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Readers Request: Healthy Eating on a Student Budget

Posted Sep 17 2012 7:00am

A couple of weeks ago blog reader Joele got in touch to see if I could give her some ideas of recipes that are healthy and that can be made on a student budget. I thought I’d respond to her in a blog post because I’m sure this will be helpful for a few others too!

Before I get into recipe ideas I think the key thing is to shop smart:

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A lot of students will be living close to city centres, if you get to know your area you will be able to find some great places to shop. First and foremost see if you can find a market or local green grocers. Many of these will offer a student discount and they can be an excellent place to pick up fruit and veg on the cheap.

Also try checking out ethnic supermarkets – these are wonderful for getting hold of my top 3 healthy and cheap store cupboard staples of:

Those three ingredients can make a plethora of tasty and cheap meals, just add some chopped tomatoes, veggies and seasonings and your good to go. For example:

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  • Quick Curry: red lentils cooked with onions, carrots and curry powder (see my Simple Dahl recipe) + brown rice + steamed green veggies
  • Italian Rice and Beans: cooked brown rice mixed with 1 tin of cannellini beans + 1 tin chopped tomatoes, mushrooms, chopped courgettes + garlic + Italian seasoning + steamed green veggies (see my Italian Quinoa recipe for something similar)
  • Moroccanish Chickpeas: chickpeas + onion + peppers + tinned chopped tomatoes + cumin + raisins + brown rice + steamed green veggies

Those recipes may not set the world alight, but they are tasty, cheap and healthy. You can make large portions of them and freeze them ahead of time. Don’t be afraid of cooking dried beans, all you need it a bit of planning to soak them overnight, but if not tinned beans are still a pretty cheap source of protein!

Of course all of the usual grocery shopping on a budget rules apply:

  • Buy in bulk when its smart to do so – if you find a favourite product on offer then stock up
  • Meal plan if its practical to do so
  • Try batch cooking at the weekend (or whenever your kitchen is quiet)
  • Eat seasonally – then you tend to be getting fruit and veg when they are at their best and their cheapest
  • Make stuff yourself – almost always cheaper than buying a version in the shops, for example granola, snack bars etc
  • Use frozen veg and fruit or tinned as well if needed

Having lived in a few shit holes when I was a student I also know that using your kitchen may not be the same therapeutic experience it is when you are at home. If that is the case don’t forget that green veggies can be steam cooked quickly in the microwave if needed (just put in a microwavable bowl with a few tablespoons of water, cover with cling film, piece some holes in and nuke it). You could also batch cook while you are at home, freeze stuff and take it with you if that is practical, thus minimising time in a minging kitchen.

As for cheap meal ideas, here’s a few to get you started:

  • Breakfasts – porridge with nut butter and fruit, wholemeal toast or wrap with nut butter and fruit, smoothies if you have a blender available, yoghurt with cheap homemade granola and fruit, home made raw snack bars or granola bars (again these could be made ahead of time and frozen for grab and go option) plus fruit if you are short on time.

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  • Lunches – whole wheat wrap with hummus and veggies or tuna or mashed chickpeas, salad box with spinach, rice, beans, veggies and tahini or other dressing, piece of fruit, carrot sticks, crackers, rice cakes and nut butter or hummus (most of these should be fairly library friendly and last the morning in your bag without refrigeration)

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  • Snacks – veggie sticks, home made raw snack bars, raw nuts and dried fruit in a little bag or home made trail mix (just mix your fave nuts, seeds and dried fruit plus some dark choc chips!), piece of fruit

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  • Dinners – As well as the ideas above using the 3 healthy cheap ingredients – baked sweet potato topped with hummus or cottage cheese or beans, socca stuffed with hummus, tinned tuna etc, stir fry using frozen veg and frozen soya beans with some brown rice and ground ginger, garlic granules and soy mixed together as a sauce, home made lentil based soup with wholemeal bread (can be so comforting for dinner on a cold evening!)

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  • Desserts – treat yourself, you are only young once! ;-) But you could also try plain yoghurt (not the Greek, too expensive) with tinned fruit, dark chocolate, baked apples with granola and yoghurt

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My fave KHGS cheap recipes:

Try and have a range of snacky foods available – I know when I was studying I was a snack monster. If you don’t want anything too sugary try having some crackers, veggie sticks, popcorn (which you can pop in a dry pan very cheaply) or nuts handy.

Hope that is a little bit helpful :-) I know that most of what I have covered above is vegetarian / vegan but only because it is so much cheaper than buying quality meat! If you are a student and have already survived a couple of years what are your tips? Please share!

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