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Eating Well on a Budget (October 2022)

Hey Mountaineers! This is your fellow student and dietetic intern at Dining Services, Michelle DuVall, here. I hope you all are enjoying the cooler temperatures and beautiful changing leaves this fall season. Plus, football is here!

I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about eating well while you are a student here at WVU. We all have different budgets, nutrition requirements and likes/dislikes when it comes to food. I feel that it is important to always keep in mind that students are often limited on resources to purchase or prepare foods that they enjoy. So, this post will be all about eating well on a budget.

What We Know...

In a 2019 scoping review completed about college students in the United States, 51 study samples were analyzed and reviewed. From those studies, the overall weighted estimate of students with food insecurities was around 41%. 1 This is approximately 3.5 times the average for non-student American households at 11.8% (in 2017). Food insecurity can mean many things: insufficient access or availability, inadequate quantity, or even variability in the freshness of food. Students of color are even more likely than their white peers to experience food insecurity. 2 The effects of food insecurity on college students’ successes are also important to consider.

What we know about how food insecurity impacts college students is extensive. First, there are physical impacts such as nutritional deficiencies. Many college students are deficient in Vitamin B12, Zinc, and Calcium. 11 Other physical impacts can also include increased smoking, decreased physical activity and poor sleep. 12

In addition, food insecurity is significantly correlated to an increased incidence of mental health outcomes in college students. Depression and anxiety are common, and it is worth noting that food insecurity tends to start what could be considered a “bidirectional cyclic process. 13” Students who are food insecure, have declined mental health and have poorer sleep quality often see increased burdens and decreases in daily performance. 13 Scarcity can also lead to habits that may be considered disordered eating patterns.

Research has made the connection that having an insufficient diet can impact students’ abilities to learn. According to a John Hopkins study, food-insecure students are only half (43%) as likely to graduate as food-secure peers. 14

Social impacts can also be seen on college campuses. Mealtime is traditionally a social event by nature. We start out eating with our families and often transition to eating with friends, eating meals while dating, and often carry-on mealtime traditions with our own families as we get older and settle into long-term routines. If students are invited to dinner with friends and don’t have the funds to eat out, they often feel isolated when they can’t go along. Or if they do go along, they feel uncomfortable sitting and sipping on a drink while everyone else is eating a meal. Some may even proclaim, “I’m not that hungry” in response to why they aren’t purchasing food to go along with that drink. It is much more common than we think.

On-Campus Resources

The Rack: WVU Student Food Pantry 3

  • The Rack provides both perishable and non-perishable foods to all WVU students.
  • Fresh Food Mondays! Get your fresh fruits and veggies on Mondays between 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. while supplies last. Grab any five fresh produce options!
  • Hours: Monday-Friday, 8:15 a.m. - 4:45 p.m. (office is closed on University holidays)
  • Location: Lower level of Morgan House (660 North High Street, across from Mountainlair, up the hill from Boreman Hall). Be sure to go in through the side door on the lower level. Five-minute parking is available. Don’t forget your student ID!

Off-Campus Resources

Scott’s Run Settlement House 4

  • Scott's Run Settlement House serves individuals and families in Monongalia County and offers a food pantry.
  • Schedule your time to visit the food pantry by calling 304-599-5020 or by sending them a message.

Christian Help 5

  • Christian Help offers individuals and families a three-to-five-day emergency supply of food and other essential items every 30 days.
  • Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, 9 a.m. - 4 p.m., Friday, 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
  • For more information, call 304-296-0221.
  • They also off clothing, housewares and other items to shop from for free every seven days.

St. Ursula Food Pantry 6

SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) 7

Typically, most college students are not eligible for SNAP. However, there are some exemptions:

  • Under age 18 or over age 50
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Work at least 20 hours a week in paid employment
  • Participate in state/federal funded financed work-study program
  • Participate in an on-the-job training program
  • Care for a child under age 6
  • Care for a child age 6-11 and lack necessary childcare
  • Single parent enrolled full-time in college and taking care of a child under age 12
  • Receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Enrolled in TANF Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS) program

For more information, visit the SNAP website or contact the WV Department of Health & Human Resources at 1-800-642-8589.

Ways to Save 8

Plan your recipes.

  • Look for cheaper vegetables/fruits based on what’s in season.
  • Find ingredients that you can use for more than one dish (e.g. vegetables that can be used as a side dish one night and thrown in a soup the next).
  • You can buy less expensive ingredients by substituting beans for meat in certain recipes like chili, spaghetti, burgers, etc. Or go meatless!

Shop with a list.

  • This keeps you from buying impulse purchases (which are typically more expensive).

Frozen or canned are perfectly healthy.

  • Typically cost less
  • Last longer
  • Often have resealable packaging
  • Allows you to buy “off-season” for cheaper

Use coupons and reward programs

  • Kroger: Check the weekly ad, digital coupons and accumulate fuel points to save on gas purchases.
  • Giant Eagle: Check the weekly ad, digital coupons, offers, etc.
  • Groupon: Find savings for many stores.
  • Aldi: Check weekly online ads to see the best buys each week.
  • Fetch Rewards: Use to scan your receipts, save up points and get gift cards for many different retailers.

Shop store (generic) brands.

  • You can save 20-30% off compared to retail prices.
  • You might also check the produce section for “gently bruised” or special markdowns. I have used overripe bananas from that section to make banana bread many times for only $0.15 worth of bananas!

Nutritious and Less Expensive Foods 9


Many different protein types can be enjoyed on a student’s budget. One of my favorite staples to this day is red beans and rice. I typically use kidney beans, white rice, and diced tomatoes, and I add a few inexpensive staple seasonings (like garlic, salt, pepper, and hot sauce) to make a full meal that typically lasts me a couple of days. Beans and legumes are great sources of plant-based protein, fiber, and vitamins.

