As we enter a new University/College year I thought it would be useful to give some advice on eating well when you have left home. As a student living away from home for the first time or returning for another year it is when you are entering a world of total freedom and choice.
It can be easy to develop bad habits. The following article is designed to help you. If even reading this is overwhelming, choose one tip below and stick to that. Choose one recipe to master and stick to that. Choose one piece of fruit your going to eat daily, similarly a vegetable and stick with that. Build on this once you feel less overwhelmed.
Nutrition may not be at the forefront of your mind. However eating the right foods can set you up for coping better with the changes.
Protein rich foods are vital for optimal mental health. Colourful fruit and vegetables can also support your mood but also set you up for the Winter, helping you fight of colds and flu’s.
Essential fats found in flax, pumpkin, sesame, chia and sunflower seeds as well as oily fish, avocados and olive oil are essential for your brain, making energy, skin and all your cells. Complex carbohydrates such as oats, wholegrain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, beans and pulses and starch veg; potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots are full of vitamins, minerals and fibre to support your digestion.
Adjusting to a new regime, feeding yourself for the first time, Fresher’s week and missing home will all factor into your life in the first few weeks. This is why eating well is even more important than usual.
A 2014 study on student’s eating behaviours found that there was an array of reasons why students made their choices about food. The study wanted to find out ways to improve eating habits of students and in turn health and well-being. For example, time, availability of food and equipment, taste and past eating habits all affected the choices of the students surveyed.
In light of the above here are some valuable tips to takeaway:
Learn to cook now! Use the time you have while you are still at home to learn from family members on basic cooking skills. Ask them to teach you their favourite recipes.
Use the Internet. There is a vast amount of information and you can look up how to cook basic foods such as eggs, sauces, soups and chicken.
Ask family members for their top three recipes to have a selection of dishes to cook to take away with you.
Invest in cookery books. They can be a good start to cooking and as you improve you can adapt to make the recipes your own. My daughter found the Bosh recipe book useful. Adjust recipes where you don’t have the ingredients. Don’t be scared – if it doesn’t work, you know what to do or not next time.
Practice, practice, practice – just do it! Even kitchen disasters can turn into triumphs the only way to learn is to just cook! Start small. Learn how to boil, and scramble eggs or make a simple tomato pasta sauce.
Stick to a few signature dishes. Pasta sauce, curry, omelettes. Keep making these until your confidence grows.
Invest in a soup/hot food flask, in the Winter make soups and take with you for lunch.
Shopping and Budgeting
Have a budget and stick to it. If you run out of food midweek and don’t have enough money to buy anything this will affect your nutrition. This is when you might start to feel tired, catch a bug or lack in some energy.
Can you afford something like salmon? Possibly, think about where you spend your money, can you forgo a couple coffees, an extra beer or so – then perhaps you can spend a little more on food.
Share costs. Offer to cook for people you share accommodation with and ask for a contribution to the cost. Whoever cooks doesn’t wash up. Share the cooking as well. You could do a rota or you could make something together.
Shop local. Get to know butchers, fishmongers and local fruit and vegetable shops. Shopping local may also be cheaper, especially when you are buying whole foods as opposed to ready-made meals. Ask the butcher for cheaper cuts of meat for slow-cooking casseroles and stews. This can be a more pleasant way to shop rather than trudging around a supermarket.
Use the supermarket for deals. Where there is a deal on bulk items take the opportunity to stock up on healthy food. Quite often there are deals later on in the day.
Shop seasonal. The food will be higher in nutrients as it is at its peak and will also be cheaper as travel costs are low.
Planning and Making it Easier
Plan. Make out a weekly meal planner. This will help with budget, shopping and nutrition. A client recently showed me a wonderful menu/budget planner she made on Excel, worth experimenting.
Batch cook. Pick a day to cook a few dishes in one day, if you have a freezer you can cook more. This means during the week when you are busy, you can just reheat.
Ask family members when you are home to cook you a meal and take back with you to your accommodation.
Buy tins and frozen pre-cut vegetables. These are for the days you are time or energy poor.
Have a store cupboard with the basics so when food or budget is low you can always whip up a meal very easily – pasta with tomatoes, clove of garlic and some chickpeas or a lentil curry with a sweet potato.
Put some music on – music can help with the motivation to cook.
Have the Right Equipment
Mini-fridge. The study previously mentioned reported that university catering is not always healthy and nutritious. To overcome this a mini fridge will help up nutrient status, stock up on salads, ground seeds, nut butters and avocados.
Good set of sharp knives or a knife sharpener. Blunt knives will put anyone off cooking, if you cannot afford a good set of knives a knife sharpener is a handy gadget. Ikea middle range knives are good.
Food processor or blender, not a necessity but could be handy. It chops, blends, grates and mixes. Handy for making soup, guacamole, hummus, chopping onions and garlic, making healthy snacks and baking.
Tupperwares are handy for freezing foods and for taking leftovers with you for lunch, which is also a great way to save money.
Similar to blunt knives, a dirty smelly kitchen is not very encouraging environment to start cooking, clean as you go and clean and tidy at the end of every meal. Hopefully if sharing accommodation others will follow and help.
Change cloths and dishcloths daily to avoid being exposed to harmful bacteria that may give you an unwanted stomach bug.
Just as you want to source good quality food, source your cleaning products, choose eco-friendly and free from chemicals and toxins. This is beneficial for the environment and yourself. I like Dr Bronner products, lasts ages and can be used for everything, they also smell good as well.
Being a student and entering a new journey in your life is fun, introducing cooking and eating healthy meals into this journey and the benefits will be invaluable for life.
Links you may find useful, if you have any questions please contact me: