T Nation

Budget-Friendly Meals and Worthwhile Supplements

Waddup T-Nation,

Okay, so two questions:

1). Typical “broke college student” problem: looking for food/meal ideas that are at least somewhat healthy/supportive of gains that are also cheap-ish. I read a couple old TN articles and some old threads, and got some ideas, but I figure I can always see if new people have advice I wouldn’t have thought of.

I’m working on losing weight right now, and won’t be trying to eat to get big anytime soon, so that should help. I’m fine with basic things like eggs, oatmeal, rice, etc. I live in a small Midwest town, so stores like Costco and Sam’s Club aren’t options (there’s just none located near me) and more “exotic” options like fish and most fresh fruit are also crazy expensive and rarely available.

Don’t have much more to say on the topic, just wondering if people have ideas or tips. I’ve heard frozen meat and fruit can sometimes be healthier than fresh stuff, as the nutrients just kinda…what, stay frozen in the food? Ha, not sure how to word it but you get the idea. Is there any truth to that? It’s definitely cheaper.

Any vegan types out there? I’m not a vegan (or vegetarian) and I like meat but if you’ve got any good non-meat ideas those are welcome, as again, price is big part of my decision making and meat can get a little pricey.

2). I don’t have a very varied diet. For meat, it’s usually chicken or beef. Vegetables are usually the same…5-6 things, fruits are usually just apples, bananas, and clementines. I don’t pay too much attention to things like supplements and micronutrients, as I find it just makes me think of all the things I “need to do” but am not doing, but do people have any things that they feel are worthwhile?

Again, price is a factor. If I have to choose between chicken breast and a mineral supplement, I’d probably go with the chicken breast, but theoretically, if I could also add some supplementation to my diet, I’d probably do it.

Fish oil, curcumin, apple cider vinegar, turmeric, magnesium, zinc, etc. The little reading I’ve done on the topic makes some of those things sound pretty beneficial. I’m probably not gonna swallow 10 different capsules a night but if some fish oil and a swig of vinegar had a healthy effect on my body, I’d be willing to take it.

Pretty broad questions, and I’ll continue forming my own ideas/plans, but I always get good feedback on here.

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Cottage cheese is cheap, high protein and relatively low calorie


For a college student, burritos are pretty cost-effective and can be a good choice. Rice, beans, meat, some veggies…yummmmm. So good after a night of beers, too.

For keeping around the house/dorm: I agree cottage cheese it a good choice, so is oatmeal, beens, apples/bananas, peanut butter, eggs.

For supplements, as a college student I would put these pretty low on the priority list. Eat real foods, enjoy your beer, and train. Later on, worry about that crap but even then not too much. It’s often like a weak, obese fella being overly concerned about his rep scheme on his hammer curls. Not gonna matter much yet.


This is pretty good for appetite control and is very cheap- might be worth it

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I side with @antiquity. Don’t try to be perfect; you’re not winning the Olympia.
Find what’s cheap and palatable, train hard, get decent grades, and be social. You won’t get this time back; you’ll get the rest of your life to tweak minor lab work numbers with supplements.


I honestly kinda forgot about cottage cheese. Haven’t had it in a while but I actually don’t mind it. I’ll have to get some of that.

These are always in the rotation, haha. Big fan.

I suppose maybe some more background info may be helpful. I am a college student, but I would guess I’m a little busier than some. I work full time, I just had a baby, I don’t drink/party (just by choice, not my thing), etc.

Not that your advice isn’t still applicable! I know majoring in the minors rarely helps anything. I’m just letting you know my life doesn’t revolve around my gym and sleep schedule like most of my friends.

I’m really trying hard to make my health a big priority since I have people depending on me now, and adolescence is officially a thing of the past. The past few years I’ve gotten sick several times throughout the year, and my doctor and counselor believe it’s due to stress. There’s not much I can do about most of that stress so my doctor just recommended doing as much as I can to boost my immune system. Sleep’s at a low right now which will make things worse, and I just wondered if there was anything (possibly stuff that would combat inflammation?) I could be doing besides eating generally healthy stuff.

Thank you though!

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I too am a broke college student. Most of my caloric intake now comes from:

  • Whole chickens
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Toast
  • Two-minute noodles (I only use half the flavouring)
  • Frozen vegetables (especially peas and carrots)
  • Canned beans
  • Long-life milk
  • Eggs
  • Canned fish

So far seems to be going okay

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As for supps, I found rhodiola very helpful for reducing stress. Just be careful with it. It is technically a mild MAOI. Look out for interactions (I don’t know if you’re on any medications).

Whatever you choose to supplement with, I would look on amazon for bulk supplement sellers. If you are already decided on what supps you are definitely going to take you will save money here. Magnesium for instance, always seems to be expensive in pill form. But I bought 1 kilo of Magnesium Glycinate powder several months ago and it was relatively cheap. It might end up lasting me over a year. Numerous other supplements are the same story. Instead of popping a bunch of pills I mix up a bunch of powders into juice and blend it in a fruit smoothie. There’s something you can use frozen fruit for too.

