This is something completely different to anything I’ve ever blogged about before, but in light of the recent Free School Meal situation going on in the UK, I was thinking about some of the meals I ate whilst I was in student accommodation and I thought I could share a few recipes that got me through university on a VERY tight budget.
I am not currently in a position where I can donate to a foodbank, or donate anything financially to charity. I am hoping this little blog post of a few meal ideas will be able to help some people out and give them new ideas for cheap and healthy meals. I am not a dietician or nutritionist and I don’t have any qualifications in the subject, this is all just from my personal experience as a university student wanting to eat healthily, and cheaply.
One little disclaimer: I generally try to avoid excessive amounts of dairy and soya due to intolerances and I will eat pretty much anything except fish. Whilst at university, I did almost all of my shopping at Aldi or Lidl, and was able to make a week’s worth of meals for around £10. To keep the prices this low, I usually had vegetarian meals throughout the week and only ate meat on a weekend.
Here are some of my favourite meals I made for myself whilst at university!
Porridge is probably one of the cheapest and most filling breakfasts there are, you can also have it with lots of different ‘toppings’ (is that the right word? Probably not). I have my porridge with almond milk, but you can also use regular milk or even water. Some of the things I had with my porridge included: chopped banana, defrosted frozen mixed berries, a spoon of peanut butter, a dollop of jam, or even just a spoonful of sugar.
Overnight oats. I think this was the breakfast I had most during second and third year. It takes a little bit of forward thinking as you need to make it the day before, but it’s really worth it.
You will need:
- Plain natural or Greek style yoghurt (I used fat free, but that was just my own preference)
- Frozen mixed berries
In a sealable tub add a layer of the oats, followed by a layer of yoghurt and a layer of berries and repeat until you’re happy with the size of the portion. I use 2 layers of each ingredient.
I never used any actual measurements for this as I always used the same mason jar and knew that filling it near to the top was a sufficient meal for me.
There are loads of different ways you can make overnight oats and you can google hundreds of recipes, but I found this to be the easiest and cheapest for me. A bag of frozen mixed berries can seem quite expensive when you buy it, but it will last ages!
Most of my lunches were actually left overs from the night befores dinner. (Just so you know, I’m northern and call it ‘tea’, so saying ‘dinner’ makes me feel very uncomfortable). I was particularly good at accidentally making enough food to feed the whole street, and so I often ended up with a few extra portions of meals. Some of them I was able to freeze and keep in the freezer for a later date. I struggle to eat the same meal day in, day out and like to switch things up. By freezing portions, this meant I could keep the food shop costs down in future weeks and it also meant no food went to waste.
My absolute favourite savory food is couscous and I practically lived off packets of flavoured couscous for my lunches. Having a packet of flavoured couscous is quite a bit more expensive than buying plain couscous and adding things to it, but it was more convenient for me whilst at uni as I just had to add boiling water, wait a few minutes, give it a stir and it was ready to eat. Some days I just ate a full packet, and other days I had half a packet and added half a tin of mixed beans to it. This meant it would last for 2 lunches and only cost about £1 in total.
Another couscous favourite was couscous stuffed peppers. I took a whole red pepper, chopped the top off and pulled the seeds out and then stuck it in the oven for 10-15 minutes until it started to go soft. Whilst it was in the oven, I prepared the couscous (you can add any left over veg to this. My favourites were courgettes and mushrooms). Take the pepper out of the oven and stuff it full of the couscous, add a little bit of cheese to the top and pop it back in the oven until the cheese has melted. I think I ate this for my dinner at least once a week for the entire 3 years of my degree.
Pasta is also a great lunch. You can buy a 3kg bag of fusilli pasta for £2.85 in Tesco and it lasts forever. I weigh out my pasta when I cook it and have 100g per portion. This means that you could get 30 portions out of the bag of pasta for less than £3! I love pesto with my pasta. It’s simple and it’s cheap. There are also a few different types of pesto, meaning you can switch it up. A jar of pesto lasts a while too! If you want to add meat to it, you could add some ham or chicken.
Jacket potatoes. Cheap, simple and versatile. With most students doing university online this year, it’s much easier to cook a jacket potato for lunch than it was when I was doing my undergraduate degree. There’s loads of different toppings you can have but my favourites were just plain and simple baked beans, cheese or baked beans with a little bit of paprika added and chopped up mushrooms.
Since leaving student accommodation and moving in with my boyfriend, I’ve been eating a lot more meat than I did whilst I was a student. I used to eat vegetarian meat substitutes whenever I could afford them, but I developed a soya intolerance and now avoid them and eat meat instead! Most of these recipes I’m going to suggest contain meat, but you could always use a different type of meat, a meat substitute, or just avoid meat all together!
