I’ve always had a love for food. I studied food technology at school, I’ve worked in a kitchen on and off from the age of 16, and spend a lot of my time cooking and thinking up recipe ideas. I also LOVE eating out and occasionally having dinner party’s with friends which sounds like an expensive lifestyle for a student but it doesn’t have to be. I know how hard it can be to budget your money as a student, and there is a lot of stigma around student lifestyle and how they’re unhealthy; living off processed foods and spending all their money on alcohol and going out. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good night out: but eating on a budget doesn’t have to be boring, it doesn’t have to be unhealthy; you can brighten up meal times quickly, easily and at little cost. It’s all about planning and preparation keeping in mind some simple tips and technique as you go along.
I have never been a big meat eater, just the occasional roast chicken dinner or bacon sandwich, but when I started uni I decided to stop buying meat. Initially because of the cost implications and because I think food is delicious enough without it. Now I don't crave meat at all, I have also leant that red meat especially contains harmful hormones that can increase the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and cholesterol if eaten too much, as well as being high in saturated fat and calories.. and nobody wants that! I generally stick to a vegetarian, dairy-free diet occasionally eating a bit of fish if I know where it has come from. The most important thing to keep in mind when shopping is picking the best ingredients and seasoning your food correctly.
Here are some basic tips I swear by:
·Stock up your cupboards with essentials such as: tins of tomatoes, beans, pasta, lentils, rice, grains etc. to give you the meal time basics and to make food preparation easier.
· Fresh or frozen garlic, chilli and onion are a must; also fill your cupboards with herbs and spices and you'll be on your way to making your meal times interesting!
·Buy fresh products when you need it to save waste ( I hate waste!), but also don’t be afraid of slightly ‘passed it’ vegetables, rotting is a natural process, wash well, peel and cook; you wouldn’t know the difference.(Great for soups, smoothies, curry, and bubble and squeak as these ingredients are blended down anyway- so it doesn’t matter if they are slightly soft)
·Try to avoid pre washed, pre sliced fruit and veg, it shortens the shelf life by days and they tend to be more expensive!
· Think of a number of recipes you can make with the same item, it’s unlikely that you will use the whole vegetable if you are cooking for one- for example butternut squash; soup, stuffed with lentils, risotto, curry, roasted as a veg, mashed as a side, used in bubble and squeak the list goes on. Similarly if you don’t use a whole tin of beans or tin of tomatoes put in a tupawear and into the fridge, or the freezer if you don’t think you will use it within the next two days.
· If you have access to a freezer use it- don’t be afraid of freezing, you can freeze almost anything. It’s perfectly safe and easy, and you will save food from deteriorating. You can freeze things for up to 6 months, I freeze grated cheese, whole chilies, fruit EVERYTHING!
· Buy frozen! – Frozen vegetables as so underrated. They’re cheap and convenient. Have frozen veg in your freezer, you can chuck them into curries, soups, stews anything that tickles your fancy. Frozen fruit is also a must too, fruit rots quite quickly so save waste and buy frozen- perfect for smoothies, milkshakes, desserts and porridge.
·Try vegetarian- like I mentioned above, you don’t have to skimp on yumminess when cooking vege-plus you will save the pennies. Try bean chilli instead of meat chilli, equally as delicious, quarter of the price.
· Organic isn’t everything; we would all like to eat organic if we could, but it’s just not practical- it’s a massive drainer on the purse/wallet. You can still be healthy without organic produce. Eat what’s in season, then it is more likely to have come from a local supplier. Ensure you wash your fruit and veggies first to get rid of any unwanted fertilisers and pesticides!
·Cheap & cheerful -own branded items tend to be, low in sugar, saturates and salt
·Buy in bulk- buy the big bags of rice, pasta and lentils as they tend to be cheaper gram for gram- you generally find them in the 'world food' section!
·Make from scratch- sauces and curries are cheaper, healthier and tastier when made from scratch. Stock up your cupboards with tinned tomatoes; then add fresh garlic, onion, herbs and spices, for pasta sauce and additional fresh chilli and coconut milk for curry. This way it will contain virtually no additives it’s more nutritional beneficial and tastier, as well as being cheaper than jars of sauces.
· Use lentils to bulk up curries, soups, and stews, they are also great for stuffing peppers and butternut squash and baking. They hold flavour well and are great value to fill up on during the cold winter nights!
· Stock up on tup-a-wear and freezer bags, they are a must have- keeps everything fresh and air tight in the fridge and when freezing
· Experiment with food- what’s the worst that can happen- don’t make things too complicated for yourself. But remember to have variety in your food, try new fruit and vegetables!
Keep in mind these tips when you are food shopping and cooking and you will be sure to lower your weekly spend on food, whilst also maintaining a healthy and interesting diet. It also means you have more money to spend on going out for dinner and cocktails!