So you’re headed to the University of St Andrews, and chances are you are thinking one of these things:

1.  “I have no idea how to cook! Am I going to have to live off of pasta and frozen pizza all year?!”

2.  “I hope my dining hall’s food is remotely edible…”

3.  “I’m gonna have to work out for two hours every day to avoid the ‘Freshman 15.'”

4.  “How on earth will I be able to afford alcohol and food with my meagre student budget?!”

The bad news is that some people will inevitably acquire terrible eating habits at university, and suffer the consequences. The good news is that you don’t have to be one of those people. Healthy eating on a university budget IS doable. So I’m here to give you a few tips, and share a few easy, delicious and relatively cheap recipes!

Basic tips for healthy eating on a university budget

1. If you’re a newbie to cooking, download Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” App to learn all the basics.

2. Cook multiple portions at one time! Leftovers are perfect for easy meals throughout the week.

3. Go to the butcher/fishmonger/grocer on South Street for fresher and cheaper meat, fish, fruits and vegetables. It’s WAY better quality than anything you’ll find at Tesco for a reduced price (I’m not horsing around).

4. Buy grains, beans, nuts, seeds and dried fruit in bulk (perfect for healthy snacking and adding a kick to any salad/meal).

5. If one of your favourite foods or something you eat a lot is on sale, buy it in bulk and freeze it (I’m assuming your favourite food is natural enough that it will eventually go bad – if your favourite foods are chips, candy, or some other unhealthy, chemically preserved item, purchase them sparingly and save them for a special treat).

6. If you have a specific food allergy or dietary requirement, make sure to contact your dining halls catering team via email studentcatering@st-andrews.ac.uk to discuss your needs.

7. Pack snacks like fruit, nuts, raw veggies and hard-boiled eggs when you’re leaving your room/flat. It’ll be cheaper than buying a snack every time you’re out and about.

Delicious and affordable ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner

Breakfast

1. Omelettes are super easy and delicious. Learn from Jamie Oliver how to make the perfect omelette, and check this out for some omelette filling ideas.

2. Oatmeal is very filling and a great easy breakfast for anyone who doesn’t eat meat. This blogger is essentially the Queen of Oatmeal, so if you need some guidance or inspiration, go check out that link. Overnight oatmeal is also a godsend for morning you don’t feel like cooking.

3. Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts. Greek yogurt is much higher in protein than regular yogurt. Pair it with some fruit and nuts for a complete breakfast of healthy fats, protein and carbs.

4. Frittatas are perfect make-ahead breakfasts. Whip one up on Sunday night and you’ve got breakfast for the whole week. Here’s one of my favorite recipes, and here’s another.

Lunch and Dinner

1. Stir Fry. You really can’t screw up a stir fry. Pretty much any combination of veggies, meat and sauce will taste delicious. Here are some basic stir fry tips and here’s a basic stir fry how to.

2. Salad with your choice of toppings. If you draw a blank, check out these 101 ideas for simple salads.

3. If you like plain and simple, pan fry a chicken breast, steak or some sausage, and serve it with some roasted veggies.

4. Burrito bowls or taco salad! Here are a few recipes: shredded chicken burrito bowl; kale, black bean and avocado burrito bowl (vegetarian); ground beef taco salad

5. Stuff an avocado with tuna salad, like this.

6. Make twice baked or stuffed sweet potatoes with your favorite fillings. These pizza stuffed sweet potatoes are one of my favorites.

For those with a meal plan

Many of you will be in halls, and have chosen the catered dining option for the year. Though your main courses and sides will be out of your control, and will often be made with highly processed foods and thus  high in nutrient void calories (it’s mass-produced for students, after all), eat a little bit of what seems best to you, and supplement it with quick snacks/the occasional self-made meal.

You have paid for the dining option, so it doesn’t make sense to make all of your own food. Meal quality in halls varies, though it’s essentially pretty streamlined. No matter which hall you’re in, you will probably always be able to find something decent to eat at breakfast. The lunch and dinner options are more hit or miss. So for those of you in this situation, snacks and easy supplemental meals will be crucial, due to the fluctuating quality of hall meals as well as the weird times (dinner begins at 5.30 pm in certain halls, and is over by 7 pm).

