Annie, Student Intern in our Counselling, Health & Wellbeing team offers her tips for eating healthy on a budget …
Eating healthily at university can seem like an impossible task, and many students may get frustrated at the prospect of sloping round the supermarket looking for overpriced ingredients when they can throw a pizza in the oven. Although a pizza is cheap and easy, it is not exactly packed with nutrients. Some of the healthier options, like fish for example, do cost a bit more than processed foods, however if you know a bit more about what to buy and where to shop, you can eat well without breaking the bank.
Here’s my 3 top tips for shopping and eating for less.
1. Plan ahead
This is arguably the most important factor when trying to budget. If you know what you are going to be cooking and what ingredients you will need, you won’t find yourself wondering in Tesco and spending unnecessary money that could have been spared. If you don’t have any idea what to cook, get searching online, there are so many great websites filled with easy student recipes. To single out just one, try http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/collection/student. Once you know roughly why you are going to be eating, make a list and stick to it, obviously you aren’t going to follow the plan exactly (we are students) but getting into the habit of planning is definitely going to save you time and money.
2. Know what foods are good for you
Fruit and Vegetables – It’s a given that fruit and vegetables are vital and should be consumed every day, 5 portions is the advised amount, and although this may seem like a lot, it can be done. Don’t forget fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruit and vegetables count towards your five a day, so if you are one of those students that buys fresh fruit and vegetables but never gets round to eating it before it goes off, opt for the canned and dried goods!
- When buying tinned fruit, opt for fruit stored in juice, rather than syrup, to avoid added sugar.
- Use frozen vegetables to bulk out meat dishes to reduce your meat intake and making the dish more cost-effective. For example, add frozen peas and sweetcorn to stir fries and rice dishes. Alternatively, use frozen mixed vegetables with mince to make shepherd’s pie.
- Add tinned pulses (chick peas or lentils) to curry sauce instead of meat.
- Add tinned tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil to make a bolognaise sauce for a meatball or lasagne dish.
- Add dried fruit to cereal.
- Frozen berries are much cheaper than fresh berries and are delicious when added to natural yoghurt and honey. Opt for larger pots of yoghurt rather than individual pots as it is cheaper and they often contain less sugar.
- Swap meat for vegetarian options as it will be cheaper and better for you. For example, use one tin of five bean chilli for two meals instead of the meat equivalent.
Carbohydrates – Starchy foods are also an important component of the student diet, these include bread, potatoes, pasta, rice and breakfast cereals (try to opt for the whole grain varieties). Starchy foods are broken down into glucose which is the main fuel for your brain. The brain plays a key role in ensuring you have an efficient metabolism. Therefore, it is essential to include starch at mealtimes. Long term avoidance of starch can cause the brain to register a false starvation and respond by slowing the metabolic rate, thus making weight gain more likely.
- Rice can be bought relatively cheaply and has a long shelf life. Similarly, couscous and pasta are great store cupboard ingredients and are quick to cook. Some cheap nutritious meals are:
- Pasta in a homemade tomato sauce with cheese to garnish.
- Stir-fries with rice or noodles, with leftover meat and vegetables.
- Jacket potatoes with beans or cheese or coronation chicken with leftover vegetables topped with cheese, bolognaise sauce or chilli.
- Spaghetti and meatballs.
- Use leftover potatoes and vegetables to make a Spanish omelette.
- Macaroni cheese.
- Buy pizza bases and add your own toppings. Use, for example, sausage, leftover meats, cheese, frozen peppers and sweetcorn. This is cheaper than buying prepared or frozen pizzas.
- Couscous salad with chick peas or leftover meat or fish.
Dairy products – Another important ingredient is milk and dairy foods, most people require a minimum of three portions daily. 1 portion equates to one-third of a pint of milk, a small pot of yoghurt or a small matchbox size square of cheese. These foods contain calcium which is essential for healthy bones.
- Buy plain natural yoghurt instead of individual pots as it is significantly cheaper. Then:
- Mix with meringues and frozen berries for a cheap Eton Mess
- Mix plain natural yoghurt with honey and granola
- Cheese on toast is a quick and nutritious small meal
- Buy mature cheese instead of mild as less will be required in cooking owing to the greater strength of flavour; a little goes a long way
- Cheese is very versatile and can be added to many dishes to add protein to meals. For example, pasta and pesto topped with cheese adds protein to your meal.
Meat, fish, eggs, beans, and meat alternatives including soya – These foods contain protein and play an important role in allowing the body to grow and repair itself. Meat, eggs and pulses are good sources of iron. Oily fish contains omega 3 oils which play an important role in the prevention of heart disease. Current guidelines recommend consuming a minimum of 2 portions of fish per week of which one should be oily. Eating fish can significantly reduce your risk of having a heart attack and therefore contribute to a healthy heart. Oily fish include kippers, sardines, trout, pilchards, salmon, fresh tuna (not canned as oils are lost during the canning process), mackerel and eel. If you can incorporate these into your diet you are doing well, and your body (and mind) will greatly appreciate it.
- Choosing cuts of meat which are versatile makes economic sense. E.g. buy minced beef or lamb meat to make kebabs (kofta kebabs), burgers, bolognaise, meatballs, shepherd’s pie and lasagne.
- A small cooked chicken can also be used in sandwiches, curry, chicken and vegetable savoury rice dishes, and couscous.
- Turkey can also be used and is often cheaper than chicken.
- Oily fish can be very economical, quick and easy to cook. Try pan-fried/tinned mackerel fillets with rice/mash, tinned sardines/kippers on toast or pilchards in tomato sauce with rice.
- Fresh salmon and tuna can be expensive so look out for offers or buy them frozen as this is usually cheaper.
- Pulses are high in protein and fibre. Pulses, including baked beans, kidney beans, chick peas and lentils, are all very cheap to buy either dried or tinned.
- Buying dried pulses is more economical but some require soaking overnight before cooking and can take a long time to cook.
- Some pulses such as kidney beans can be as cheap as 20-30p a can, and can be used to bulk out dishes instead of using meat. A mixed bean chilli is also inexpensive and very healthy. Chick peas and lentils can be added to curries.
- Eggs are high in protein and a good source of iron. They are very versatile and quick to cook. Dishes including boiled/poached or scrambled egg, and omelettes.
- Meat alternatives such as soya, tofu and Quorn are versatile and can be used as substitutes for meat or fish. All work well with rice, noodles, pasta and potatoes.
- In general, meat substitutes are low in fat and many soya products are available to buy already frozen and therefore have a lengthy shelf life.
3. Know where to shop
For meat and vegetables, head down to the market in town (on St Mary street), you can buy meat in bulk here and it’s very good value for money. As long as you have a reasonable amount of freezer space, this is the way to go. It does mean walking into town and back with your purchases, but it’s not very often as it will last you a long time. For other items, any supermarket store will do, although chains such as Lidl and Aldi seem to come out as the cheapest options, so if the purse strings are really tight head there. Another thing to bear in mind is student discount, for example NUS extra cared holders get 10% off in the cooperative, and if you do find yourself eating out a lot, it also gives you loads of other discounts for restaurants. To purchase a card just head to http://www.nus.org.uk/en/nus-extra/. Finally, some shops do discounted prices in the evening, so keep an eye out for those if you like to shop late at night.
I hope this helps and remember choosing ingredients you enjoy will make you more likely to feel motivated to cook and taking it in turns to cook with flat mates can help increase variety.
Annie, Student Intern
Counselling, Health & Wellbeing Team
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