Contrary to popular belief, it is easy (and really not expensive) to eat both healthily and cheaply whilst at uni. Money is tight for students so people see ready meals, freezer food and takeaways as a cheaper solution. But not only does your health suffer as a consequence of a bad diet, but it really doesn't cost much to eat nutritious foods that contain the energy you need for studying for a degree, working part-time job and socialising.
Student life can be tough (and very hectic) at times so you need the right food to fuel your body. This means eating protein, vegetables, fruit, dairy and the right kind of carbs whenever you can.
Let's start with protein - the meat! Chicken is great because it is so versatile; use it in a curry, stir fry, wrap or whatever you fancy. Save money by buying frozen chicken fillets (easily defrosted overnight in a bowl or using a microwave). Turkey breasts or diced beef is often cheaper than chicken - remember to check out the reduced aisle for meat which needs to be sold asap. It makes it cheaper if you bulk-buy - despite the bigger initial expense, you save in the long run. Remember, any of this meat can be stored in the freezer to prevent it going off! If you buy frozen instead of fresh mince for your Spag Bols or Chilli then you save a small fortune. Fish and seafood are also a great source of vitamins & omega oils but they do cost more. However, when you can afford it, splash out!
If you’re heading to a supermarket, Aldi and Lidl both do great ranges of fruit and vegetables at cheap prices. However, if you live near a local market or greengrocer you will find it is always cheapest to buy fruit and veg here. I was surprised at how much cheaper it was, so check out your local market now! Of course, a lot of the large chain supermarkets (certainly Asda, Tesco & Morrisons) now offer a different selection of fruit and veg each week for just 50p, so be sure to check these out when you venture in one. You can buy lots of frozen veg but some of these simply don't taste as nice as the fresh stuff. That said, I actually prefer (and it's cheaper) to buy frozen sweetcorn instead of tinned or fresh corn. And whilst we are talking about veg, don't forget fruit. We all know we should be getting our 5-a-day - banana's, apples & oranges are a superb and cheap way to help us towards this. Plus they make a great snack instead of chocolate or crisps. Strawberries, grapes, blueberries & pineapple are a little more expensive but if you budget correctly then treat yourself once in a while.
Right, you've got the meat and veg, but what to serve with them? Avoid potatoes when you can, opting instead for wholemeal pasta, rice or couscous. The 'white' versions just aren't as nutritious for your body and combined with a sauce, wholemeal tastes the same. I'm not saying to never eat potatoes, everybody loves a jacket, roasties or some mash - but moderation is important! It goes without saying that chips should be avoided whenever possible. If this all sounds bland to you, you don't know how wrong you are. Buy a few select spices you like - garlic, chilli, basil, rosemary, cajun etc - and marinate the meat before you cook it. Use the oven or grill to cook meat in a healthier way, but if you do fry use the 1-cal spray oil. Don't forget to add the spices in to the pasta, rice or cous cous to add a little bit of a kick and always remember to season - a little salt and pepper (but not too much) goes along way! Soy sauce or sesame oil will add tonnes of flavour too.
Bread is a huge part of a lot of people's diets - a sandwich is the easiest lunch to prepare - but there are better options. Why not try a wrap, pitta bread or flat bread instead? Again, go for the wholemeal, granary or seeded varieties which are infinitely better for your body than any white ones. Use lighter than light mayo as the perfect accompaniment. Or how about swapping that bread for some lettuce and make a salad? Add whatever veg you happen to like - lettuce, tomato, cucumber, sweetcorn - and drizzle in Balsamic vinegar. It tastes great and is almost calorie free, so better than salad cream or dressings. We can learn a lot from our Asian cousins, so try a stir fry up if you don't like salads - a tasty alternative.
The most important message is to squeeze as much fruit and vegetables into your diet as possible - you can't pretend it's expensive because it isn't. Try to avoid processed meat and food, take-outs and snacks whenever you can. They are all really bad for you and have little nutritional benefit to any diet. Chocolate and crisps may taste nice, but as I've said before; moderation is key. Eating multiple bars and packets a day will definitely not help the waistline.
It's also important to shop around the supermarkets and find out where sells the items you like for the cheapest. A huge tip is to try Aldi or Lidl who nearly always come out least expensive! Just remember to take your own bag as they do charge - not a lot but it all adds up. I even take an overnight suitcase with me as it takes the strain of carrying the bags back to your flat.
Cooking for one can be hard so why not make enough for 2 or even 4 (with curries, pasta dishes or chillis etc) and freeze the rest into portions to be eaten at a later date? It's cheaper that way and the second time round, you just defrost and re-heat for a few minutes and you have a home-cooked meal. The freezer is great for keeping any frozen meat & vegetables, or left over soup & dishes, but it should not be used to stock unhealthy frozen foods. Don't buy chips, waffles, fish fingers or ready meals and you won't eat them - simple! Use the freezer for the RIGHT food only.
Some ready meals will be OK for you and are quick and easy to prepare – check the list of ingredients, calories and nutrients so you know what you’re putting into your stomach! Most supermarkets do a great range of various ravioli & tortellini's with accompanying sauces - you can normally buy 2 for £2.50 - and a packet of each will make 2 meals. Not only a bargain, but a lot better for you than a Kiev & chips.
Finally, if you are generally eating healthy most of the week then it isn't a problem to scoff down a Maccy D or Subway, treat yourself to a cake, enjoy a cheeky chocolate bar or visit the Kebab shop after a night out. It's all about moderation, and the more exercise you do the more calories you burn. So do you need that bus? Why not walk instead and burn that fat off!
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