Eating healthy and balanced meals is important to any student wanting the energy to keep up an active lifestyle, and to provide their mind with healthy fuel for all that studying that needs doing (ahem!) Healthy eating is also vital for graduates on the job hunt: constant job applications can be mentally draining, and looking fit and healthy is proven to be an advantage in job interviews. So good food=application success!
But both students and graduates often complain of the same problem when it comes to preparing and serving healthy meals: the cost and time. The myth still prevails that buying cheap pizzas and frozen meals saves more money than picking up fruit and vegetables. But while a few pounds spent on a frozen dinner for one night might seem cheap and easy, spending a pound or two more will get you enough healthy food for several meals. Below are some tips on how to get the best value for your money, and some simple ideas for new quick recipes.
The basic ranges found in all major chain supermarkets are a godsend to cash strapped young people. Basic range pastas, cereals and fresh produce are usually just as good as branded products, but without the fancy advertising or packaging. Having a few staples in your cupboard (rice, pasta, quinoa) means you always have a good base of any meal. Just check any fruit and vegetables over for bruising.
A great place to pick up tasty ingredients and to help support local traders. Organic stuff can sometimes be expensive, so look around to find the best deal. Google your area and see where the farmer markets are on every weekend, and try out different ones. Be brave with traders and haggle if necessary!
Sharing the cost with flatmates
One problem people seem to have with cooking healthy is their lack of equipment or cupboard staples, which can admittedly be expensive for one person alone to buy. So why not spilt the cost with others? Head to your local pound shop and pick up bowls, baking sheets and semi-decent knives- this kind of stuff doesn’t have to be expensive! Another good idea is to split the cost of things like spices, because that way you get to have several types in the kitchen all the time for whatever you need, and, lets face it, nobody needs their own private cinnamon supply… just make sure your spices are kept in a cool dry place.
5 Simple recipes
Below are simple meals my friends and I make all the time. They are less recipes and more templates, so feel free to tinker around and add/detract whatever you like.
Beat two eggs with a little milk and a tiny pinch of dried herbs. Add to a pan with melted butter and gently cook so the egg doesn’t burn on the bottom. When almost cooked top with cheese and pop under the grill to cook the top. Serve with toast- it takes five minutes and will keep you full until lunch, guaranteed.
A messy classic perfected by an old housemate and I. Ideal for cold nights in with a bottle of cheap red wine or two.
Fry garlic, red chillies and one red onion in oil until the onion and garlic are translucent. Add spices from your spice collection. Toss in what vegetables you have handy, especially those that keep their shape: bell peppers, courgettes, mushrooms, more onions-whatever you like. After 5-8 minutes, add a can of rinsed chickpeas, a can of chopped tomatoes, and some water (I like to fill up the empty can from the tomatoes under the tap, to get all the juice out) Add any final spices or hot chilli sauce to taste (careful not to go overboard and ruin the entire thing!) Cover and simmer for 40 minutes. Test and further season to taste. Serve with bread and cheese or by itself as a snack.
Fry garlic and onion, salt and pepper in some oil. Add a tin of chopped tomatoes, a glass of red wine, pepper, dried oregano, dried thyme, and the lentils. Bring to the boil then reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender and liquid has evaporated (about 1 hour, usually). Cut eggplant into thick slices and sauté in oil until golden brown on both sides. Drain well on paper towels or it will be really greasy, and arrange to cover the base of a deep, greased, oven-proof dish. Top this with the lentil mixture and cover that with either a simple white sauce, or, of you can’t be bothered, with some grated cheese. Bake for 25 minutes until brown and serve.
Quinoa mini bites
Quinoa is a brilliant grain to have in the kitchen. Full of protein and low in fat, it is a great alternative to rice or couscous.
Mix two cups of cooked quinoa with really finely shredded vegetables, like carrot and spring onions. The add whatever you have in the fridge: diced ham, leftover cooked chicken, other veg, spices, ANYTHING, as long as the mixture stays fairly malleable and all the ingredients are finely chopped. Put in the mixture into greased muffin trays, or form into balls and place in a greased cooking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until totally cooked. These look great and hardly cost a thing to make.
Put some pasta on to cook. Fry some garlic and a small white onion in butter. Add a sliced up courgette and some mushrooms if you like them. Once the mixture is nicely browned, add a large dollop of reduced fat cream cheese and stir. Once the pasta is cooked and rinsed, add to the pan and cook together for a few minutes. You can also add chicken to this dish: do so after the garlic and onion have been cooking for 5 minutes and make sure not to add too much chicken to the pan to avoid the meat boiling rather than frying.