How to Eat Healthy in College

This article has been originally written by Sarah who runs her own blog The Olden Chapters. Follow Sarah:
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Maintaining a healthy diet in college can be a challenge. Healthy foods can be expensive and easy recipes are hard to come by. But for me, the most difficult part about trying to eat healthy in college was finding the time to do so! Cooking healthy meals is incredibly time-consuming. After a long day in class, labs, and work, the last thing I wanted to do was to waste an extra hour cooking. For this reason alone, it took me an incredibly long time to find the perfect way to cook healthy meals during college. But after figuring out this one simple trick, my diet has changed incredibly!

Related: Check out the original post to see what products I use to save money on healthy eating!

How do you Eat Healthy in College?

So, what is this one great trick? The trick that saves me hours of cooking, hundreds of calories, and yes, even hundreds of dollars? The Instant Pot! Now, I know what you’re thinking. The Instant Pot is expensive! It is complicated to use! There aren’t that many recipes that you can cook in it… IT COULD BLOW UP! No, no, no, and no. Give me a few minutes here and I will explain the full method to my incredible Instant Pot madness and how it will save you so much time, energy, and yes, it will save you a ton of money too!

Let’s talk about the Instant Pot itself. If you’re unfamiliar with this tool, in its simplest form it is a pressure cooker. This means that it is a slow cooker pot that cooks foods at higher pressures, allowing them to be ready much quicker. For example, I used to use a Crockpot to cook winter stews for about 8 hours while I was gone for class. Now, the Instant Pot cooks that same stew in about 1 hour and 10 minutes! Frozen chicken only takes 40 minutes and rice less than 10 minutes, it is incredible.

Methods of Healthy Cooking

Before I get into the details, let me explain my cooking method in a brief overview. At the beginning of each one to three month period, I choose 3-4 lunch and dinner meals that I would like to cook. The trick to this is to base your meals around only one or two meats AND doubling each recipe. I then go to Costco, Target, and Kroger and buy all of the main ingredients in bulk. Return home and spend about 2-3 hours prepping all of the meals, putting them in ziplock bags (portioned out), and toss them all into the freezer.

Then, about an hour before each meal, I will grab one of the freezer bags, toss in all of the ingredients (and add any extra if needed), turn on that magic Instant Pot, and have an amazingly healthy meal! It is that simple! I will do this for 3-4 dinners each week as well as nearly all of our lunches (feeds both my husband and myself).

So, let’s get into the details of how this system really works.

Saving Money on Healthy Cooking

The Instant Pot itself may be a bit pricey to begin with, but let me first explain how you will make up that money in no time. First, the Instant Pot is not just a pressure cooker. In fact, the one I use has 10 different functions, which means you’re paying for ten different appliances for the price of one. It serves as a rice cooker, sterilizer, cake maker, egg cooker, and has a multitude of other (actually useful) programs including saute, keep warm, and steam. I sometimes will prefer just to use the Instant Pot instead of cooking something over the stove because of how quick and efficient it is to use.

Even though you will be already saving money from not having to purchase other appliances, you will be saving even more money from being able to buy your ingredients in bulk with ample opportunities for massive, yet easy couponing.

Buying in Bulk

It is no secret that when you buy in bulk, you get a much better deal. Costco anyone? So, when you’re deciding on your meals, double or triple each recipe AND base your meals on only one or two different meats. This way, you will be buying all of your most expensive items in bulk.

Tip: If you have a relative with a Costco membership, you can get your own card for free from their account! The rule here is that each account is allowed two cards, so if one is not being used, you can be added for free! If this isn’t a possibility, you can still get huge deals buying in bulk at other stores too, don’t worry!

Couponing

If you haven’t been couponing before, let me attempt to sway you. With the combination of this system and couponing, my husband and I only spend $30 per week on food plus $70 at the beginning of each month for this meal prep (more if I am prepping for a longer time period). That is only $190 in groceries each month for two people! And we eat incredibly well! AND we are still buying the exact same brands we did before we started couponing. Furthermore, it only takes me about 5-10 extra minutes before grocery shopping each week to find and clip coupons for the trip. Hands down totally worth it. If you want to learn more about couponing, I highly recommend reading this article from the Krazy Coupon Lady, it will change your world. Now, how does couponing tie into the Instant Pot and meal prepping?

First, my biggest couponing tip for this system is to use the Ibotta app. This is a rebate app that will give you money after you have purchased your items. All you do is take a photo of your receipt. It is that easy! In fact, I use this for many stores, not just groceries (hello 5% off all JoAnn Fabric purchases). The best part about Ibotta is that it will frequently have produce items that you can’t find coupons for! Perfect for healthy cooking! Use my link here to sign up for free and get your first $10 credited to your account! 

