Okay, so we’ve reached a pretty important topic that interests a lot of you, not just students. If your days are consumed with work and not enough time to pay attention to healthy eating, then stick with me for a bit and I’ll try and help you find the key to eating healthily with a student's budget, whilst not burning a huge hole in your pocket.
I’ve had it drummed into me by my mum that I have to eat organic foods. Her philosophy is that we need to feed our body with foods that offer the maximum nutritional value to us and (if possible) to always opt for organic. She often tells the story about my grandad, who's a farmer, and how he had to completely cover himself from head to toe in protective clothes before spraying crops with things to kill the bugs and help the crops to grow…..and then people ate those very same crops. Needless to say, he soon turned to organic farming methods!
So, I know organic foods are generally more expensive and you can probably hear your bank account screaming out at you but I guess what price do you place on your health?
With this in mind, my first tip: PRIORITISE YOUR ORGANIC PURCHASES.
Some of you may have seen articles talking about the most contaminated foods that really should therefore be bought organic:
However, this ‘Dirty Dozen’ list1 does tell you about the best fruit and veg that is possible to buy non-organic to save yourself from debt. Avocados, onions and bananas are just some of the best examples, according to organic.org
My second tip to help save money and budget wisely is being organised: MEAL PREPPING.
A lot of you who enjoy cooking will probably have tried this before. It’s a pretty ideal way for students, who don’t want to be slaving over the stove all week, to keep on top of being healthy and not resort to buying a sandwich from the local café. I find the best thing is to make a large batch of foods ahead of time then dividing it into separate portions for during the week. All you have to do then when you get back from lectures and can’t wait to eat is to heat it up and enjoy!
The third tip: BRING A SHOPPING LIST.
There is really no point in walking around aimlessly in the supermarket and coming home with a random mixture of ingredients that won’t make a proper meal.
Organising your thoughts means you won’t waste money by overspending or overindulging on snack foods that are full of refined sugars and really don’t satisfy you.
It also means you can buy the exact and right quantities for meals and not waste anything! I always plan my meals for the week ahead and make a list and try to include ingredients that I can use for several meals, which means I’m not having to buy loads of different things – great when on a budget.
Did you know, too, that it can be a good idea to shop in the evening as supermarkets often reduce their prices, especially on perishable items so your organic foods are less expensive!
My housemate recently let me in on this amazing trick to keep your bananas fresh for the whole week.
If your household at university is anything like mine, bananas are consumed in great quantities because we love to make banana pancakes, put them in smoothies, or take them on the go. The annoying thing is they don’t tend to last for the whole week.
Wrapping each individual stem on the banana helps to keep them fresh, or you could peel them, pop in a container and freeze them.
Keep your bananas fresh for longer
Bananas release something called ethylene gas naturally all the time and this controls the ripening and browning of the banana. This takes place mostly at the stem, so wrapping it up will slow down the ripening process and avoid you the annoyance of throwing out food and repurchasing a new bunch.
Lentils- these guys are seriously cheap and go a long way in cooking. They can be used to make a dhal to warm you up in the winter months, or include in a salad, or even make your own veggie burgers! In terms of nutrition they are pretty great too. They are legumes and rich in dietary fibre, so provide you with huge amounts of energy to keep you awake throughout lectures and library sessions.
Brown rice- not white, which has been refined! Brown rice is great as part of those meal preps (maybe with broccoli and grilled chicken?) and is also extremely filling. It is a pretty popular choice for students because it also requires so little effort from you to make! Did you know, brown rice is so rich in antioxidants, it rivals our favourites like blueberries and strawberries. It is also another one of our favourite sources of fibre! And it's not only for savoury dishes. You can enjoy a delicious brown rice pudding2 or it's even great to eat cold with yoghurt and fruit.
Porridge oats- if you are a big porridge lover like me, then it works out as kind of the perfect breakfast. Buying the oats in bulk also cuts the cost so you only have to add milk or even water at the absolute basic to make it!
Add a ton of fruits to this to spice it up and cinnamon is a healthier sweetener to include too!
