food, organization

Meal Planning for Commuter Students

March 24, 2015

orphan survival guide - social media - meal planning for commuter students

So I mentioned before that the semester is keeping me pretty busy. I pull 14-hour days during the week, and I usually work through the weekend too. Keeping my schedule straight is a struggle, but I’m managing thanks to my planner. I included a meal section in it because I wanted to use it to get me in the habit of meal-planning.

The one upside of having jam-packed weekdays is that I’m starting to get in the habit of prepping all my meals for the week on Sunday nights. I did this on a smaller scale last semester when I had two 10-hour days each week, but now that I’m going to class at 8:30 a.m. and coming home from work between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. with brief (we’re talking half an hour) breaks, I needed to step up my game.

I don’t have time for blogging during the week (I wrote this over several weeks), let alone cooking, so I stocked up on containers and freezer bags, bought a lot of bulk food, and cleared out my freezer.

This post is broken up into three sections:

  • the meal plan I made for this week and why I chose the things I did
  • what you should consider when making your meal plan
  • and the kinds of foods that work well for various meals throughout the day

This Week’s Meal Plan

I should probably make a printable for this, but I usually just write things out on sticky notes and cobble together food based on what’s on sale at the grocery store or what’s about to go bad in my fridge.

This week I stocked up on Cheez Its and cereal because they were on sale, and I have some salsa and mushrooms that are probably getting funky soon. And I needed to clear out room in my freezer for frozen meals and bags of pre-cut produce that I want to use later, so I cooked up a lot of chicken and bacon to use for meals in the future.

Orphan Survival Guide - Meal Planning for Commuter Students

Shredded chicken and bacon for freezing and adding to things.

Orphan Survival Guide - Meal Planning for Commuter Students

Bags of snacks to take on the go: cereal, cheez its, nuts, granola, and chocolates.

Orphan Survival Guide - Meal Planning for Commuter Students

Fruit ice to throw in gross campus water, superfood salads in bags to throw in my purse and shake with dressing on the go, and containers of kale-spinach salads for work.

And here are the meals I prepped for this week:

Breakfasts: muffins and fruit+yogurt+granola parfaits

Morning snacks: cereal, fruit cups, and granola bars

Lunches: BLT sandwiches, chicken and roast veggies, salads

Afternoon snacks: no-cook oatmeal cookie bites, Cheez Its, broccoli, cashews

Dinners: PBJ sandwiches, frozen pasta & veggies, salads

Late snacks: popcorn, tuna salad and crackers

Commuter Meal Requirements

These are just the requirements for my schedule. You may have access to a fridge and microwave all day, but I’m in transit a lot of the day so I need portable things that won’t spoil while I’m running around.

  • primarily meat and dairy-free — you want things that will keep for the entire day (the exception being if you froze things)
  • small, portable portions — your backpack probably weighs 50 pounds with textbooks and binders alone, so you don’t want to carry much more and you definitely don’t want to have to carry around leftovers
  • filling and energy-boosting — when you’re on the run for 14 hours straight, you need something to keep you going
  • minimal cook time — there are no microwaves in 300-person lecture halls
  • containers — have a good insulated lunch bag/box and get a nice partitioned tupperware to store things in, and stock up on plastic baggies even though they’re not that eco-friendly

Meal Prep Steps

1. Make a Plan

Assess your ingredients, containers, and your schedule for the week. Then make a list of things to start prepping.

See the last half of this post for ideas!

2. Know What You Can Carry and Cook

This is what I struggle with the most. It was -8F when I was waiting for the bus this morning, so the last thing I wanted to do was carry yet another bag of stuff.

This is when things like wraps and bagged snacks come in handy, because you don’t have to lug around a separate bag for them; you can just put them in your backpack.

3. Prep Things Concurrently

While your tortillas are cooking, fry some bacon and eggs. While your rice is steaming, make some sandwiches.

If you can cook two things at once, you’ll cut down on a lot of your prep time. This requires having a good sized work space–I use my coffee table because my kitchen is literally just a 3-foot corner–and clean dishes and containers.

4. Use Compact (Even Collapsible) Containers, Mason Jars, and Freezer Bags

There are really neat collapsible plastic containers out there, and cute partitioned bento boxes.

I personally use the cheapest store brand entree and salad sized containers that average about $2-2.50 for a set of 5. I won’t cry over it if I lose it. And I make my homemade ramen in Mason jars.

Also stock up on quart and snack sized zipper bags, paper towels, plastic wrap, and tin foil. The baggies are great for snacks like sliced fruit and nuts, and the paper towels, plastic wrap, and foil are good for things like breads, muffins, sandwiches, and wraps.

5. Don’t Forget the Snacks

Some days I don’t want to carry a lot of stuff around or I’m feeling burned out on yet another pesto chicken wrap. Instead of stocking meals in my bag, I throw in all my snacks: granola bars, cashews, fruit leather, applesauce cups.

I’m a grown-up now. Popcorn is a meal if I say it’s a meal.

Meals On The Go

I am usually in transit for class around 8:30 a.m. and then in class until around noon. Then I’m in transit or at the office until around 9:30 or 10:30 p.m.

By the time I get home, I’m hungry again, so I always have pre-prepped meals in the freezer or fridge. But most of the prep work goes into things I can take with me to eat either in class, at my desk, or on the bus somewhere.

Orphan Survival Guide - Meals on the Go


  • Breakfasts: The most important meal of the day! I try to pack the heaviest ingredients in my breakfast to keep me going long-term and to lighten the load throughout the day.
  • Lunches: When I say I want mostly meat and dairy-free meals, this is because meat and dairy aren’t really safe to eat after being left out for several hours. If you have a good ice pack and insulated lunch bag, your lunch should still be safe when it’s lunch time–and if you freeze things until the day you want them, they can stay fresh even longer.
  • Snacks: Mid-afternoon is when I’m just getting to work and all I want is a nap. Skip the energy drinks and Addy, and load up on some protein-packed snacks instead. Or chocolate, because you should be able to eat your feelings even when you don’t have time to eat a meal.
  • Dinners: I can usually get access to a fridge and microwave in the early afternoon so a little frozen meat or dairy might still be okay for dinner. On the safe side, try having vegetarian dinners if you’re out for 12 hours at a time!

Do you have long days that require bringing all of you meals with you? What are some of your favorite (or most convenient) things to eat on the go?

Here’s my Meal Planning board on Pinterest, which has tons of great resources and recipes for meal plans!

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1 Comment

  • Reply lolajgeorge July 19, 2016 at 3:20 PM

    I really enjoyed this article. I am a college sophomore living off-campus for my first year. I will be biking to school and I won’t have a meal plan. I am a personal trainer and it is important for me to eat healthy. I was having a hard time finding healthy, portable and YUMMY things to pack for lunch. This article was a big help! Thanks so much.

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