how to save time and money in college. (oh, & lose weight too)

College, or early adulthood in general, is often described as one of the most difficult times in a person’s life. We don’t have any money, a stable career, we are constantly busy trying to keep up with school and maintain a social life, with very little idea what our future may look like or which decisions are the right ones to make.

This is also a time for the dreaded “freshman 15” pounds to come on from weekends of drinking, ordering in Chinese take out and stopping at Starbucks 5 times a week for your beloved caramel macchiato- you know the drill. It is standard in American culture that this is the expected lifestyle of a 20-something college student.

But, there is a better way.

While I can’t fix your overzealous professors who just assigned another paper due Monday or knock $200 off your rent this month, I can offer you a solution to your time and money deficiency that can also create the weight loss results you’ve been dreaming of.

Meal Prep.

Hopefully you’ve decided to keep reading after seeing those 2 words on your screen. Whenever someone in my life asks how I can afford to travel, find time to exercise daily, and despite the stress of design school still manage to eat healthy and maintain my weight loss; this is the solution I offer them.

And then I get to hear their million excuses why it won’t and can’t work for them. They don’t have the time, the money, the cooking skills- whatever excuse they throw at me, the reasons are never in short supply.

But, I am here to debunk them all.

Excuse #1: I don’t have time to meal prep.

The reality is we all have the same 24 hours in the day. Sure, everyone has different responsibilities, jobs, families and roles to play but finding the time to prepare your meals for the week comes down to priorities.

The way I have made meal prep work is by setting aside 2 hours, yes only 2 hours, on Sundays to do my grocery shopping and meal prep.

Still, to some 2 hours seems like too much of a time commitment, but look at it this way- I only have to go to the store once, cook once, and clean the kitchen once for an entire week. If we were to break this down mathematically, I would guess you spend more than 2 hours total cleaning and cooking for yourself right now with your current eating habits. Even time spent in drive throughs takes away from your total hours of productive work time a week.

By investing just a few hours on a weekend to meal prep, you will be set up for major success during the week.

With the time you save everyday you could have an extra hour to smash out an assignment or go for a walk. You’ll finally have the time to do the little things that will move the needle in your life and get you to your larger goals.

Meal prepping is really a time saver not a time drainer. You will find that your day is less consumed with food and figuring out what you’re having for your next meal when everything is already decided ahead of time.

Save yourself some time and meal prep.

Excuse #2: I can’t afford to meal prep.

I am going to keep this short and sweet. You can.

You will actually save hundreds of dollars by cooking meals at home that you can then spend on tuition, travel or that thing that’s been in your Amazon cart for a year.

Let’s compare my spending habits pre- and post- meal prepping.

Before I started meal prepping, I’d tag along with friends to the grocery store occasionally and buy snacks or things I thought I could make a meal out of, but I never made a list so it rarely worked out. So, I fell victim to the grocery store marketing and would waste money on things I didn’t need and frankly were terrible for me.

I wasted so much money by not having a plan going into shopping.

Then, because I had no real food to prepare or meals planned out- I would order food in or go out to a restaurant. Or there was always McDonalds in a pinch. And if I was on campus all day I would always go to the food court for my lunch- never bring my own.

If I had to guess, I was spending at least $50 a week on eating out alone. Plus the cost of whatever groceries I had purchased that week and going out drinking on weekends- it was insane. But that is the “standard” college student lifestyle- and we wonder why we don’t have any money.

In contrast, now I spend $20 to $30 week total for all of my meals- breakfast, lunch and dinner. I have saved myself hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars by meal prepping, which I now get to put towards the things I really want to do, like travel.

Save yourself some money and meal prep.

Excuse #3: It’s hard to cook for only one person.

It is true, the world is not designed for single people. A lot of the portions of food in stores are much larger than any one person could ever eat in a single meal. But this is where meal prep can be your savior!

It is much easier to buy enough ingredients to make 6 servings of a dish than just 1 serving. So buy those ingredients, make those 6 servings, divide them up and enjoy them throughout the week.

Enjoy your single life and meal prep.

Excuse #4: I don’t want to eat the same thing everyday.

This is usually what I hear next after I debunk excuse #3. There are two ways to approach this problem.

The way I handle this is by telling myself that I am not entitled to feel like eating something. Food is not that exciting and doesn’t need to thrill or entertain me.

I generally don’t mind eating the same thing all week for lunch and dinner, but on the same note I always prepare things that I know I like and that will keep me full and satisfy my cravings.

Always plan foods you really like and consider what you may want from your food during the week. For example, I have learned the salads are the LAST THING I want in the middle of January in Minnesota when I’ve been freezing all day. Instead, I plan things like soups, stir-frys, and Mexican bowls that can warm me up and keep me satisfied.

The other way to solve this dilemma is by preparing bulk items and seasoning it differently throughout the week. Make 6 servings of pasta and plain chicken on Sunday and you have just created a base for a bunch of different meals. You could use those ingredients to have pesto pasta one night, chicken parmesan another, the next night season with cumin and cayenne and add black beans and salsa with a pinch of cheese and you have a completely new meal.

The difference between this and cooking everyday is that making these meals is easy. It will take you 5 minutes to prepare instead of 20. If I were to use this method I would still portion out my base ingredients into equal containers and throw the extra ingredients straight in the dish and the microwave all together to reduce the cooking and cleaning as much as possible.

Be creative and meal prep.

Excuse #5: I live in a dorm and eat at the cafe/don’t have any storage.

Unfortunately, I haven’t experienced this situation first hand, but I have a few suggestions if this is a big hang up for you as to why you can’t lose weight in college.

Just make the best decisions possible. Even if you aren’t going to get in that line, get in the habit of scoping out what the healthiest option is that’s being offered on a given day.

In my opinion it is not realistic for me to suggest you eat at the salad bar for every meal or just load up on the steamed veggies and dry chicken breast every night for dinner. But, if you are looking to lose weight and feel better, eating pizza and ice cream every night will typically not help you get there.

In this case, I would plan! Write down when you want to eat at the salad bar- and be realistic so you can easily follow through- and similarly plan which nights you are going to eat ice cream or whatever else you enjoy.

Make a dining hall ‘meal plan’ that works for you and is easy to execute.

I also really recommend not eating out after a night out drinking. Of course, sometimes we have to, but really try to avoid that 3 AM McDonalds run whenever possible.

If you are going to eat the late night fast food, even that should be planned if you are wanting to lose weight. This makes the experience more intentional rather than a moment of spontaneity. It is a lot less ‘fun’ to consciously eat 20 chicken nuggets than it is to thoughtlessly indulge.

Be honest with yourself and how you are going to show up for your goals. Plan what is realistic for you to follow through on, but also be realistic on what will get you the results.

It will be uncomfortable to not eat when everyone else around you is, but it will be worth it. Those late night indulgences are one of the quickest and most mindless ways to lose sight of your goals.

Chose to be intentional and compassionate while you’re creating plans- don’t fall into a victim mindset and believe you are being deprived or fear that you will miss out.

You’ll either miss out on a few burgers or the experience of living at your dream weight, feeling healthy and confident.

Always make the best decision in the moment.

Aside from just debunking all of your excuses, I also want to get down to the logistics of meal prep. How do you start, how to stay committed, all the things.

First, here is a link to my favorite meal prep containers if you don’t have any. Any of the ones you find will work, but I would recommend getting glass containers- it will look better and keep your food fresher longer. Also no chemicals in your food.

And as trivial as it is, I 100% think having all matching containers is important. Not crucial, but it is so gratifying to see everything looking so clean and organized in your fridge and that satisfaction keeps me going week and after week.

If you are not sure what to make, you can check back here as I will be posting some of my favorite budget friendly recipes, otherwise there is my great friend, Pinterest. Don’t let yourself be confused about what to make- our brains go to confusion when they don’t want to take action. You can and will figure this out.

Next, let’s determine what the next realistic steps are for you to begin making meal prep a part of your routine. I started with only 3-4 dinners a week to eat at work and gradually upped my commitment to every meal of the day when I was ready.

Maybe you are intimated by a full meal prep- that’s fine, but it’s not a reason to not try at all if you know meal prepping would benefit you. Start with what you know you will do. Sometimes that means only prepping breakfast or a few snacks for the week.

The magic of making food decisions ahead of time is that it exponentially increases the probability of you making a healthier decision in life’s hard moments, when you would ordinarily do whatever is easiest.

You will have no reason to swing by a drive through when you’re exhausted on a Thursday night if you know you have a delicious meal at home that will take 2 minutes to heat up.

Meal prep isn’t about over hauling your entire life, it’s about simplifying the life you already have and showing up for the best version of yourself.

The hack to staying committed to this way of eating is to make the process work for you. Don’t start too fast or too ‘healthy’. Just make small, doable changes that you can feel good about.

To stay committed, it also helps to schedule. Don’t leave meal prep up to memory or chance. Set aside time in your week to get it done and follow through. Prove to yourself that you are all in on your diet, time and money goals.

If you get anything out of this post, I want it to be that there is a way to figure anything out. When you have a goal or a lifestyle that you are dreaming of you must be unrelenting in your willingness to solve problems and fight back against your excuses.

And it doesn’t need to be hard or challenging- just showing up a little bit better today than you did yesterday is enough. Not quitting when you eat off your plan or chose not to prep one week, is enough. Just keep going and figuring out what will work for you.

There are no rules and no right way to do anything. This is about you showing up for yourself and following through on commitments to create the life you dream of- a life with less debt, more free time and the ability to be your ideal weight and feel great everyday.

The difference between a fad diet (or something you’re ‘trying’) and a true lifestyle change is your ability to design methods unique to your values and lifestyle. Don’t copy anyone else or play by anyone else’s rules.

Only you know what you are willing to do for the rest of your life so start showing up for those things and begin enjoying those little results. They do matter and they will add up.

“To begin anything new or learn anything new means you will be a neophyte. You must go from outsider to insider. Respect that. Embrace it. Be willing to suck.”

Marie Forleo, Everything is Figureoutable

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