For students, eating healthy while on a tight budget has always been a struggle. And somehow, students are expected to do this in London, one of the most expensive cities in the world. Here are some tips to help you stay healthy, while sticking to your budget.
Cook your own meals. This is one of the easiest ways to save money. Rather than spending £3 per day on a meal deal, plus £5 on a readymade dinner, prepare your own food. Readymade meals are marked up because of the convenience of them. Spending an extra few minutes preparing the food yourself will help you cut down costs. Also, you are in control of the ingredients you use, so you can control the amount of salt and sugar added, as well as using fresh produce.
Plan your meals. Planning your meals for the week on the weekend only takes a few minutes, but will help you stick to your budget. Planning your meals means works in three ways: first, you’re only buying what you need at the grocery store. Second, you’re able to use any leftover ingredients from the previous meals towards your next meal. Third, going to the grocery store with a shopping list means you’ll cut back on impulse buys, further saving you money.
Do smaller shops more often. While this seems counter-intuitive to Americans, who are used to doing one big shop each week, it makes sense in the UK. Meat, produce, and other perishables have fewer preservatives in them in the UK, so they will go bad faster than they would in the US. Expect fruit and vegetables to be good for no more than 2 days. This means that when buying perishable items, you will need to eat them quickly. Buying only what you need for each day (and maybe the next) will cut down on waste. Also, without a car you’re restricted to buying only what you can carry.
Change your diet – Eat Healthier. While nobody expects you to survive entirely on porridge, there are some easy dietary changes you can make to cut back on prices. Meat is one of the most expensive things in your basket when grocery shopping, so opt for more vegetarian meals. Cutting out meat even once or twice a week will help you save some money. If you don’t want to cut back on meat, buy cheaper cuts of meat – substitute chicken thighs for chicken breasts, or buy a whole chicken. Also try using low-cost ingredients like pulses, lentils, beans, peas, and potatoes, which provide lots of nutritional value for little cost.
Make more than one meal at a time. Whether this is batch cooking and freezing leftovers, or making enough for lunch for the next day, avoid making single meals. Make two servings while making dinner, and eat the leftovers the next day. It may be difficult in student housing, but wherever possible, try batching cooking – making enough for several servings, and freezing the additional portions. Soups, chilli, or curries all freeze well, and can be warmed up easily for a fast, easy dinner later on. If you don’t have a freezer but do have flatmates, take turns making larger batches of lower cost meals, and share.
Buy frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen vegetables are frozen while they are at their peak nutritional value, so they can be healthier than the fresh option, while costing less. You also won’t have to worry about waste, as your frozen veggies will last much longer than fresh ones. Cooking frozen vegetables only takes a few minutes, and will help add a cost effective way to get more of your 5 a day.
Buy supermarket own brands. All major grocery stores have their own brands of products, as a cost-effective alternative to brand name products. The name brand products usually look and taste exactly the same as the name brand products, but for much less than the regular cost. Tesco Multigrain Hoops Cereal costs less than half the price of Cheerios, despite looking and tasting almost identical.
Keep meals simple. Instead of meals that involve dozens of ingredients, opt for recipes that use fewer, more versatile ingredients. Investing in 2 or 3 jars of dried herbs (or herb blends) can help you add some variety to your meals, and will last the entirety of your semester abroad. Having fewer, more versatile ingredients will help you keep costs low. Whenever possible, talk to your flatmates and share some of your staple ingredients. If you both buy 2 or 3 different herbs and spices and are willing to share, you’ll be able to add more variety to your meals.
Beware of deals. The buy-one-get-one-half-off deal on strawberries may seem like a good idea, but if you aren’t going to eat them all before they go off, you’re not saving money. Only use these deals on things you know you will use, frozen, or non-perishable items.