Moving away from home for the very first time is an exciting time, packed full of new adventures. 

If you are packing your bags and heading off to college or university, the chances are that this is the first time in your life that you have to take full responsibility for what and when you eat. 

What you decide to eat (or not eat) can have a big impact on your mental health, as well as your physical well-being, so knowing how to put a healthy, balanced meal together will help you get the most out of your university experience. 

If you know the basic building blocks of good nutrition, and how to cook a few simple meals, then you will be well set up to eat well on a student budget, without having to resort to beans on toast every night of the week! 

A handful of recipes

Learn how to cook a handful of basic recipes. If you know how to make a few essential meals like spaghetti bolognese, a quick curry, a simple stirfry and a basic omelette, you will have the skills to nourish yourself well. Having a few recipes that you know how to make will mean you can quickly and easily make yourself a cheap and healthy meal that is much cheaper (and much healthier) than takeaways and ready meals. 

Cook with mates

Whether you are living in halls of residence or a flat share, it is a great idea to cook with friends. Sharing the shopping bill and cooking rota could help save you some money.  Take it in turns to cook for each other at least once a week. Not only will you have a night off cooking, but it is a good way to try new ideas and foods that you may not otherwise eat. 

Eat less meat 

Having at least one meat-free meal a week will save you a lot of money. Using beans and lentils as your protein source instead of meat is a good idea – chickpea curry, lentil bolognese or bean chilli are great options, and you won’t even miss the meat. 

Shop around 

There are plenty of budget supermarkets like Lidl and Aldi around and these are usually located in student areas, but also check out local markets and Asian supermarkets as these can be a good place to shop too. 

Storecupboard essentials 

Having a few basic essentials will help make sure you can throw a quick and easy meal together: 

  • Pasta, noodles and rice
  • Potatoes 
  • Eggs – boiled, poached or scrambled, made into an omelette, or as egg-fried rice
  • Cheese
  • Oil – olive oil is a good option, as you can use for cooking and dressings
  • Fruit and vegetables – frozen veg and fruit are ideal as you can use what you need with no waste, tend to be cheaper and they last for ages
  • Onions and garlic – these form the base of most meals 
  • Tinned tomatoes – can be used as a base for so many things – form pasta bake to chilli or curry
  • Tinned tuna – not just for sandwiches – perfect for pasta bake or salads too. 
  • Tinned beans and lentils – chickpeas and red kidney beans, not forgetting baked beans! 
  • Bananas – on toast for a quick breakfast or snack
  • Wholemeal bread – if you buy too much, keep it in the freezer, take it out a slice at a time and toast as you need it 
  • Dried mixed herbs, some dried chilli flakes or some tabasco sauce and soy sauce – the secret to tasty food on a budget that doesn’t end up tasting bland and boring. 
  • Stock cubes – for making soup, or adding more flavour to recipes 
  • Salt and pepper 
  • Tea and coffee and a pack of biscuits!

This blog post first appeared as an article in The Irish News on Saturday 21 September 2019.