PORTLAND, Ore. -- If dining on a budget during college makes you think of endless rounds of pizza or ramen noodles, think again.
Here are four tips on keeping yourself, and your food budget, healthy when you're cooking on your own for the first time.
1. Eat breakfast: This is the most important meal of the day and the most common one to skip. It's also typically the fastest and the cheapest to make. The simple act of eating breakfast helps charge your brain and body and sets you up to make better food choices all day, says Jessica Wilson, a dietitian at the University of Oregon's health center.
In fact, you should eat all day. It's counterintuitive that eating more will keep your food costs down, but eating balanced meals and healthy snacks helps keep your blood sugar steady throughout the day.
It's when your blood sugar spikes and then plunges, or when you fail to eat for extended periods, that you are likely to feel famished and overindulge. Worse still, not eating can send you to the nearest vending machine, where you'll pay more than you should for ultimately unsatisfying snacks.
"The simple act of trying to eat healthier can stretch your budget," says dietitian Nicole Cormier, author of "The Everything Healthy College Cookbook.
2. Buy cheap: Buy staples such as beans, pasta and oats and other grains in bulk; buy canned fish or frozen vegetables rather than fresh items that can go bad (and sometimes cost more).
Seek ways to save money on protein especially because it's the most expensive part of most meals. Less expensive protein options include frozen chicken breasts, which are handy for salads or sandwiches. Beans and peanut butter are easy proteins that keep well.
Miller and Cormier both point to eggs as inexpensive protein that's easy to prepare and good at any time of the day. Another favorite of Cormier's is whole wheat couscous, which takes only a few minutes to make and has protein and fiber.
3. Plan ahead: It's easy to get caught up in studying, work and other activities, but it helps to plan some meals ahead.
This can be as easy as making a Crock-Pot full of food that will yield leftovers all week. But try making more than one so you don't tire of your favorite foods by eating them every day for a week. Experts recommend dishing food into separate containers to make it easier to reheat one portion at a time later on.
Sometimes planning ahead is simply a matter of keeping ingredients for several easy meals on hand so you head to the kitchen and not the taco stand when it's time for dinner.
Cormier recommends including a lean protein, whole grains and a fruit or vegetable in each meal.
If you are going to campus for the whole day, bring healthy snacks such as carrots and hummus or trail mix to keep your energy up and avoid the temptation of buying treats.
4. Watch your drinking: Caffeinated beverages that many college students rely on, such as coffee, soda or energy drinks, can be dehydrating and contribute to the spikes and drops in blood sugar that make you feel hungry.
Dietitians suggest carrying a refillable water bottle because staying hydrated helps keep you healthy and energized (and, compared with the cost of disposable bottles, it pays for itself within days).
And then there's alcohol: It packs a lot of calories, leaves drinkers dehydrated and can be very expensive.