Take what you can from the dining hall. You’re paying for it, so you may as well take advantage of the various nuts/dried fruits they have at breakfast, and the fresh fruit out at every meal. I took at least 2 pieces of fruit every time I went to a meal. So make wise choices in the dining hall, and don’t load your plate up with pasta with creamy sauces or a ton of fried food. When you’re not in the dining hall, remember to eat mindfully. During your first year at university, it’s easy to give in to stress-eating because of all the changes and challenges you face. Remember that food is fuel, not therapy – you should enjoy refueling, but don’t eat your feelings.

For all students

Don’t make late night trips to Dervish or Empire. These are two of the most popular places open until late that serve appallingly greasy pizza and chips to satisfy drunk munchies; though delicious when inebriated, your body will hate you in the morning. Have something ready before you go out, be it cereal, snack bars, or fruit and peanut butter, for when you return home starving and are too gone to make yourself something proper. Even some toast with butter and honey is perfect.

However, eating a ton of bread/carbs will not absorb the alcohol in your system, that’s just an old wives tale. The alcohol is already in your blood stream. Eat only if you’re truly hungry, as eating won’t help you sober up or prevent a hangover. The most important thing to do to prevent a hangover is stay hydrated. Drink water throughout the night, and before you go to sleep, drink loads of water, or better yet coconut water, and take a multivitamin.

If you follow at least some of these tips, you should be able to steer clear of the treacherous ‘Freshman 15’. Remember, though, that any good diet should also be complemented with exercise – St Andrews has myriad sports teams to choose from, and a variety of recreational options as well as classes at the gym, for those who don’t like the traditional workout. If you stay active, stay hydrated, and eat mindfully, you will make it through without gaining an ounce!

Sarah Al-Khayyal manages a food blog where she shares yummy and healthy recipes that can be made easily. Check it out!

7 COMMENTS

  1. “3. Go to the butcher/fishmonger/grocer on South Street for fresher and cheaper meat, fish, fruits and vegetables”

    Yeah I’m going to go ahead and disagree with this. The local butcher on S Street is way more expensive than equivalent meat at Tesco. Same goes for the fishmonger and the fruit shop. Better quality and local? Maybe. But cheaper? No way.

    Tesco + Morrissons will get you strawberries grown in iceland and california beef. But it will be cheaper. For instance, a 3-pound pork shoulder at the butcher cost me 20 quid. At tesco it’s a fiver. I learned the hard way after trying in vain to source local ingredients for my meals.

    • Point taken, I should’ve been clearer that some things are more expensive at the butcher/fish monger. But that’s not the case for everything! A lot of the fruits and vegetables are cheaper at the grocer, and a lot of the meats and eggs are about the same price.

      Also, I believe in choosing higher quality over lower prices when it comes to meat. Natural, pastured, grass-fed and free range meats are way better for you and your body, and the way I see it, you can pay the farmer or you can pay the doctor. So I know that this doesn’t completely align with the needs of students on tight budgets, but I mostly wanted to make all the Freshers aware of their other options (since a lot of St Andrews students don’t even know about the butcher/monger/grocer) then they can choose themselves if they’d rather sacrifice quality for price.

      Sorry for not covering all my bases though, I definitely should’ve mentioned that some things will be more expensive.

  2. You said Greek yoghurt is much higher in protein than normal yoghurt. Does that also count for Greek-style yoghurt (ie. what appears to be normal yoghurt with added honey which supermarkets pass off as being Greek)?

    • Sadly, no. “Greek-style” yogurt is, as you said, regular yogurt which has been thickened with artificial ingredients and thickening agents, whereas real Greek yogurt (i.e. Oikos, Chobani, Fage) has been through the process of being strained multiple times to yield a thicker, more concentrated, and thus more protein dense yogurt. Tesco charges a leg and an arm for real Greek Yogurt unfortunately, so I only buy it when I have it in my budget to.

  3. Frozen Green Peas are healthier and easier to cook (microwave) than Frozen Oven Chips.
    When people say “make extra portions”, that means look at how much you’d normally cook, multiply that by 4, freeze half of it and have the rest for supper/pack lunch.
    0% Fat Cottage cheese has more protein and is much cheaper. Sweeten with a piece of fruit or rasins, eat from tub (:

  4. I’m not one hundred percent sure as to how you managed to take 2 pieces of fruit – the catering staff in my hall become irrationally angry whenever anyone tries to do that.

  5. interesting that you advise people not to go to dervish as it sells greasy pizza and chips only desirable for those too drunk to care… If the writer had done some homework they would have noticed that Dervish not only sells pizza and kebabs in the wee small hours but also does some amazing mediterranean dishes .. most are gluten free, vegan, and only use fresh locally sourced ingredients.

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