How to Be Keto in College

Marissa Daniel
Jun 8, 2021

So you want to try the Keto diet on a college budget? Well, you’re in luck, we have come up with this quick and easy guide to saving money while on the Keto diet.

The biggest struggle with dieting while in college is a lot of them are expensive and time-consuming and quite frankly, you don’t have the funds or bandwidth for that. Even if you’re working your part-time job, you should probably not be spending upwards of $50 a week on groceries or hours cooking (and even that is a stretch). That’s not all, diets can also take up a lot of your time when you’re cooking every meal for yourself. And your dining hall might not have everything you need to be successful.

Unfortunately, with Keto, you can't eat everything that's offered in your college meal plan. Say "so long" to affordable legumes, grains, and the two minutes you spend making ramen noodles - we won’t be seeing you for a while.

Hello protein, avocados, and all the low-carb veggies (yup, that’s a thing) your heart can desire. I bet you’re catching on that this Keto thing can get a little pricey, and time-consuming.

What is the Keto Diet Anyways

The Ketogenic diet (Keto diet) is marked by a low-carb and high-fat food intake. It is known to help you lose weight quickly due to the nature of the body using fat as its main fuel source rather than carbohydrates, which are scientifically proven to be a more efficient energy source.

Eating Keto forces the body to go into a metabolic state called ketosis, which among other things can greatly lower blood sugar and insulin levels. 

Getting professional guidance

Okay, real question here… if you were trying to get fit, would you ask your math teacher for advice? Most likely you wouldn’t; you would ask someone you know who is into fitness, or you would just hire a trainer and get right down to business. Well, the same thing goes for nutrition. You shouldn’t just ask anyone, you should ask a nutritionist or someone who is a trained dietician to help formulate a plan that works for you.

If you want to succeed at your goals, getting the right education from a trained professional is key. Check on campus for a dietician or nutritionist. You can also make friends with nutrition majors; they are often more than willing to show off their knowledge and help you out along the way!

Saving money and time

Now that we know a thing or two about the Keto diet, let’s get to the good stuff (yes, we also mean cheddar cheese). Being Keto in college may sound impossible, but it’s actually not. In fact, here’s our list of ways that you can successfully be Keto in college without breaking the bank or wasting all your time in the kitchen (time that you should be spending studying, or hanging out with your friends - priorities, people).

Remove the idea that you have to eat 100% organic (do what you can!) To be quite honest, eating all organic is not only a waste of your resources, but there is not much benefit to eating organic candy versus non-organic candy. Candy is candy.

With Keto, you won’t be eating candy anyway… but the point is that not every produce item you buy has to be organic. Be mindful of what you should buy organic; things with hard, thick, non-porous shells that you don’t actually consume can be skipped over in the organic section.

Worry about the foods that have thin skins that you actually eat; these are more cost-effective and actually have a benefit to eating organic.

A few helpful tips on when and when not to buy organic:

* For a more extensive list, check out the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen and clean fifteen.

* Check out delivery service options such as They are offering ugly and excess fruits and vegetables at significantly reduced prices. Note: This service just requires you to be a little bit more flexible with your meal planning, since the produce comes on a seasonal basis and switches up regularly.

* Take what you can from your dining meal plan

We put this toward the top of the list for a reason - likely if you live in a dorm, you are required to have a meal plan. And with said meal plan, you can maneuver your way around to find the best Keto-friendly options.

1. Go directly to the protein section and take a sizeable amount of protein that isn’t covered in sauce or anything questionable. Most dining halls offer just plain chicken breast or tenders. You can also find hamburger patties and make a bunless burger. Pro tip: Put a burger over a bed of greens to make a burger salad, make sure to add all the toppings!

2. Stock up on low-carb veggies. Green vegetables are the best way to go, but some dining halls might also have Keto-friendly veggies such as cauliflower, spaghetti squash, and zucchini.

3. Use olive oil and butter as your main source of flavor. These are healthy fat options. Plus, olive oil and vinegar is a great salad dressing option when you’re in a pinch.Speaking of salad, the salad bar can provide you with lots of vegetables that are cut up and raw. There also tends to be a great selection of cheese, and protein. You don’t always have to make a salad out of these items; combine them with some eggs and you could have a disassembled omelet (Assuming your dining hall doesn’t have an all-day egg bar).

4. Avoid juices and sodas and stick to water, or whole milk if you are looking to switch it up.

5. When in doubt, bring your own avocados if you know there won’t be a lot of fat choices for you. Avocados are hard to come by in a dining hall, but they are great on just about everything, so bringing your own could open up some fulfilling meal opportunities for you.

6. Be creative! Don’t eat the same thing every day, try and switch up your meals when you can so you don’t get sick of things. Odds are, thinking outside the box will bring you more meal-satisfaction anyways.And more meal satisfaction means you can stick to your goals!

Buy seasonal produce

This is a huge money saver and can be incredibly cost-effective for a major reason. Seasonal fruits and veggies are in abundance, therefore they are a lot less expensive, and easier to get, saving you money and wasted time trying to maneuver the produce aisle.

You can get the freshest seasonal produce at your local farmers market, ensuring you’re getting the best quality and bang for your buck.

Buy in bulk

This is by far our favorite hack… why? Because it saves so much money AND time in the long term. Talk about a double whammy. If you’re serious about committing to Keto in college, try these bulk buying tips!

Go on a bulk grocery run with your parents before you even get to campus.

