One of the hardest things I found when coming to university was sharing a kitchen. I LOVE cooking, and that’s hard to do when your Mill Hall kitchen surfaces are covered in broken eggs and raw squid innards all the time (true story). Money has been tight for me the whole way through my time at Brunel, as it is for most, but it’s been particularly difficult during my MA. Getting by without a student loan was a massive adjustment, and preparing for life post-university by trying to put money away almost completely diminished my food budget. I’ve put together 5 tips that I’ve learnt this year about eating healthily on a low budget – hopefully someone will find them useful!
- Eggs are king
Eggs are just the best thing in the world (unless you're allergic, obviously). They’re full of protein, and you can cook them so many different ways. You can also add them to noodles or rice to help bulk up your dinner. For an easy meal, you can chuck quick-to-cook veg, like mushrooms, spring onions and sliced courgette, into a pan, and once they’re cooked, pour two whisked eggs over the top to make an omelette. You can also just keep stirring the eggs for a sort of scrambled egg/vegetable combo that I don’t think has a name but is quite yummy actually.
- Stir fry (no sauce required)
The fruit and vegetable market at the student union on Tuesdays is brilliant when you’re on a budget. You can get a basket full for less than £10, which is amazing value compared to most supermarkets. You can grab an assortment of veg on the cheap and get a good few meals out of it by stir frying. Make sure you get the pan nice and hot, then fry a little oil with some ground ginger and garlic (you can get ‘lazy’ pots of both from most supermarkets which, though a little pricey, will last you forever). You can either pre-cook your veg, then stir fry it (just make sure you cool it by rinsing with cold water first or it’ll go mushy!) or simply chuck it in raw. Add a little soy sauce and more garlic/ginger if you wish and you’ll have a flavourful, healthy and super cheap dinner. Serve on its own or with rice or noodles.
- Tomato sauces (from scratch)
Bought pasta sauces are convenient but expensive, and if you love pasta like I do then you can spend a massive amount on jars of sauce that you could make yourself in a greater quantity for half the price. With a tomato sauce, the biggest issue you’ll probably encounter is bitterness, which bought sauces barely ever have. I make a really easy tomato and basil sauce with tinned tomatoes, garlic (the ‘lazy’ kind I mentioned earlier), fresh basil (from the Tuesday market), red onions, mushrooms, black pepper and salt. To counteract the bitterness of the tinned tomatoes, you can add honey or brown sugar to taste. If pasta isn’t your thing, you can have it with gnocchi, bread or just with chicken or fish.
If eggs are king, chickpeas are…like…president or something. They’re as cheap (if not cheaper) than carbs like pasta and rice and so much better for you. You can eat them cold or hot, and you don’t even need to cook them if you buy them tinned. They’re just… great. I love curries, so often use chickpeas as a cheaper alternative to meat. It’s worth investing in some dried spices and curry powders, and you can pretty much just add them and see which combinations you like the taste of. When I make chickpea curry, I fry onions and garlic in a little oil, then once the onions are cooked I add cumin, turmeric, chilli and coriander (all powders) before adding one chopped tomato. Add about a quarter cup of water and stir into what should hopefully now look like a sauce, and add the chickpeas. Stir it altogether and mash a few of them up, then cover and leave to simmer for about 5 minutes. You can serve with rice or bread, but I usually just eat it on its own, since the chickpeas bulk up the sauce so much. It also tastes good cold, so you can use any leftovers for lunch the next day.
- Pancakes – for afters
One of the easiest (and most diverse) desserts are pancakes. Flour is the only thing you might not have and need to buy, but a small bag of flour will last for ages as long as it’s properly sealed. Then all you need is eggs, milk and oil. You can find the batter recipe online, but if you want to simplify it further, you can buy big bags of powder mix from most supermarkets. Most only require one egg and water to make the batter, so even simpler. You can have your pancakes with just lemon and sugar and they’re super yummy, but you can also get creative and add all sorts of fruits and sauces. In my opinion, they’re the ultimate, cheap, student dessert.