One of the things I was most concerned about when I came to university was the prospect of having to feed myself every day. In those first few weeks of student life, your entire world is effectively turned upside down, and good eating habits can easily fall by the wayside once you’re tempted by takeaway deals and cheap Pot Noodles.
It doesn’t take long for this diet to take its toll, however – when classes start and the real work begins, eating this way simply isn’t effective or sustainable. But it can be hard to find good habits without the guidance or routine of home life. With this in mind, here is my student-friendly five-step plan to eating well at university.
Take some time every week – I use Sunday evenings for this – to plan out what your main meals are going to be each day of the week ahead. This will give you some structure, and it will mean you won’t have to spend an hour deciding what you’re going to eat before you even get around to making it.
Naturally, however, there should be some leniency to this approach – you might have everything planned out, but if your housemates have found a great Domino’s deal and want you to join, go right ahead!
2. Make a list – and stick to it
Using the meal plan you have created, work out exactly what you need to buy for each recipe and write it down for when you shop. It’s also worth thinking about snacking. I refuse to let myself buy excessive packets of biscuits – although chocolate Hobnobs during essay week are always a necessity – and instead I keep a fruit bowl in my bedroom.
Whether you shop in a store or online, be sure to eat something beforehand - shopping on an empty stomach practically guarantees unhealthy impulse buys.
3. Drink water
It sounds simple and obvious, but water is free. Rather than buying cartons of juice or bottles of fizzy drinks, try to resolve to just drink what comes out of the tap; it's healthier and you’ll save money. If you’re not keen on the taste, you can leave fruit to infuse in your bottle or jug to improve the flavour, but this could get expensive. Ultimately, staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your health – both physically and mentally – so simply learning to like drinking water will be a great help.
4. Cook at home from scratch
If you want to eat healthily, it’s best to know exactly where your meals have come from and what’s in them – and the best way to do that is by cooking them yourself. Ready meals can be useful on occasion, but try not to make them a staple part of your diet. Learning how to make a few key meals from scratch – a simple pasta sauce or a stir fry for instance – will be significantly healthier and, if done right, will be cheaper too.
So while you’re at home take some time to learn and practise a handful of easy, cheap and healthy recipes. You can always expand on this repertoire later, but for the first few weeks at university it can be really reassuring to know that there’s just one less thing to worry about.
5. Batch cook (and buy a slow cooker)
My friends are sick of me raving about my slow cooker, but it’s by far the most useful thing I brought to university. Firstly, it’s super-quick – I spend perhaps 10 to 20 minutes preparing ingredients in the middle of the day, and then leave it alone to cook for four to eight hours – and it also enables you to cook enough for up to four evening meals. Batch-cooking sauces, soups and casseroles can be a real lifesaver on days when you just don’t have time to shop or cook. Knowing there’s something easy ready and waiting for you at home can really take the pressure off – just remember to take it out of the freezer to defrost in time!
Cooking shouldn’t be difficult, stressful or scary; in fact, it can be really therapeutic and enjoyable. You don’t need to calorie count or eat nothing but salad leaves to eat healthily at university; taking the time to eat well will benefit your body and your mind (and therefore your studies) in countless ways. What’s more, it’s a skill for life, and that makes university the best place to learn it.
Nosh for Students series by Joy May
This set of books provides easy, quick and cheap recipes designed with students in mind. There are photographs for every meal so you know how it’s supposed to look, and you don’t need any equipment – all the measurements can be done using a standard-sized mug!
The Hungry Student Cookbook series by Charlotte Pike
Along with 150 great recipes for all occasions, this book gives tips on what kitchen kit to buy and information about kitchen hygiene, as well as guidance on cooking on a budget.
Meal in a Mug by Denise Smart
This book is just what it says on the tin – 80 recipes including breakfasts, mains, sides, desserts and drinks, all of which can be made using just a mug and a microwave. They're great fun to experiment with – try the melting chocolate puddings for a decadent dessert.