Next, Costco does not accept most coupons but here are some great tips for finding the best deals! But, out of all the stores, Target is my favorite places to coupon. You can print off manufacturer coupons online, shop their weekly deals, and most importantly, use their amazing couponing app Cartwheel! You can also get 5% off of all purchases by just getting a Target Debit Card that will link to your bank account.

Saving Time on Healthy Cooking

Now that we have saved a ton of money, let’s look at how the Instant Pot truly will save you countless hours in the kitchen. After you bring all of your ingredients home, you will need to do a quick prep to get all your meals ready for the freezer. This takes about 2-3 hours depending on how many meals you have. Because we are duplicating the recipes, it is pretty quick and easy.

But guess what? That is it! Seriously! Only 2-3 hours of prepping your food for an entire month worth of meals! Once they are in the freezer, all you need to do is put the prepped meals into the Instant Pot about an hour before dinner (or lunch) and TADA! I am not kidding. It is that easy. I don’t know about you, but spending 2-3 hours in one afternoon per month to spend less than 2 minutes on dinner every night sounds like a great deal to me.

Get your own Instant Pot

The great thing about using the Instant Pot is that you can buy one now and implement this system this week! So, which should you buy? Now that pressure cookers are growing in popularity, there are too many to choose from. The 10-in-1 6 quart Instant Pot is the one I personally use and swear by. Six quarts is the perfect size for cooking recipes serving anywhere between 1-6 people nicely. However, if you do plan on serving 4+ people regularly, you might want to consider the 8 quart Instant Pot.

They also offer cheaper options including the 6-in-1, 7-in-1, and 9-in-1 Instant Pots, but like I explained before, you will get more bang for your buck going with the 10-in-1 Instant Pot in the long run for just a few extra dollars.

Get your Instant Pot now! 

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How to find Recipes

There are several places you can find recipes for the Instant Pot. Nearly all of them will freeze well. Personally, I use this great blog post from New Leaf Wellness and this post from the Krazy Coupon Lady to find most of my recipes. I also will pull some recipes from my Instant Pot Cookbook. You can also use any Crockpot recipes as well, just be sure to change the cook time!

Tip: Leaving out potatoes and canned foods from your ziplock bags will save your freezer space. It only takes a few seconds to open up a couple cans of food or chop up some potatoes so you won’t be losing time doing this. Just be sure to label the ziplock what you still need to add.

Planning out your Meals

I mentioned before that the cheapest and fastest way to make this system work is to double the recipes and work around only one or two meats. I think the best way to fully explain this process is to go through a specific example.

Let’s say for two months (with 8 weeks), I want to create enough food for 5 lunches and 5 dinners per week for one person. That is a total of 80 meals. I choose two types of meat: chicken and pork. Knowing that one recipe from New Leaf Wellness produces 4 servings and I would like to have 5 different dinners and 5 different lunches, I need a total of 10 different recipes doubled (4 servings x 2 = 8 servings x 10 different recipes = 80 meals).

For the chicken meals, I choose: Mexican Chicken Soup, Hawaiian Chicken, Red Pepper Chicken, Chicken Veggie Soup, and Chicken Burrito Bowls.

For the pork meals, I choose: Cranberry Pork Roast, Italian Pork Roast (actually great on salads),  and Maple Pulled Pork (use the enchilada, sandwich, and taco recipes).

Now, I would multiply all of the recipes by two and create a combined shopping list. After prepping the food, I can grab whatever meal I would like each day. I keep track of them on a calendar to be sure we don’t have the same meal too often but you don’t need to. I also find myself combining some of the bags to do full week lunch meal preps or cooking multiple meals at dinner and just eating leftovers the next day. But this system allows flexibility like that!

Tip: Always try to add extra veggies! They freeze incredibly well (except potatoes)!

Overview of How to Eat Healthy in College

I know that was a lot of information thrown at you. So let me break it down one more time of how this system works:

  1. Buy an Instant Pot.
  2. Decide how many meals you would like to prep at a time. Note: Freezer meals usually will last roughly 3 months.
  3. Find your recipes, double (or triple), and create a combined shopping list.
  4. Search for coupons at relevant stores and be sure to note which ingredients you will buy at each store.
  5. Go shopping for your ingredients in bulk to save a ton!
  6. Submit a rebate at Ibotta to earn cash back and save even more!
  7. Combine all of your ingredients into labeled ZipLock bags and place in your freezer (except for canned foods and potatoes).
  8. One hour before every meal time, choose which meal to enjoy, place in the Instant Pot, let the magic happen, and enjoy!

Well, that is it! I truly hope this post was useful. After I began this quick process, I have had so much more free time to study and watch Netflix, as well as had so much more money to spend on bills. It’s great! 😉

Check out the original post here!

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