Who doesn’t love student life? Endless friends and possibilities to meet new people. The option to go out every night of the week. Living with your best pals. And the four months of endless summer is an extra perk. Sure, a little tiny smidge of studying is also involved, but out of a full time job and student life? We’d all choose the latter.
Despite our loans and overdrafts and student discount, nights out are always prioritised, bank balances shrivel and every day luxuries go out the window. I’d happily live off pasta and baked beans on toast for two weeks if it meant I could go on the ski trip and to the Christmas ball. And while I did attempt this for a while, my increasingly sluggish mood and even more rapidly increasing waistline made me take action.
So voilà! Here’s everything you need to know about eating healthily on a student budget, so your bank balance will be looking as damn fine as you!
1. Plan ahead, but be adaptable
I bet you were expecting this one. But please please please plan. I don’t literally sit down and write a meal plan for the week – I will never be that organised – but when I make a quick shopping list I always think about what I’ve got left in my cupboards so I cut down on ingredients I need to buy.
Despite your plan, be adaptable. I always do any food shopping in the evenings if possible, this way you can have a good nosey through the reduced section. But while you’re having a rummage do not forget about what’s in your cupboards. Today I picked up four gourmet burgers for £1 to stick straight in my freezer, but I knew I had lettuce and tomatoes at home, along with some sweet potatoes to make some fries to go with them.
The reduced section is also always fab for bread. I don’t eat much bread, only ever as toast with eggs or peanut butter, so buying reduced loafs and freezing them means a) my bread doesn’t go off and b) I can toast it straight from frozen. Perfect!
2. Frozen fruit and veggies
The number of times I went to chop up my broccoli only to find it yellow and limp at the back of the fridge is uncountable. There’s only one of me; unless I want to eat broccoli every day of the week, it will go off before it’s all gone. It’s inevitable. And don’t try turning up your fridge (we attempted this, it merely gave us half-frozen, soggy broccoli instead).
I only really appreciated the brilliance of frozen veggies after Christmas time, but it has helped me get loads more into my diet. Where usually I’d be put off buying fresh veg because it will end up in the bin, bags of frozen veg can be picked up for about £1 and last for ever. I usually buy a variety at the beginning of the month and they easily last the month, sometimes two.
Fruits may have the same solution as veggies – go frozen – but due to a different problem; if I bought a punnet of strawberries for £2 they’d be gone that day. I love fruit. And while I do still buy fresh fruit (check what’s in season), frozen fruit often turns out to be cheaper. And the fact that it’s frozen stops me shovelling it all in my gob in one sitting!
Tesco stock frozen berries at £2 for 500g, which may be the same cost as a punnet but you get 100g more. I let the berries thaw and use them to top my porridge, or blend them with a banana and some milk to make smoothies.
3. Base your meals around simple foods
Go out and buy staple ingredients: rice, tinned tomatoes, beans, onions, eggs, oats, the list goes on. These versatile ingredients can be the base for many meals and prevent both food going to waste and save money as you’ll need fewer ingredients.
I don’t think I have eaten as many beans in my lifetime as I have during my first year at uni. I was bean obsessed. Tins of beans can be picked up for next to nothing, but contain heaps of fibre and leave you feeling fuller for longer. The variety of legumes also keeps it interesting; butter beans, kidney beans, cannellini beans… so many beans! I add beans to things like a stew or chilli con carne, as well as throwing them in salads and rice and tins of chickpeas can be chucked into curries.
As well as beans, oats are also your new favourite thing (or soon will be). I eat porridge for breakfast most days; it’s cheap, lasts ages, leaves you full and it’s healthy. What’s not to like?! You can easily jazz up your porridge using frozen fruits, cinnamon, honey, or anything that needs using up.
4. Buy supermarket own-brand products
We are students: we can’t afford to be fussy. I promise you the Morrison’s own-brand cheddar is perfectly edible. Yes, it might not be Cathedral City, but the time will come when it is on offer. And that day will be your day!
My flat mate drives me insane because she refuses to eat any sweetcorn other than Green Giant sweetcorn. Really? She’s literally paying an extra 50p per tin for a pretty picture of a green man on the label. Buying supermarket own-brand products really can cut the cost of your food bill dramatically. I guarantee every student across the country will be buying the value vodka bottles to save a fiver, so why is food any different?
And there you have it, all my experience on eating healthy without breaking the bank. And if all else fails, a trip back home is always an option. As much as I try to avoid expensive foods, I’m always going to be an avocado, almond, salmon loving girl. And when the cravings call, filling Mums trolley full of “essentials” is a perfect solution. (I’m not coming home just for the food Mum, promise).