Healthy eating on a student budget
My housemates preferred takeaways and ready-made meals over cooking homemade meals and they used to wonder how so much of their money kept “disappearing”. By Niamh Dowling, placement student from Ulster University.
In my first year at University, I lived with four other housemates (*Bill, Bob, Bert and Beth). Bill, Bob and Bert arrived to University with few cooking skills and little knowledge of nutrition, despite Bill having type 1 diabetes. They preferred takeaways and ready-made meals over cooking homemade meals and they used to wonder how so much of their money kept “disappearing”.
Beth and I tried our best to cook for ourselves most evenings using fresh ingredients which was probably thanks to learning Home Economics in school and regularly binge-watching cookery programmes like "Come Dine with Me".
The contrasting eating habits of Beth and I with our fellow housemates made me realise how important it is for students to know how and what to cook in order to stay healthy.
Making home-made meals isn’t only cheaper than buying processed food but it’s also a great way to make sure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs as you are the one deciding what exactly goes into your meals.
Below I’ve included some points on what to eat more of and what to eat less of to try and stay healthy at University:
- Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables – They are packed with nutrients and help to reduce your risk of developing certain health conditions. Try have 5 portions a day and your body will thank you for it!
- Eat plenty of starchy foods – These are full of energy and fibre. Whole grain varieties are best and examples include rice, pasta, potatoes and bread.
- Eat protein-rich foods – Important for development and growth. Sources include poultry, red meat, fish, eggs, beans and lentils.
- Get your omega-3 fatty acids – These are found in oily fish like salmon and mackerel, nuts and seeds, and are important for keeping your heart healthy.
- Get your daily dairy intake - This is really important for students as it’s a source of calcium, which contributes to the development of healthy bones and teeth. Food like milk, yoghurts and cheese are all sources of dairy but try choose low-fat varieties as they are kinder on the ol’ waistline.
- Don’t skip breakfast – Breakfast is so important. Not only will it keep you full during those early morning lectures, but it also kick-starts your metabolism. My go-to breakfast is a bowl of porridge topped with fruit and nuts.
- Cut down on saturated fat and salt– It’s ok to have a takeaway every once in a while but usually they’re full of saturated fat and salt so it’s important to know the facts about which to choose and which to avoid.
- Cut down on sugar and caffeine and drink plenty of water – Drinking fizzy drinks, and eating sweets and treats affect your teeth and will leave your energy level yo-yoing. Avoid energy drinks and fizzy drinks and stay hydrated and alert by drinking plenty of water.
As my days in University went by, I began to pick up a few tips and tricks on how to make my student budget go further while trying to keep healthy:
Do a really big grocery shop at the beginning of each semester
Stock up on your cupboard essentials like tinned tomatoes, pasta, rice, noodles, tinned fish, beans, chickpeas or lentils. Take advantage of any special offers on these products as usually supermarkets have deals on when Universities start back.
Cook in bulk
Meals like Bolognese, chilli con carne, Rice noodles with veggie chilli sauce, lasagne, shepherd’s pie and casserole are all ideal for freezing. Pop any leftovers into lunchboxes, cool quickly and then freeze. Depending on your freezer, these meals can last for a few months so you’ll always have a back-up for dinner.
Where to buy groceries?
Your local butcher is usually cheaper for meat than buying pre-packed goods in a supermarket – be sure to keep an eye out for student deals. Visit your local green grocer and you’ll probably notice they sell fruit and vegetables for very reasonable prices. Another way to reach your 5-a-day on a budget is buying frozen varieties.
* For the purposes of confidentiality, I’ve changed the names of the people featuring in this blog.