Nutrition for (almost) nothing

Health-conscious grocery shopping on a student budget

Healthy eating is generally conducive to healthy living.  But despite best intentions, maintaining a balanced diet can be a challenge for many students.  The world of nutrition is filled with muddled reports that oscillate between contradictory conclusions weekly (wait, so coffee is good for you now?) and fad diets that advocate for extreme, and unhealthy, dietary habits.

Once you wade through this sea of information, a new challenge emerges: eating nutritious food on a student budget.  Instant noodles are cheap; anti-oxidant-rich blueberries are not. What foods can we afford that pack a nutritional punch? I sat down with U3 Food Sciences and Nutritional Sciences student Rebecca Hartley, an avid runner and long time nutrition enthusiast, to compile the following list of ten cheap, healthy foods. Of course, variety is key to ensuring an adequate intake of the myriad of essential vitamins and minerals, but incorporating a few of these suggestions into your routine will spare your wallet and contribute to a healthier diet.


Buy them in bulk at Costco! Packed full of minerals, with some types even a source of essential fatty acids, eggs are economical and fool-proof to prepare. For the busy student on the go, hard boil several to last a few days, and toss them in your bag for a protein-rich breakfast or snack.


Besides being an obvious and very good source of calcium, milk contains protein, and vitamin D, which many of us may be deficient in, particularly during the winter.  During our cold, dark northern winters, Hartley suggests a daily supplement of vitamin D (take note, those who hibernate inside during the winter months).

Low-sodium canned tomatoes

According to Hartley, the average student intakes 3,500 to 4,000 mg of sodium each day, far exceeding the 2,500 mg recommended upper limit. Ensure the canned tomatoes are indeed low sodium. It doesn’t get much cheaper than this, people. Tomatoes are a great source of vitamin C and lycopene, whose antioxidant properties have been associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes.

Chick peas (garbanzo beans)

Great for “digestive support,” chick peas supply 50 per cent of your daily-recommended fibre intake per cup.  This means your colon is happy and you’re less hungry, helping to control calorie intake. It also includes protein, and has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.


Not all nuts are created equally. Walnuts are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E, and have been shown to have significant cardiovascular benefits. They’re portable and delicious (and calorie rich).

Cruciferous vegetables

The most common types are broccoli and cauliflower, but this vegetable family also includes bok choy, brussel sprouts, and rapini. These different vegetables all offer unique nutritional contributions, but expect tons of vitamin C, vitamin A, fibre, and even calcium in the broccoli.


Dirt cheap with a long shelf life, oatmeal is well known for being high in soluble fiber, but did you also know it contains a significant amount of protein? Ten per cent of your recommended daily intake in a cup of cooked oats!


Such a quintessential food item is doubtless already a staple in many student diets, but there are literally hundreds of varieties out there that can differ significantly in taste. As they are all comparable in nutritional value, stray a little from the proverbial sidewalk, and ditch the Red Delicious for another variety next time.

Canned salmon

A more economical way of reaping the health benefits of salmon, this particular fish is preferable over tuna, which may contain mercury. Canned salmon boasts Omega 3, protein, and potassium.


Yeah, I kind of cheated. It’s not a food item, but it’s a daily component of Hartley’s diet. As long as you have a balanced eating plan, a normal multivitamin will complement your diet, filling in on those days when you’re a little under in some departments.

Special thanks to Rebecca Hartley, whose expertise and passion for educating less nutrition-minded individuals made this article possible.