meat!

Another lesson I learned from chefs and cooks is to not eat comfortably like an American because eating like an American is expensive. Do not be afraid of cooking like a Papau New Guinea tribesman.

One of the chefs I worked under was from Naples, Italy. He explained to me that there is not a distinct difference in preparing ravioli and Asian dumplings. He added that they are very similar, however, the key differences between the two were peoples’ perception.

The lesson being, learn how to cook cheaply by understanding cultures that are perceived to have a low country of origin value. I want to clarify what I am saying, people’s perceptions of food sometimes are based on its’ country of origin. Therefore, ethnocentrism is a factor in their purchasing patterns.

College students especially fall victim to our lack of knowledge because we are not experienced adults in our culinary explorations.  For example, I would have never learned how to cook Ethiopian food at home.

This lesson taught me that many foods that poorer counties utilize have higher nutritional value in return compared to cuisine from richer countries. Learning how to cook Yataklete kilkil (Ethiopian curry), Pudla (Indian chickpea pancake with vegetables), and chicken pozole (Mexican stew) has taught me that our money’s purchasing power is controlled by our ignorant biases.

The moral of all this is eating healthy does not have to be expensive during COVID-19. It just requires us to learn more about food resourcefulness and expanding our thoughts about different cuisines.

Featured image by Rey Banuelos.

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