How to Keep a Balanced and Cost-Effective Diet While Abroad

Nov 18, 2019 9:37:00 AM / by Ellie LaFountain

Studying abroad in a different country means you will have to form new routines, including finding new grocery stores, but don't panic! Check out the blog post below where Ellie shares helpful insight into how she stays healthy and in control of her food budget while keeping up with her vegetarian diet in Dublin.

Hello everyone!  In today’s blog I will be discussing one of the factors that I stressed about most before coming abroad; my diet.  As a vegetarian and collegiate athlete, I worried that coming abroad would mean that my diet and eating habits might change drastically.  Today I will share some of the tips and tricks that have helped me stay on track without missing out on all the great foods that Ireland and other European countries have to offer!

Food was one of my main concerns when coming abroad.  You might think this is strange and odd, but being a vegetarian for the past 10+ years and a gymnast has definitely pushed me to be aware of what I am putting in my body.  I worried about a few things regarding food when preparing to study abroad including; a lack of vegetarian options, the cost of groceries and eating out, cooking on my own for the first time, and of course the fear that many people have, gaining weight while abroad.  Of course everyone is different and have their own unique eating habits, but I am going to do my best to share some tips and tricks that I would’ve liked to know before to help make me feel more in control and confident in my decisions regarding food while abroad!

When I first arrived in Dublin I was so excited to go out and explore the city and get to know the awesome people in the CAPA program!  One of the best ways to do this is to head out to some local pubs and restaurants where the atmosphere is chill and the conversations seem to flow easily.  I loved doing this the first couple of weeks, however, I quickly noticed that this was not the best option for me for a few reasons. I realized that I was spending much more than anticipated, and that I was eating and drinking much more than I normally did.  I had a feeling that this might happen, so it was a relief that my friends and I both realized it might not be the most cost efficient or healthiest thing to go out to eat every night! Luckily, we have our own kitchens (which you can see in my housing blog linked here!) so we were able to start cooking for ourselves which not only saves money, but is often a much healthier decision.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Dublin_Ellie LaFountain_CHEAPI almost always cook a mixture of veggies for each meal, and then pair it with either rice, potatoes or a meat substitute.  I know that eating right during the week allows me to indulge on the weekends which is very worth it to me!

Grocery shopping is something that I have always enjoyed doing, so I was excited to see how it compared in Ireland.  Before coming to Ireland I had heard a lot of different things, one being that there was barely any fresh fruits and vegetables.  As a vegetarian this was a major concern of mine and I worried that I would be lacking a lot of my normal nutrients. I have come to learn that this is NOT the case, so please (for me) do not worry about that!  The produce here has pleasantly surprised me as there is a lot of variety and it is relatively inexpensive. However, this is not the case for everything. One of the first things I realized when I stepped into the Tesco Express (less than a 5 minute walk from school) was that things were not going to be as simple as they were in the U.S.  There was not much variety, and many of the things that I had on my list were nowhere to be found, such as meat alternatives, greek yogurt, peanut butter and sour cream! I worried that some of my staple food options would be missing from my diet, but luckily I was given a lot of different suggestions from CAPA staff, friends and locals on where I could find the things that I was missing. 

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Dublin_Ellie LaFountain_ALDIALDI is definitely one of the cheapest and best options for groceries in Dublin.  I was able to buy all this food for under 40 euro, and it often can last me more than a week!

I quickly realized that even though the TESCO Express was the convenient and close option, it was not the place where I should be doing my weekly shops.  I instead chose to shop at ALDI, which is about a 25 minute walk from school (or two busses) and although it is a bit further away, it is so much more cost efficient and has loads of variety and options for me to choose from.  They even have an entire section dedicated to vegan and vegetarians! Another important thing that my flatmates and I realized early on was that the food goes bad much quicker here since there are not as many preservatives added to their foods.  This meant that many loaves of bread were thrown away the first few weeks, so together we decided to share things like this as it is much more effective to have one loaf that we shared and actually finished rather than each having our own that would go bad within 3 days of having it!

Around a month into being in Dublin, I finally felt confident and comfortable in my weekly grocery and food routine.  I would go out and buy my groceries for the week and then I would leave to visit other countries on the weekend. It was great because I was saving money throughout the week and then was able to spend my extra money on meals while on trips!  I enjoyed this a lot as I felt inclined to not only just spend a bit more, but also indulge in my meals as I was eating so much healthier during the week! Paris was one of the first places I went, and I felt much more willing to spend a bit more and eat a bit more because I knew that I have prepared and budgeted myself for the amazing pastries and cheeses that Paris had to offer.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Dublin_Ellie LaFountain_PARISCan you believe these two pastries and coffees cost over 40 euro at LAUDREE?  That is more than a week of groceries for me, but I will never forget this experience at one of the most Parisian restaurants - which makes it so priceless.

However, there was still something missing. I felt as though I was missing out on the culture in Dublin and really getting to know my city because I was rarely getting out and trying new places.  I felt as though I was barely living in Dublin as I was packing lunches to my internship and always eating the same things.  I had another friend that felt the same way, so we made a pact that has honestly changed my experience here.  We decided that once a week, no matter what, we would share a meal together during our lunch break just like the rest of the working world in Dublin.  We also decided that it would be a new place each time, so that we could continue to see and be surrounded by new and different people. This has been one of the best decisions that I have made, because it allows us to feel like we belong in Dublin, and it is not too expensive.  It is one of the best parts of my week, and has opened my eyes up to the global city that Dublin is!

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Dublin_Ellie LaFountain_DUBLINHere is a photo from the first “Dublin Lunch” we went to.  Since the sushi at ZaKura, we have been to loads of other great places such as: Bao House, Hatch & Sons, The Mad Egg, and House. 

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Dublin_Ellie LaFountain_SPAINTrying the local foods in the places I travel is very important to me.  Lucky for me, Paella originated in Spain, so it was awesome to have it for the first time while traveling during assignment week! 

Thanks, Ellie!

Ellie LaFountain


Ellie LaFountain is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2019, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Media & Communications major at Ursinus College, she is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.

Ellie's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Dublin Program

Topics: Dublin, Ireland, Food Abroad