Eating Healthy on a Budget!
For some of you, coming to university will be the first time you have had to prepare your own food. This can be a daunting task, but it can be fun too. Being able to plan and prepare tasty meals which are good for you is one of the most important things you’ll learn. So if you’ve been living off take-away pizzas and ready meals read on!
Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
- I’m sure you’ve all heard of the ‘5 a day’ advice about eating at least five portions of fruit and/or vegetables every day. The recommendation is actually to eat at least 400 grams of vegetables a day. It was started in the early 1990s by the World Health Organisation, following research which showed that populations which have a high intake of fruit and vegetables have lower rates of heart disease, some cancers and lots of other health problems, too.
Eat a balanced diet
To eat healthily, you don’t have to banish any so-called bad foods like chips and chocolate from your food cupboard for ever! What is important is that you eat a balanced diet. This means basing your meals on foods such as bread, pasta, rice (choosing wholegrain varieties where possible) or potatoes, and including plenty of fruit and vegetables, moderate amounts of meat, fish, meat alternatives, milk and dairy products and just small amounts of food and drink containing fat and/or sugar. So you can eat chips and chocolate or whatever you crave, but not all the time – you should think of them more as treats than daily staples.
Learn to cook for yourself and avoid ‘ready meals’
There are a number of good reasons to avoid the pre-packed, ready meals which seem like a great option when either you don’t have much time, don’t really know much about cooking, or don’t like doing it. These pre-packed meals are expensive, quite often high in salt, sugar and other preservatives, and don’t offer you the nutritional value of fresh foods. Quite often they don’t taste that great either!
• If you start off by learning two or three basic dishes, such as a vegetable sauce to go with pasta, perhaps a stir-fry or curry dish or even a traditional ‘meat and two veg’ meal, you will learn how you like things to taste; what herbs and spices you like, whether you like your vegetables to be crisp or soft and so on. Then, once you feel more confident, you will be able to adapt your basic dishes and experiment with more adventurous things.
• If you can cook a decent meal, it will impress your friends too – guaranteed!
Plan your food cupboard
If you have a freezer, you may want to make more of a particular meal than you need and freeze one or two portions. You can buy freezer bags and other suitable containers in pound shops, markets and supermarkets. If you use a freezer bag, try to make sure to squeeze out any excess air before sealing.
• You may want to buy a couple of bags of frozen vegetables. These are usually more expensive than fresh ones, but useful to have in emergencies.
• You can also freeze most sliced bread, and then thaw it out in the toaster, slice by slice, as you need it.
• Make sure you’ve always got basic stuff like rice and pasta – it’s easy enough to make a quick and cheap meal with these and a few vegetables. Lentils and beans, dried or tinned will keep for ages. Red lentils cook quickly too. Tins of tomatoes are a great basic start for loads of sauces, soups and hot-pots.
• Build up your collection of dried herbs and spices to add some variety and flavour to your basic dishes.
Keep food clean, store and cook it properly
- Check packaging on food for storage instructions.
- Store raw meat and fish at the bottom of the fridge, in a sealed container or very well wrapped, and away from other foods so it doesn’t leak onto other things.
- The ‘use by’ date is the date up to and including which the food may be used safely (meaning cooked, processed or consumed), if it has been stored correctly. Foods marked with a ‘use by’ date would usually not be safe to eat after this date.
- The ‘best before’ date is the date up to and including which the foodstuff will remain in its best condition, i.e. it will not be stale. This means you can eat foods after the ‘best before’ date, but they may not be so nice. It is important to remember the difference between ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates.
- Do not re-use old tin cans eg from baked beans etc, to store other food. These should be recycled or thrown away. You can re-use glass jars and plastic containers, but make sure you wash them thoroughly in hot water and washing up liquid.
- Don’t leave food lying around – put it away in the fridge, airtight container or cupboard as appropriate, and keep it covered.
- Remember to check your fridge regularly and throw away any out of date food.
- Always wash your hands with hot soapy water before starting to
prepare food, and after handling any raw fish or meat.
- Always wash tools such as tongs, knives, spoons, chopping boards and work surfaces thoroughly in hot water before and after preparing food, especially raw meat and fish.
- Use separate tools for raw and cooked meat.
- Wash vegetables thoroughly, even if they look clean; you may need to scrub or peel some.
- Don’t put raw meat or fish next to cooked meat or fish – be especially careful of this when barbecuing.
- Always make sure you cook chicken, burgers, sausages and kebabs
until they’re piping hot all the way through, and none of the meat is pink
and any juices run clear.
- Be careful with re-heating foods – especially pre-packed meals. They are usually unsuitable for re-heating. Cooked rice carries a particular risk of food poisoning. Ideally, rice should be served immediately after cooking. If this is not possible, cool the rice as quickly as possible and then keep it in the fridge for no more than one day before reheating. If you do re-heat left-over rice, make sure it is piping hot all the way through and don’t reheat it more than once. The longer that the cooked rice has been stored at room temperature, the more likely it will be unsafe to eat.
Eating well on a budget
• It doesn’t have to cost more to eat more healthily. You just need to plan a little and know where and when to buy what.
• Explore your local area for cheaper shops and markets. The Grainger market (a covered market off Grainger Street) is great for cheaper vegetables, meat and fish. You may find that the stuff you buy here doesn’t last as long as supermarket food, so buy on the day or the day before you need something.
• Work out how much money you have to spend on food, and go shopping with that amount of money. Make a shopping list and stick to it. If you enjoy a browse and want the opportunity to buy a little of what you fancy, why not allow a certain amount of money in your budget for this before you start, and then decide when you get there which treats you really prefer?
• Share food and cooking with friends – it is often cheaper to buy in bulk, and with some foods you only need a little at a time, so sharing can avoid waste.
• With fresh foods which go off, such as meat, fish, dairy produce, vegetables, try to buy these more frequently and in smaller quantities, so you don’t end up throwing them away. Remember with vegetables, you can often make tasty soups out of veggies which are a bit old. As long as they have not gone mouldy, they should be fine once they have been boiled up and simmered in a soup or casserole.
• Learn which vegetables are in season, they will be cheaper at that time of year.
• Take advantage of special offers and two for the price of one deals on foods which you know you like/use a lot and which don’t go off. But, remember to look at the sell-by dates, stop to think whether you really do want them and check that they are cheaper than they normally are.
• Look out for supermarket home brands or ‘value’ products, which are often just as good as the famous brands, and much cheaper.
• Avoid ready-meals, take-aways and eating out, except for treats and emergencies!
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