On a Budget: Healthy eating for one

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"food" by ilyoungko is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Featured image: “food” by ilyoungko (CC BY 2.0)

Kit Bell advises on how to cook a range of healthy and balanced meals, in a convenient way that could save you time and money. Including a recipe that will become a staple in your weekly meals.

‘Healthy’ is a broad term and the meaning is often misunderstood - especially when it comes to food. We tend to confuse ‘healthy’ with other buzzwords: ’low-calorie’, ‘organic’ or ’all-natural’. Most of us want to eat a better diet, but the downfall of the word ‘healthy’ is that advertising has caused it to lose its’ meaning. If we’re going to eat well, we need one key thing: balance. 

A balanced diet is one that contains all the food groups – fruit and vegetables, starchy foods, dairy, protein, and fat. Everyone’s body is different, but there are some guidelines to help you.  

Ways to Work on a Budget  

One of the biggest obstacles to a balanced diet is budget. Most health-food products are incredibly expensive, and many online recipes require ingredients that wouldn’t usually be on our shopping lists.  

Here are a few tricks to keep to your budget: 

  • Plan ahead: Meal planning is all the rage in influencer culture, but it isn’t as time-consuming as it sounds. Once you’ve chosen your meals (and healthy snacks!) for the week, only buy what you need. You’ll buy less, so both your wallet and your health will thank you.  
  • Staple foods: Stocking up on certain staples will make meal planning easier, and it’s often cheaper to buy in bulk. Rice, pasta, and lentils are good examples to get you started. It’s also worth investing in herbs and spices (E.g. chilli flakes, paprika, and basil), because a little will go a long way.  
  • Alternatives: The most expensive part of most meals tends to be protein. Meat isn’t cheap, nor is it always the best choice for your body. It’s easy to replace some of the meat in your meal with pulses such as lentils or beans, particularly if you’re using mince. Kidney beans go particularly well in spaghetti bolognaise. 
  • Tins: Tins are one of the cheapest sources of food, and it’s not true that you trade quality for value. Tinned fruit and veg can still count as part of your 5-a-day, although be careful to choose fruit in juice, rather than syrup. The best thing about tinned food is the far-off expiration dates – say goodbye to gone-off food waste.  
  • Frozen: Frozen food is cheaper and takes a lot longer to go off, so buying frozen means you’re less likely to waste food. Less food waste = less money waste! 

Ways to conquer Cooking for One

Another issue for students trying to eat healthily is that they’re usually only cooking for one. Most recipes cook for several people, so unless they’ve got the same taste as their housemates, there’s a lot of ingredient-division.   

Trying to cook for one is not only more difficult, but more expensive. Only cooking singular portions means missing out on bulk-buying deals in supermarkets. 

The key here is batch cooking. Invest in some freezer and microwave safe containers to get yourself started. When you’re planning meals, see if any ingredients can be doubled up, such as using leftover roast chicken in sandwiches or salads. 

"Shepard's Pie" by mcrosacci is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
‘Shepard’s Pie.’ Photography: mcrosacci (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Recipe Ideas 

It’s always a good idea to have some recipes up your sleeve, especially if they can be incorporated into multiple meals.   

Learning how to cook with mince is a great idea, as this can be used for spaghetti bolognaise, chile con carne, or a shepherd’s pie.  

Here is an easy and versatile recipe using mince…


½ Onion  

500g Beef Mince (or plant-based alternative)  

1 Seasoning Cube  

Low-cal cooking spray  

1 Garlic Clove (optional)  

(Note – this recipe creates two portions, so freeze half or keep it in the fridge to reheat the next day) 

Fry half a diced onion in a large saucepan with your cooking spray, and feel free to add garlic.   

Add your mince – try choosing leaner packs with a lower fat percentage or go for vegetarian alternatives like Quorn.   

Crumble in a seasoning cube, such as OXO, and you’re good to go!    

This can then be simmered with a tin of tomatoes and paired with spaghetti for a simple bolognese or topped with mashed potatoes for a shepherd’s pie.  

There are hundreds of student cookbooks available, but if you’re really sticking to the budget, try the free NHS Easy Meals app  or websites like BBC Good Food.  

About the author / 

Kit Bell

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