When we think about our diets, there is a tendency to think of health, convenience and affordability as totally separate terms, with little or no overlap. When asked to think of healthy food, one may conjure up images of colourful açai bowls, guacamole toast or salad bowls, served with an invigorating smoothie; a virtuous treat which costs a small fortune compared to what you can prepare yourself at home. Convenience-wise, the obvious solution is the beloved takeaway or Deliveroo, or even a speedy frozen pizza; despite the fact that none of these options are particularly healthy or cheap. When it comes to eating on a budget, the universal student experience is beans on toast, night after night, a monotonous penance for spending too much on takeaway coffees or alcohol.
However, it doesn’t have to be this way. With a little planning and preparation, it is possible to eat nutritiously without letting it consume all of your time and money. If you’re struggling to manage your finances in college, UCC has an excellent general budgeting advisory service and web page which is well worth a look. When it comes to food though, here is a handy guide to saving on food in college, without compromising on taste, nutrition or convenience.
1. The first and most important tip to save money on food in college is planning your meals. It may seem a bit unnecessary, but trust me, it is worthwhile to spend a few minutes each week plotting what you will eat for each meal, from breakfast to supper, with snacks in between. Factor in leftovers, how busy you’ll be on each day, and special occasions where you might treat yourself to a meal out.
2. Once your meal plan is complete, you should draw up a shopping list for your weekly shop. Convenience grocery stores often have heightened prices compared to regular supermarkets, so making time for a trip to the supermarket once a week rather than taking frequent unnecessary visits to Centra is preferable to your budget. Be disciplined with your shopping list, and try to avoid being swayed by flashy special prices on junk food. Check the use-by-date on products, remembering that reduced prices are typically placed on products nearing their use-by-date. There is no issue with this, just be sure that you’re not buying something only to throw it out a few days later.
3. Identify instances where you spend money on food without any previous planning. Perhaps you often end up staying late in the library and stock up on chocolate peanuts and cans of Monster from the Student Centre, or maybe you can’t resist splashing out on a coffee when out and about with friends. Whatever the situation may be, take preventative measures to save cash. Meal planning should help with this, but simple tricks like bringing a packed lunch, a reusable water bottle, a flask of coffee, and a bag of raisins or nuts can also help prevent you from straying toward more expensive convenience options to keep hunger at bay.
4. Sharing the cooking responsibilities between housemates by establishing a rotating dinner duty is another innovative way to cut down on costs and waste, as most recipes are designed for more than one person anyway. This may not work for everyone, but give it a try with your housemates sometime, particularly if your schedule is more flexible this year due to limited campus time. This is also a great way to strengthen the comradery and craic of living together in college. Simply gathering together over dinner each evening can become a nice ritual, and a fun way to try out new recipes.
5. Saving money saves waste too, which is so important as Ireland is guilty of generating more than one million tonnes of food waste every year. For this reason, try and get creative with leftovers as opposed to simply dumping scraps. For instance, leftover rice can be transformed into egg-fried rice with vegetables, and there are dozens of pasta bakes to use up any other leftovers you have, giving them a new lease of life. Ultimately, the key to saving on food in college is adjusting your mindset towards cooking for yourself. Sometimes it can feel mundane to stay in and eat what you have, particularly leftovers, but this doesn’t need to be the case. Try to take pleasure in what you cook; it can actually become a comforting way to unwind, without the guilt of a takeaway or eating out.