Beans- you can buy black beans and kidney beans in tins or cartons and they're perfect because they can be used in so many recipes. If you’re looking to curb the cost of food, buying these versatile ingredients makes cooking so much simpler plus they're amazingly good for us, too.
Frozen fruit and veg- buying frozen fruit and veg is so useful for keeping prices down and being able to enjoy your daily smoothies! Most supermarkets offer strawberries, bananas, forest berries, mangoes and cherries all frozen. Also, buying frozen vegetables means you don’t have to worry about it going off by the end of the week and they often offer larger quantities in frozen packs, so you can make your plate more green! There is debate around whether there is more or the same nutritional value to fresh fruit and veg but nonetheless it is much cheaper!
Eggs - here’s another versatile ingredient. We all have our preferred way of eating eggs but since they are a staple to our classic English fry-ups we can’t resist having them in our cupboard. Also, eggs stay in date for quite a while!
Omelettes are a perfect way to include lots of vegetables in a meal and they are so quick and simple to make if you aren’t in the mood to make an elaborate dinner!
Sweet potatoes- I can’t really get enough of these! If you are looking to add more to your meal then cut these into chips and bake them in an oven for around 40 mins with Lucy Bee on top and you’ve got your own sweet potato fries! I also really like making them into jacket potatoes to have for lunch (something really cheap) and then loading it up with lots of veggies!
Lucy Bee Coconut Oil- I’ve converted my housemates to this amazing oil and use it in everything…spread it on toast (I’m lactose intolerant3 so this is my perfect substitute for butter), fry with it and take my make-up off with it too!
Herbs and Spices- I know that fresh herbs are best for flavour but for us poor students, the dried variety are fine for adding extra taste to meals. They last for ages and, although you’ll have the initial outlay, it really is worth stocking up on these. I like basil, oregano, parsley, cumin, coriander, Lucy Bee Cinnamon Powder, and even ground ginger is useful to have.
Garlic- I just love this and it's great for adding to recipes for that extra flavour. You can even use it in homemade salad dressings (you might not be too popular though!) and a simple pasta sauce of tinned tomatoes, anchovies and garlic is such a quick, tasty but inexpensive meal.
Spending large on meat is perhaps going to make the biggest dent in your wallet as someone on a budget.
My first and foremost tip here is, if you’re willing, try out some meatless days. Don’t panic, I’m not saying go veggie but if you could do things like ‘meatless Mondays’ it would really help and you can still find your source of protein in other places.
For example, quinoa is an amazing source of protein with 1 cup containing around 9 grams. Also, nuts such as cashews and almonds have around 4 grams per ounce.
Eating vegetarian for a few days a week also gives your digestive system a break. It is extremely labour intensive for your body to digest meats, so giving it a few days rest can help replenish your system.
If you are someone who cannot shake the desire to eat meat, then I would avoid red meat as often as possible to cut down on prices plus this gives your digestive system a break.
Chicken is a great one to include in salads, use in fajitas, or to stuff with tomatoes and garlic and serve up with some vegetables.
Freezing meat can often be the best option for you to make it last longer so you aren’t pressured to eat it all during the first week.
Minced meat is also a great one to stock up on in large quantities because it can be the base for many different dishes, e.g. chilli con carne, spaghetti Bolognese, Sheppard’s pie. However, don’t be tempted by the large, value packs – I hear my mum again here telling me that if I’m buying mince it should be good quality, grass-fed, lean mince such as Aberdeen Angus.
TIP: a healthier alternative to minced beef is minced turkey. Turkey is a lean meat!
Student life is fun and though cooking for yourself may seem quite daunting at first, it's best to get into good habits straight away. With only a small amount of effort on your part, you'll reap the rewards of a healthier, happier you.
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Hi I’m Hannah, Lucy’s friend, and I run the Lucy Bee Twitter account alongside Lucy. I’ve been a long time lover of coconut oil and have seen how perfect it is to use in my cooking, particularly as someone who is lactose intolerant. If you have any questions, you can reach me on the Lucy Bee Twitter!