The most expensive thing to purchase out of your own pocket while away on your own will be your proteins and fresh fruits and vegetables. Starches are always cheap and usually friendly to dorm room appliances (microwaves, hot plates, etc.), but the rest can feel extravagant or out of reach when push comes to shove with your monthly budget.
Here are a few tips to help put a twist on your basic school cafeteria food and hopefully keep the Freshman 15 at bay too.
1. Bring A Doggy Bag: It sounds cheap, but if food is kept sectioned off, there's no reason why three extra chicken strips on your plate can't be taken back to your room and chilled for later use. Cut them up and toss them on a salad or make them into a wrap; heck, just eat them as they are! If you bring a plastic snap top container or a bento box, you can even return home with fresh fruits and vegetables with little struggle or explosive messes in your backpacks. Even if your friends think you're weird, they'll soon come around to your thrifty ways.
2. Pack Spice Packs: The food served up in your local school cafeteria isn't usually all that horribly prepared, but it can be a little on the flavorless side of things. Great spices to bring along to stir into your dishes are: sea salt, garlic powder, black pepper, paprika, hot sauce or lime and lemon powders. You can either package them like you would for camping, or make blends ahead and carry a standard bag or shaker of your favorite seasoning mixes.
3. Pick And Choose: Just because certain things are served together, doesn't mean you have to eat them together. Mix things up to create your own, healthier versions of their menu. Don't forget to season!
4. Bring One Thing From Home: It could be oven roasted tofu chunks to top off a great salad or real cheese for your hamburger; small personal touches are a great way to liven things up without shilling out all of your cash for the week.
5. Eat Out Of Order: Just because the dinner served is meatloaf and potatoes, doesn't mean the breakfast bar is out of the question. Don't be afraid to eat cereal and milk for dinner if it's going to taste better and not weigh you down later on. Cereal, toast, apples and oranges are usually available any time of the day!
Do you have any dorm or college-related eating tips?
Related: Could You Live Without an Oven?
(Image: Flickr Member VirtualErn licensed for use under Creative Commons)