We all know as students, that there's always ways to find free food. Nobody joined the Toast Appreciation Society (yes it really exists) to discuss the finer points of metaphysical poetry! And of course not forgetting the Sunday ritual of raiding the fridge courtesy of The Irish Mammy. When we can bring ourselves to part with the dosh we would prefer to be spending on something else,I'll leave that one to your imagination, we often turn to convenience foods. When juggling lectures, assignments, exams, and often a part time job the healthiness of your diet is not often high on the list of priorities. Hence this blog is aimed at helping you be good most of the time and accepting that nobody has a perfect diet (even a dietitian!). Striving for perfection can lead to disappointment and 'falling off the wagon' completely which is more likely to lead to unhealthy habits in the long term. If you can manage to follow a healthy diet most of the time and maintain a healthy weight in college, just think how much easier it'll be when you have more cash and time as a young professional!
In recent times carbohydrates reputation have taken quite a battering. But not all carbohydrates are created equal. They are made up of fibre, starchy carbs and sugars. Starchy carbs are so versatile, cheaper and give you energy. They are often lower in calories but it's what we do to them which increases the calorificity (I don't think it's a word but I like it) like adding mayonnaise or cheese. Choosing brown is best for increasing fibre for keeping those bowels regular and filling you up. However as they can be a more expensive option even mixing them with a white version is still an improvement. Basing your meals on brown bread, rice, pasta, regular/sweet potato and breakfast cereals is a solid foundation for any meal. Reducing sugar by not adding into the daily cup of cha and avoiding full sugar fizzy drinks will help bring down your daily intake.
Protein on the other hand has never seen such a surge in popularity. It's the Jennifer Lawrence of the food world!
We need it for growth and repair of all our bodies cells (not just for body building muscle). Choosing eggs, cheap lean cuts of red meat, chicken, turkey (which you can often pick up cheaper than chicken) and low fat dairy products all meet your needs. Veggies can opt for baked beans, lentils, pulses and products like hummous. Low fat dairy products also provide calcium and vitamin D for maintaining healthy bones and teeth.
It may sound contradictory when we're talking healthy diets and aiming for a healthy weight but we need fat in our diet. Not the type that drips off a battered sausage and chips (saturated fat), but healthy unsaturated fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Olives and guacamole may not seem like the most practical student ingredients so taking steps like swapping to an olive based spread instead of a cheap margarine type spread and choosing a healthier cooking oil will set you on your way to having healthy fats in your diet. A healthy cooking oil doesn't mean the most expensive- rapeseed oil has been identified as one of the best. However it is often the main ingredient in bog standard vegetable oil so check the label for this or look out for a high monounsaturate content. Including cheap tinned fish will also help get good fats in, but avoid dousing in mayonnaise. Cutting down on the bad fats from the usual culprits of take aways, ready meals, pizzas (and ahem 12 cent noodles!) will not only make a difference to your waistline but also your longer term heart and brain health. Reducing convenience foods will also reduce your salt intake, so two birds....
Fruits and vegetables can be overlooked at times, but choosing frozen or tinned vegetables and fruits are cheap and cheerful and cut down on waste so are an easy way to fit them in. The wider the variety, the broader the range of vitamins and minerals. I've heard the urban myth of the lad ONLY eating cornflakes and ending up getting hospitalised. While an extreme example, it highlights the importance of having variety in the diet.
Choosing own brand products, looking out for special offers, choosing healthy foods which require little/no prep or cooking like eggs, baked beans, low fat yoghurt and of course continuing to raid Mammy's fridge will keep you on track to keeping the spending down. The more adept a cook you become the better you can manage cheap nutritious meals but this may take some time and practice!
Remember, you don’t have to be perfect all of the time; you just need to focus on doing good most of the time within your budget. After all it has been said you don't need a silver fork to eat good food.