Pasta, a tomato based pasta sauce, veg and chicken sausages. Okay, so chicken sausages from Aldi are one of the best food items I discovered. They’re a little bit more expensive than regular pork sausages (I think they’re £1.90 for 10), but I noticed when I grill them in my George Foreman, that no fat comes out of them whatsoever. In terms of veg, I buy most of my veg frozen. It’s way more convenient as it doesn’t go off quickly, you also get WAY more for your money than buying it fresh! I just threw in whatever veg I had – you will come to realise that I love love love vegetables). If, like me, you accidentally make a boat load of the pasta sauce, you can always freeze it for another day. This is super convenient if you’re getting in from class late and can’t be bothered to make anything!
Another chicken sausage favourite is having them with sweet potato chunks and green veg. Green beans and broccoli are my favourite greens and they go really well with sweet potatoes! I liked to put a little bit of olive oil on the sweet potato chunks and then add a little bit of paprika or salt before putting them in the oven. Keep an eye on them whilst they’re in the oven though, I found if I cut the chunks too thinly that they burnt really easily! This is also a good meal to have with a chicken breast. I have recently discovered bags of frozen chicken breasts and they have changed the game completely! As a student, I tended to avoid fresh chicken breasts as they were SO expensive for what they are. I wish I knew about frozen chicken breasts whilst at uni – you get so much more for your money.
Chilli con carne. This must be a firm favourite in most households! This was something I didn’t eat too often as mince can be quite expensive, especially if you’re choosing the lowest fat options. But you can get some great deals on bigger packs of mince with higher fat content, or frozen mince. Something that is a little bit more expensive than beef/pork mince is turkey mince, but it’s delicious! If you have mince, you can also make spaghetti bolognese. These are meals that you can freeze extra portions of to have another day. Some meals might seem a bit expensive at the time, but if you’re able to get 3, 4 or more portions out of them then they’re definitely worth the money when you divide the cost of the ingredients per meal.
Chicken dinner. A frozen chicken breast, frozen veg, a potato (mashed or made into roast potatoes), yorkshire puddings and some gravy is a really easy and homely meal. I didn’t actually realise how easy it was to make a roast dinner if you’re using frozen veg. You can pick yorkshire puds up for 50p or less in Aldi and they will last you a few roast dinners!
Stir fry. This is probably one of the cheapest dinners you can have. Aldi sells packets of stir fry veg, dry noodles and stir fry sauces. They’re easy to make and still full of vegetables.
Fruit. Bananas are less than 20p each in Aldi. Aldi also has the Super 6 where each week they choose a selection of fruits and vegetables to be extra cheap. The other week I got a packet of 6 plums for 40p!
Sliced apples and peanut butter. Delicious.
Rice Cakes / carrot sticks / celery sticks / chopped peppers and hummus.
Hints and tips for eating healthily as a student:
A few of these things I’ve probably mentioned already, but I think they’re super helpful and need reiterating!
- Buy frozen vegetables. Obviously this is dependent on your freezer space. But if you can, it’ll save you lots of money in the long run!
- Buy frozen meat. Same as above
- If you make too much, have it for lunch/ dinner the next day, or freeze it for a day when you’re short for time. Having something in the freezer is really convenient and will prevent you from potentially eating out and spending extra money!
- Aldi and Lidl are your friends. You can get 95% of items from Aldi or Lidl (when compared to a bigger supermarket brand). Despite being cheaper, the items are still good quality.
- Give yourself a spending allowance for your weekly shop. Also it might be worth deleting takeaway apps from your phone, so you’re not tempted to grab a takeaway when you can’t be bothered to cook.
- If you don’t have an Aldi or Lidl nearby, head to your local supermarket when they start to reduce products at the end of the day. You can pick up some yellow sticker bargains there.
- Potatoes and eggs are versatile. You can make so many different variations of food out of them. They are both really cheap to buy too.
- PLAN YOUR MEALS. This for me was one of the most important things. Write a plan of everything you’re going to eat throughout the list and write yourself a shopping list accordingly. This will prevent you from impulse buying and spending extra money when going around the supermarket.
I hope this blog post is helpful. Like I said at the beginning of this post, it is something completely different to what I’ve written on here before but it seemed like it was something relevant to big topics in the UK at the moment. This is also just a few of my favourite meals, I have SO many more. So if anyone wants to know of any other ideas, then just let me know. I find most of the recipes I use online, so again, let me know if you want me to send you the recipes I use!
Have a great week,