Healthy eating isn’t difficult – even a busy, broke student can do it.
For many that go off to uni, it’s their first time having to cook for themselves. A 2014 study found that 46% of freshers said their Mum’s cooking was the #1 thing they missed from home and another survey in the same year found that the average student gains a stone in their first year of uni.
When your schedule is back to back lectures, library sessions, socials and pre-drinks, it can be hard to fit in time for a proper food shop and some real cooking. The myth that healthy eating is more expensive than fast food and convenience meals is also prevalent amongst a lot of the student population, who also happen to be on a tight budget.
Here are some very simple tips to bear in mind which can help steer your diet in the right direction, whether you’ve just finished up freshers week or your returning for your final year.
Eat a good breakfast
You might not fancy waking up a little earlier in the morning to put together a decent breakfast, especially for those days with 9am lectures on the other side of campus. But breakfast is a very important meal - skipping it can result in feeling lethargic and tired, meaning you're not concentrating as well in class. Aim for carb and protein combo - carbs for energy and brain fuel, whilst the protein will keep you feeling full until lunch.
Keep healthy snacks on hand
Keep a banana, rice cakes, trail mix or some nuts in your backpack so that when hunger strikes in between lectures you've got something to snack on. Having a healthy option on hand and ready to eat will a) help you make better choices and b) stop you spending more money on food from the vending machine or a quick pit stop at a convenience store.
Limit your alcohol intake
High alcohol consumption amongst students is a well-documented phenomenon. Drinking is an embedded part of student culture, despite attempts at curbing it by universities and the government. However, reigning in your drinking will not only help you bank balance, but your body will thank you for it. Alcohol impacts your body the moment you take your first sip and it effects pretty much every system in your body. A drink here and there won't do much damage, but long-term intake can have cumulative effects which wreak havoc on your insides.
Drink lots of water
We’ve covered the benefits of staying hydrated on the blog before, but research into water consumption amongst students has produced some very interesting results.
A 2017 study has shown that drinking just 300ml of water can boost attention by almost 25%. Another study carried out in 2012 found that students who took water with them into an exam scored an average of 5% higher than those who did not.
Shopping lists and meal planning
Best way to save some pennies is to plan your meals. Making efficient use of ingredients means less will be going to waste and you’ll only have to buy what you’ll actually use. If you’re armed with a plan it means you’re less likely to make impulse purchases in the supermarket. You’re also less likely to order in a takeaway on Thursday evening because you just cannot decide what to cook – it’s already been planned out for you. Go the next step further if you can: grab some Tupperware and meal prep for a few days. Not only is batch cooking cheaper, but you’ll also save future-you some time.
Buying frozen as well as fresh
Everyone loves talking about the benefits of fresh fruit and veg, but I’m sure a lot of students out there have discovered just how quickly a lettuce gets soggy or broccoli turns brown. But are frozen veg so bad?
For the most part, freezing vegetables does help retain most of the nutrient content. However, some nutrients do begin to break down after a long time in your freezer. Beyond that, some vegetables undergo a process called blanching (being dropped in boiling water for a few minutes to kill bacteria and lock in flavour), which this usually results in the loss of the water-soluble vitamins (the same 9 daily essential vitamins we pack in our teas!). Overall, as long as you make sure you’re getting your vitamins, buying frozen veg is a budget friendly alternative.
Learn to use seasonings
Herbs and spices can be pricey, but they’re a worthy investment to make on student loan day. Keeping a well-stocked cupboard of flavourings will be a life saver when end of term rolls round and you’re looking at an empty bank account. A sprinkle of cumin or a dash of curry powder will spice up any bowl of rice, dried oregano or basil will liven up your pasta dish and mixing your favourite seasoning with some olive oil creates a perfect dressing for any protein.
Shop in the evening for reduced prices
Embrace the yellow sticker and take advantage of reduced price products to liven up your meal plan. It might not be a viable option to live of reduced price chicken all week, but for that night you’ll dine like a king. Yellow sticker cheesecake too? Don’t mind if we do.
Still not sure what to make? Here are some simple meal ideas for you to make a start with.
- Wholegrain cereals (look for ones with no added sugar) with milk, yoghurt or a plant-based alternative
- Oatmeal is a cheap base you can add a variety of toppings to
- Toast with peanut butter and banana or baked beans and mushrooms
- Smoothie using milk, yoghurt or a plant-based alternative and some frozen fruit
- Pasta salads with chopped tomatoes, roasted veg and any proteins
- Sandwiches, pittas or bagels with tuna, chicken or turkey for the meat eaters, or mashed chickpeas, houmous, salad or peanut butter for the vegans.
- Salads with grains for bulk – throw together some fresh veg on a Monday, mix with cous cous or quinoa and you’ve got lunches for the week.
- Leftovers! Last night’s dinner makes a convenient and tasty lunch today.
- Big batch cooked meals such as chilli con carne, spaghetti Bolognese or a curry can be prepped for the week
- Make your own chips with sweet potatoes and those seasonings we talked about earlier
- Pasta and sauce is a great base to experiment with and add new ingredients depending on what’s left in the fridge
- Rice and beans is another great staple and can be spiced up and mixed with veg or proteins for variety
- Quick meals like stir frys, omelettes or frittatas can be a life saver when you’re short on time