I didn’t see anyone mention potatoes but they are a great staple food and they have a lot of micronutrients. I don’t know if they would be cheaply available in your area.

I think people waste most of their food money on convenience. You can save a lot of money by figuring out homemade solutions for stuff you would normally buy ready made. I’ve made yogurt in an Instant Pot pressure cooker before and its saved tons of money. Premaking a bunch of homemade burritos is better than buying premade frozen ones. Making homemade pizza, fried rice, french fries, etc will save money if it means you never splurge on takeout again. These are things I’ve done and may not be useful info to you.

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Walmart cooked chickens are only $4.50. A 12oz bag of frozen broccoli (florets) is a buck.

If you can’t get sun in the winter months, supplement with Vitamin D.


Regarding low cost, if you don’t already have one: get a slow cooker. Right now they’re everywhere, since they’re popular around christmas time, and you can get a decent one for $20. What this will do is now make MORE cheap food viable, because you can make just about anything delicious if you slow cook it. Cuts of meat that are traditionally tough and flavorless will be delicious, and you can throw in any sort of veggie you want and it’ll be good. Should open up a lot of cuisine opportunities. You can also make food in giant batches this way and eat for days, which will cut down on prep time.

For supplements, creatine monohydrate is most likely your best bang for buck as far as performance goes. Otherwise, maybe a cheap multivitamin just to make sure your bases are covered. I’m currently a walking chemistry experiment as far as supplements go, but I trained for 21 years before I got to this point, and have only VERY recently opened up beyond creatine, protein, fish oil and glucosamine.

Which, actually, you might consider some fish oil too, if you aren’t getting any fish in your diet.

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Do you eat pork? A pork shoulder/butt in a slow cooker can provide a few meals. Low cost and low work (and is a solid protein source). I like to add a lot of black pepper, salt, and brown sugar (it kinda caramelizes and makes a nice bark). We can usually buy a 2-3 lb piece of meat for $5-7 (but we have access to ALDI, which is an amazing store).

Turkey is another cost effective meat that can taste pretty good. Ground can be seasoned to taste pretty good (I don’t like it as much as beef, but it is still okay), it’s lean, and cheap. Deli turkey is affordable and pretty good. I like to pan fry it, and add it to a sandwich. Around the holidays, whole turkeys can be bought for incredibly low prices.

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Quoted for emphasis -this is excellent advice.


I have watched more of those “Big on a Budget” YouTube videos than I’d like to admit, but there are some good tips/suggestions in a lot of them.


Are you on campus or taking classes remotely?

Blended oatmeal and olive oil.

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Sorry all, kinda forgot I created the thread. Been a busy month.

@j4gga2 - what kind of canned fish do you eat? I’ve never really expanded beyond tuna, although I have started eating sardines. I usually like the “fishy” taste.

Haha, what? I didn’t even know that was something you could do.

@T3hPwnisher, I have not taken the plunge yet, but I’ve seen you mention slow cookers plenty of times and am planning on buying one at some point here. All extra purchases are being put off until we decide how exactly we want to deal with our money.

I’ve considered this a lot. Then I started to make the mistake of reading about it and now I’m being told by T-Nation that only the one they sell is a good choice if you are a male and then I read some other guys (@Voxel and @SkyzykS, I think?) talking about a study (which are always to be listened to, haha) which made me question it. Maybe I’ll just go for it though.

@mnben87 - I do eat pork and generally find however it’s prepared to be tasty. As far as turkey goes, I’ve never quite found it to live up to chicken and beef when I use it as a substitute but it’s not bad.

@jskrabac - I’m taking classes on campus but live at home with my girlfriend, son, mother, siblings, and grandmother, as well as the occasional random friend or relative. It’s just how we do things - multigenerational and crowded, haha. Anyway, I’m assuming you asked to determine if cafeteria food was my go to or if I had access to a kitchen? If so, no and yes.

Again, to everybody, apologies for taking a month to reply. No need to feel like you’re required to continue the conversation.

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I get that for sure, but when you factor in that a $20 purchase now can save you WAY more than that down the road by making cheap cuts of meat and veggies into meals, it ends up being an investment.

And welcome back dude.

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I second what T3hPwnisher says on slow cookers/instant pot.
If used correctly an instant pot saves an enormous amount of time and money-

Time in that it cooks the food for you with zero attention paid to it besides initial prep.
Money in that it makes cheap food (cheap cuts of meat/cheap vegetables) extremely tasty if you season it according to what you like and cook it at the proper method.

It also allows you to make large quantities of food, which should be a bonus given the large family that lives with you.

It is probable that whatever your mom makes (I assume your mom does the cooking), slow cooker/instant pot will make it easier.

I think multi-vitamin/mineral supplements are hogwash and you’ll be fine as long as you eat a varied diet and eat a good bit of vibrantly colored leafy greens and root vegetables. Just eat some fatty fish once a week if you want (mackerel is awesome).


Yeah, that was us the other day. Choices, choices.

All I can say is it’s better to be informed than surprised.

And good to see ya man. You’re understandably a very busy guy. :+1:


I thought I was the only one!

You could try smoked salmon or pickled herring