A student guide to… Eating healthy on a budget

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By Melissa Birch

Moving away from home for the first time is a learning curve for new students and the prospect of cooking meals can raise concerns. Indeed, the majority of first year students start their university journey with very little experience of cooking their own food.

When it comes to preparing a meal, it is easy to take the quick option by putting a frozen pizza for one into the oven with some ready cut frozen chips. This type of food is also marketed as the cheapest option within the super markets but, as easy and cheap as it sometimes appears, that isn’t always the case. The ready-made and pre-packaged meals can seem cheap at a price as low as £1 or £2 a meal, but, by using ingredients to cook from scratch, it’s possible to create a meal that costs as little as 50p.

Creating meals from scratch is also a much healthier option as the person preparing the food knows exactly what ingredients are used. This way students can ensure that they are getting enough nutrients to be able to study harder for longer.

To make preparing food easier for new students, here is a list of essential store cupboard ingredients to always have available:

·         rice

·         oats

·         lentils

·         tinned produce: beans, chickpeas, chopped tomatoes etc

·         herbs and spices

·         potatoes

·         frozen vegetables: peas, broccoli, sweetcorn etc

·         fruit

·         pasta

Having these items in at all times means you are less likely to grab an unhealthy snack during those hunger-inducing study sessions. In fact, it’s very simple, easy and cheap to whip up a quick tomato based pasta. When making a meal, cook a larger portion that can be stored in plastic containers in the fridge for the next day as this is a great way to save time.

Learning how to make a few meals that are cheap, quick and tasty is a great idea for new students because it means there is always a back-up or go-to meal when you’re stumped for ideas on what to make. Ask your parents for a quick lesson on how to make your favourite dishes that are cheap, easy and can be simplified. Practice with herbs, spices, and seasonings too to find the desired preference and avoid temptation of adding unnecessary sauces, salts, oils, and sugar to all the healthy dishes you create. Alternatively, cookbooks can be your best friend. The Hungry Student Vegetarian Cookbook, for example, has more than 200 simplified recipes that are healthy and a great option for students as the book is written directly with students in mind.


When it comes to budgeting it’s important to, first of all, know your budget. This may sound obvious but, as a new student, it’s easy to see that lump of student finance money and become more lenient with spending, so remember that it has to last for around 4 months. Take away the cost of accommodation from this money and divide what is left by how many weeks of the term it has to last. This will give you a weekly budget.

Here is a list of additional budgeting tips for new students:

·         Buy fresh ingredients instead of pre-packaged ready made products

·         Frozen vegetables are healthy and last longer than fresh

·         Buy smaller amounts of fresh produce regularly to avoid food going to waste

·         Pay in cash to avoid overspending on your card and facing a dreaded card charge

·         Roughly calculate the cost of your shopping in your head when putting things in your trolley

·         Food inspiration sites online include Pinterest, cooking blogs and What I Eat In A Day YouTube videos

·         Consider ordering your grocery shopping online if you don’t have a supermarket close to your accommodation. That way you can monitor what you spend and delivery slots cost as little as £1

·         In the supermarket, look beyond the offers. Special offers aren’t always the cheapest option so make sure you look at the shop’s own brand products as well as at the upper and lower shelves

Do you have any go-to budgeting or cooking tips that might help new students? Send your thoughts to


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