The Fit Student—How to Eat Healthy on a Tight Budget

What should you do when your belly growls? 

I interviewed with two social justice warriors days ago.   And I needed the job.  Badly.  We were meeting at a restaurant.  I wondered, “Would they buy dinner?”  Earlier that day, for the first time, I ate banana peels.  Without those peels, I’d have had no energy to work out later in the gym.   

I sat down with the interviewers at the outdoor patio of a restaurant.  After some light chitchat, one interviewer said, “What’s your view on the ultimate veggie burger?” 

“Fake meat,” I said, “Highly processed.  Like sausage and deli cuts.  Sooner or later, it’ll make you sick with chronic disease.”  

“Diabetes?” he asked, laughing.

I nodded.

His lips tightened, “I eat ultimate burgers every day.  I’m vegetarian.”

“I used to be vegetarian.  Six years,” I said. 

He then smiled, sighed, and shrugged his shoulders.  “I’m on the road most of the time,” he said.  “In six months on the road, I gained thirty pounds.”  He patted his stomach as his eyes widened. 

“Stay away from restaurants,” I warned, “All that sugar, fat, and salt.” 

“But I don’t have time to prep meals,” he argued. 

“Eat raw,” I said. 

“Like veggies?” he asked. 

“Raw fruits and veggies, uncooked organic steel cut oats, almond butter, organic nuts and seeds,” I said.

“But I have a nut allergy,” he replied. 

“Then eat organic avocadoes,” I said. 

He leaned back in his chair, his eyes squinting.    

“Here’s how to eat organic,” I blurted, “but on a budget …”.  My voice tapered off. 

After an awkward pause, he said, “We make six figure salaries here.  But, I’m curious, how do you eat organic on a budget?”   

I hesitated, and then shyly said, “Buy organic bananas and eat the peels.  Two meals in one.” 

The social justice warriors stared at me.  A long silence passed and then the lean social justice warrior spoke up, “People will eat anything when they’re hungry.”

I nodded.

He added, “It’s hard to work freelance when you’ve got an empty stomach.” 

Oh oh!  “But banana peels are rich in nutrition.  B6 and B12.  Potassium.  In other parts of the world, people eat banana peels,” I explained.

The faces of the social justice warriors soured. 

The lean warrior looked upward, as if doing some mental calculations, and then piped up, “We’ll pay you an extra hour for that assignment.  But for now, eat.  Our treat.  Would you like a side of yam fries?”

“Deep fried yam fries?” I said.  “I’m better off with the banana peel.”    

The moral?  Never disclose to an employer you eat banana peels.  But if you do, hope you do so to social justice warriors.              

But social warrior or not, if you’ve got a hungry belly, here are my best hacks for how to eat healthy on a tight budget:   

Eat peels of certain organic fruits.  Eat the peels of kiwis, bananas, mangoes, lemons, oranges, and watermelon.  But make sure they’re organic.  If you can’t find the organic version of the fruit, then wash the nonorganic peels in a mix of apple cider and water.  That’ll sponge off pesky pesticides. 

Buy natural, unsalted peanut butter.  You need your fats.  I stopped buying almond butter (too expensive).  Instead, I stock up on peanut butter.  The peanut butter doesn’t provide nearly the health benefits of almond butter, but when you’re pinched for cash, peanut butter goes down fine. 

Buy wild salmon but divide the can into two or three meals.  Wild salmon (with the bones) gives you plenty of protein and heaps of calcium.  Plus, students gain from brain benefits of omega-3’s. 

Buy veggies that come capped with leafy greens.  Beets come with greens, as do radishes, cauliflower, and garden carrots.  If you buy these items, make a meal out of the leafy greens.  Some stores offer beets with beet greens at lower prices than regular beets.  Can’t beat cheap beets. 

Buy organic steel cut oats from bulk bins.  If you buy bulk-bin organic steel cut oats, soak them in a cup of organic milk or kefir milk overnight.  No need to cook.  I eat organic oats without soaking them.  Great jaw workout.  Fills the stomach. 

Buy flaxseed.  For just under $4, you’ve can buy a month’s worth of brain-healthy omega-3 vitamins.  I buy organic flaxseed.  A cheap way to fill up on brain healthy fats.     

Buy frozen berries in bulk boxes.  My nutritionist says frozen berries get picked at the peak of ripeness, so frozen rivals fresh for nutritional value.  I buy frozen cultivated blueberries, but frozen wild blueberries brim with greater antioxidants.  Just be sure to buy in bulk.       

Drink only water.  Toss the coffees, teas, pops, and juice—especially the pops and juice, unless your juicing from fresh fruits and vegetables.  Water fills the belly; cola wages war.  And say no to Starbucks.  Some Starbucks offer free hot or cold water.  That’s all I drink. 

And finally, we come to banana peels.  I say, “Vegetarians, tame your taste buds to love ‘em!”  Banana peels offer vitamins missing from a meatless diet: “’Banana peel is eaten in many part of the world, though [it’s] not very common in the West,’ Flores said, ‘It contains high amounts of vitamin B6 and B12, as well as magnesium and potassium.  It also contains some fiber and protein.’ … Banana peels also have ‘various bioactive compounds like polyphenols, carotenoids and others.” 

Ultimate veggie burger?  I’ll stick with the peel.