This can be a huge win when it comes to buying those expensive snacking items, like produce, nuts and seeds. 
Pro tip: When you buy seasonal fruits and vegetables in bulk, you can freeze them yourself for things like smoothies or quick meals. This might be a little extra work for you but it can also save you time - when you want, for example, zucchini and you’ve already cut it, cooked it, and frozen it.
Meat can also be purchased in bulk at stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, and BJ’s. They tend to offer the lowest price per-ounce and have decently high quality. 
Pro Tip: The name of this game is price comparison. By looking at the price per-ounce you can make the best buying decision and save the most money. If you want to save money just do your research and properly weigh your options.

Subscribe to a meat delivery service

Since your entire diet consists mostly of meat, you might as well cut corners on price (without sacrificing quality) where you can.

Butcherbox is a great option for this; it is a meat subscription delivery service that delivers GOOD quality meat for a lower price. It’s not cheap by any means, but they do have a referral program that you could take advantage of to get money off each month. And they offer special deals to members! If you choose this option, you are also saving time not having to grocery shop for these items.

Shop the sales

Coupons and online deals can help you stretch your dollars out. You can learn the art of shopping smart in our "Healthy Meals On A Budget" guide.

Don’t buy packaged and prepared foods

Before you start saying these are off-limits anyways, we know that! What we mean is, don’t buy pre-washed lettuce, pre-made salads, marinated meats, prepared vegetables, pre-portioned trail mix…. etc, etc. Don’t do it.

You might think that they will save you time, and sure, they will, but they will cost you significantly more money in the long run. These are premium-priced products and you don’t have the budget for that.

Less is more

Don’t get tripped up with all the elaborate meals that exist on the internet; keep your recipes simple and easy. Typically they’re the best recipes anyway, and you won’t drop all your money on your groceries week to week.

Pro Tip: Spices, spices, spices. Stick to the basics, don’t overcomplicate, a little goes a long way!

Time-saving tips

Meal prep with your time in mind

Meal prepping sounds like the most awful thing on earth. It requires so much time, focus, and organization, it’s a lot to think about all these things when you have exams, projects, and you just want to hang with your friends. We get it.

Meal prep for one meal at a time

Make meal prepping easy on yourself by only prepping for one meal per day. By this I mean, focus on JUST dinner to meal prep for. Breakfast is easy and can be taken care of with some eggs or full-fat yogurt. Lunch can be spent in the dining hall, or you can just get some cold cuts and have some cucumber sticks and peppers cut up so you have to do minimal work.

Since you’re ONLY prepping for dinner, do the easy things first, like cutting up your vegetables, taking your meat out of the freezer and cooking it, so when it comes to cooking all you have to do is heat up whatever you’re having and maybe saute a couple of vegetables with your protein.

Simplifying your meal prepping plan means you can spend less time and effort in the kitchen while still eating wholesome meals.

Freeze everything
If you don’t want to do anything food-related during the week, meal prep entirely for the week on your least busy day (usually Sunday).

Doing it all at one time saves you a lot of extra time during the week, and you can keep things in the freezer so your meals don’t go bad in case one day you make other food plans.

Cook with the same ingredients all week

You can make all your meals using the same meat, veggies, and fats, and the meals can all be different! Do this by making different sauces, and preparing your foods slightly different from day-to-day.

Not only will this save you time from having to prep a ton of different meats and veggies, but you will save money by not having things go bad throughout the week. Win/Win!

Last but certainly not least… just plan

When in doubt, plan it out. Literally, buy a planner and write in it what your plans are each day for food. This takes a few extra minutes out of your day, but then you don't have to stress in the long run.

You want to know where you will be spending your time and where you will be spending your money. Knowing these things ahead of time will set up for a successful, budget-friendly Keto diet. Plan one day a week to do your shopping/meal planning/prepping.

The Keto-conclusion

Dong the Keto diet in college is not impossible, and there are so many ways you can make it work. If you’re truly committed to the diet and your ultimate health goals, you will do what it takes to be successful, or you will find excuses not to. So set forth, and commit to your goals!

Bonus advice: What about the holidays?

Something we didn’t touch upon is how to stay on track with the Keto diet during the holidays. Which is a great question! We have a few foolproof ways to enjoy the holidays while also sticking to your goals.

1. Prepare

You’re probably reading this thinking, well, duh. And rightfully so. But to be honest, the only way you will get through anything is having a plan. If you fail to plan you plan to fail, and that’s true for the holidays especially.

For every holiday party you have on your calendar, have a plan set in place so you don’t arrive hungry, staring at cookies and chips for two hours.

Even the most disciplined people can have a hard time resisting when everyone is around the food table, munching on salty and sweet goodies.

Eat a wholesome, nutritious meal before you go and (hopefully) not being hungry will make avoiding these pitfalls a little easier.

2. Bring a snack

When in doubt, bring a snack!  You can make bring a solo snack or something for everyone (I recommend the second option because it’s more fun to share).

Just look up a holiday Keto recipe and go for it. That way you have something to look forward to and fall back on when the hunger strikes. Again, planning is KEY!

Pro Tip: If you want to be more in control of the menu, you can always host your own Friendsgiving - here are our tips for making it a fun experience.

3. Don’t stress

We saved this one for last for a reason. We want this one to stick.  Unless you are in a position that you NEED to be Keto for health concerns, we get it! But for the rest of you, it’s totally okay to cheat on a meal or two. Nothing bad will happen if you veer off track.

The holidays are when you should be enjoying time with friends and family. If you’re just worrying about your food consumption you won’t enjoy yourself at all.

So relax, take a breath, and remember that you can get back on track the next day if you give into temptation.

It’s important to remember that the decisions you make aren’t permanent, and that the holidays are a short couple of days over the course of a year!