Canned fish (like tuna) can also be used for your increasing your daily protein intake. It can be eaten on crackers, sandwiches, or even mixed in with noodles and cheese for a simple tuna noodle casserole recipe.

Nut butter – who could forget nut butter?! I love it (peanut, almond, cashew, etc.) Peanut is the most affordable and easiest to find. I love it on apples, peanut butter toast with banana slices, as a mix-in for oatmeal, and even in smoothies.

Don’t forget eggs! They are essentially the closest we can get to a perfect protein. Scrambled, poached, hard-boiled, fried, or in an omelet, they help to keep me full for hours. And at just over $2 per dozen (average price at Wal-Mart in October 2022), they pack a huge nutritional punch for very little money.


Fruits and vegetables are one of the areas where we can really take a look at what is in season and buy our food accordingly. With Fall weather here, apples, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, greens, cranberries, green beans, pears, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and winter squash are just a few of the items that are delicious and in season.

There are always staples that can be obtained very affordably almost any time of the year. For example, bananas are one of my favorite fruits. My kids used to always laugh at me when we went grocery shopping because I loved to point out to them how cheap bananas were. I think it’s funny that now as college students themselves, they have both told me that they can’t checkout at the register without silently thinking to themselves “bananas are cheap” every time they go to the store. I guess I taught them something!

Buying whole heads of lettuce, cabbage, broccoli, etc. is more affordable than buying already cut or pre-packaged produce. Also, you certainly can’t discount canned or frozen fruits and veggies. I use canned tomato products regularly for dishes like spaghetti, chili, or even pizza sauce, but there are many other canned and frozen veggies to enjoy as well. Stir-fries can be easily thrown together in a pan using frozen vegetables (with or without animal protein). Add a splash of soy sauce and serve over rice to up your intake of veggies.

How many different ways can we eat potatoes?! Baked, mashed, roasted, fried, hashbrown/tater tots, pasta (gnocchi), potato salad, in soup, steamed, and boiled are just 10 ways I thought of. I’ll bet there are dozens more.

Canned, frozen, or even dried fruits are great for snacks, additions to cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, or even for baking. Plus, this allows you to buy fruits all year long (even when they may not be in season). For example, strawberries are great in the summer when purchased fresh, and typically pretty reasonably priced. Not so much in the winter, but if you still want to eat them, frozen berries are a great affordable alternative.


I often associate grains as one of my comfort foods. Who doesn’t love a good bowl of pasta, rice, oatmeal, cereal, a quesadilla, or bread? Luckily, grains are typically one of the most affordable food groups to purchase, and with many of these foods being fortified with vitamins and minerals, they are often very nutritious as well.

Grain bowls are quite popular and pretty easy to throw together. Rice is a common base for grain bowls, but quinoa or a rice/quinoa mix can also be delicious. One of my favorite creations is a Greek grain bowl with quinoa, diced cucumber, chopped tomatoes, canned chickpeas, feta cheese, and Greek dressing. Other than the grains, no cooking is required.

Pasta is also very versatile. Think about dishes such as macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, fettuccini alfredo, pesto, or the aforementioned tuna noodle casserole.

Bread and tortillas can become vessels for many different meals as well. I love a good grilled cheese or PB&J anytime. And I think quesadillas, tacos, and other Mexican favorites should have their own food group.

Not everyone eats breakfast, but if you do, this is an opportunity to grab some grains: cereals, oatmeal, bagels, English muffins, toast, granola, waffles, or pancakes are all great sources of grains. I enjoy overnight oats, and it’s convenient to make my breakfast the night before and just grab it to go in the morning.

Dairy Products

Besides the obvious dairy product (milk), there are many other ways to get your daily requirement for this food group.

I really enjoy yogurt, and if you go to the yogurt section in the grocery store, you will see that there are dozens of different types of yogurts. Generally, the plain store brand is the most affordable, and you can add fruit to it or even granola to give it flavor. Even the flavored yogurts aren’t that costly, and while I prefer the Greek variety, many others whom I know like the coconut-based yogurt (especially if sensitive to dairy) or oat-milk-based yogurts.

Cottage cheese is another dairy choice that is full of protein – many people like mixing it with fruit as well, especially canned peaches.

Ice cream or frozen yogurt fall into this category as well, and while not something very practical if you have a very small freezer space, it is fun to enjoy, and one of those foods that give me a feel-good mood. I remember making homemade ice cream with my dad and enjoying many an ice cream cone with my grandma as well. Kroger has great store-brand ice cream, and it’s often much cheaper than other brands as well.

Last, but not least, there is also cheese. String cheese is relatively affordable, especially the store brand, but even blocks of cheese (to be shredded after purchasing) are a good choice. I think cheese is a good addition to many dishes.


This is such a broad category as almost any food can be considered a snack, but when I think about snack foods, I often think about pretzels, crackers, popcorn, chips, and cookies. Looking for sales is always a must when shopping for snacks, and of course, everyone has their favorite snack. Buying store brands helps to save money, but if you are like me, sometimes you’re willing to cut back in some areas just to have some funds set aside for the fun snacks.

Mountaineer Cookbook 10

The Mountaineer Cookbook is a guide to healthful eating with many easy options for students who have limited cooking resources or capabilities.

Just remember, you are not alone. There are many resources out there to assist you. I hope that you have found some of these resources and information helpful. Happy Eating Mountaineers!

By Michelle DuVall, MS student and Dietetic Intern in Nutritional and Food Sciences


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