The student life. Multiple deadlines, crazy flatmates, tempting parties and depressing overdrafts. The last thing you have time for when you have 3 essays due and a migraine from the mad freshers across the road is cooking up a healthy meal. Chopping courgettes and soaking chickpeas? Is there even room for a butternut squash on that tiny shelf they gave you? And what if someone steals your precious £4 coconut oil from the kitchen? Fear not, there are ways to healthily survive your degree without piling on the pounds or spending too many of them either! Eating healthier is a lot easier than most people think and not as expensive as rumour has it. Here are my top tips:
1. Plan Ahead
We often eat unhealthy food when we’re short of time to cook so it is important to plan what you will eat each week. Don’t rely on how you feel each day because that confusing lecture can make you feel like eating Krispy Kreme for dinner and those deadlines might make you feel like not eating at all. Spend Sunday writing a quick list of what you plan to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner that week and then go to the supermarket and buy everything you need to make it happen.
Don’t just waltz into Tesco with your student loan and buy everything on offer. You have to survive a whole term! Before you enter the shop, set a weekly grocery budget, plan your meals for the week and then write out the food items you will need. You should have already sorted our your budget for the term to be fair because you’re an amazing student so write out a meal plan that is within your means. You can’t spend half of the budget on smoked salmon; get what you can afford! Go into the shop with your list and ONLY buy the items on the list. If you’re one for deviating from the list at the sight of a new product then be super strict and only bring the money you planned to spend into the shop with you.
2. Meal Prep
I don’t like cooking so I meal prep. I like to do this because it means I’m hardly in the kitchen and because it saves time during my busy week. I had a friend whose Uni flat kitchen was so filthy she would cook in her friend’s kitchen every day, Uni kitchens can make you never want to cook again so if you want to spend minimal time slaving away at the dirty stove then meal prep.
My healthy snack bowl and my week’s worth of food in tupperware ready to grab and go
To meal prep simply means to prepare meals ahead of time. I meal prep for 5 days, so on Sunday I cook 5 lunches and 5 dinners, put them into containers and then every day depending on my schedule for that day, I take one or two out of the fridge, throw it into my bag and I’m sorted. Then when it’s time to eat I can microwave my meal or just eat it as it is if it’s a cold dish. This is handy for those long library days or especially for off-campus students. Even if you do live on campus, it’s better to run home during that hour between lectures and quickly heat up a pre-prepared healthy lunch than to pop to Subway or make a pot noodle. Sometimes I work late shifts, sometimes I get home from Uni after 9pm and so I don’t have time to cook. If I didn’t meal prep then I’d end up buying junk from the shop on my way home or eating toast for dinner every day. Meal prepping means I am guaranteed a healthy lunch and dinner every day and helps me to stay on track.
If you don’t like the idea of eating the same thing every day then meal prep every 2 days or only meal prep part of the meal. For example you might cook a big pot of brown rice on Sunday and then use that for some meals throughout the week with fresh curries or meat. Or you might season some chicken breasts, freeze them and then cook them on the days you’ll eat them. Another idea is to make a big pasta dish or chickpea curry that will last a few days and can be eaten in different ways throughout your week. Anything that will save time during the week is useful, even if it means chopping up your vegetables the day before cooking them.
3. Use your freezer
Don’t you just hate when your food goes off before you’ve gotten a chance to use it. You spent £1.50 on a fresh bag of spinach and now it’s all wet and wilted or you planned to make an amazing salmon recipe but never got the chance and now it’s stinking up the fridge, kitchen and corridor. You need to make use of your freezer! If you’re not going to use it all right away, freeze it and then defrost as needed.
Smoothies are a great way to get your fruit and vegetable intake but buying lots of fresh produce each week is costly. Frozen fruit is good for smoothies because it keeps the drink cold and you can buy these in the supermarket already chopped. Or, you could chop up your own smoothie ingredients, put them into freezer bags and then when it’s smoothie time, simply throw the contents of your bag into the blender. Saves time and money.
You can also freeze bread to make it last longer as well as leftovers for days when you’ve cooked too much (or those friends who said they’d come round didn’t show up!) They’ll come in handy in that last week of term when your student loan has dried up and all that’s left in the cupboard is custard and ketchup.
4. Youtube/Outdoor/App/DVD workouts
Money is no excuse when it comes to exercise. There are so many ways to work out without going to the gym. You can use Youtube videos (check out my links page for a few), fitness apps or DVDs or you can go for a run and do some bodyweight exercises. Here’s one you could do in your room:
5. Choose cheap food
Smoked tofu, asparagus and quinoa bake sounds lovely but can you afford it? Choose food that is cheap but still healthy. Lentils and chickpeas can be cooked a thousand different ways (trust me I eat chickpeas almost every day) and are very affordable. Oats are cheap and a big bag will see you through many breakfasts. Buy frozen veg instead of fresh and shop at the markets instead of the supermarkets. Drink water and stop buying juice and fizzy drinks. Find foods that you can afford and learn how to make them last.
6. Pack snacks
Popping to the campus shop in-between lecture for a packet of crisps adds up (you could have bought a new pair of jeans with that money) and not to mention how bad they are for you . Bring healthy snacks from home (fruit, cereal bars, nuts etc) and save money. We often end up making bad snack choices because we don’t plan for them. It’s perfectly fine to get hungry in-between meals but it is important to make the right choices. Make snacks a part of your grocery shop and take them with you to Uni. There are always a few cashews rolling around in my pocket or a fruit bar of some sort in my bag, I refuse to go hungry and I’d rather buy clothes than chocolate!
It might take googling new healthy recipes or changing where you shop (hello Lidl and goodbye Sainsburys) but your health is a worthy investment. When you eat well, you feel better and so you’re able to perform better in terms of studying and exams. Bad health can cause regular colds, headaches and other hinderances so keep on top of your health as a student because you don’t want anything to get in the way of you achieving the best grade possible.