Healthy student meals for less

Eat well for less: healthy student meals

Whether you’re trying to keep freshers flu at bay or just enjoy eating well, following a healthy diet on a student budget can be difficult. Your busy schedule means you need to shop, cook and refuel quickly. If you’re in a shared kitchen with just a couple of pans, meal prep can be tricky too.

Learning how to cater for yourself with healthy foods won’t just help you as a student, it’ll set the base for a long and happy working life too. From midweek meal ideas to low-cost shopping lists, this guide will give you the know-how you need to eat well.

How to eat healthy as a student

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No matter the type of diet you follow, we all need a good balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats to stay healthy. Here are some tips to achieve this without overspending or having too much food waste.

Learn to cook

Buying fresh ingredients and cooking your own meals is both cheaper and healthier than dining out or ordering takeaways. Eating too many ultra-processed foods has been linked to a range of health risks such as heart disease and strokes. This includes foods like shop-bought ready meals and snacks.

You don’t have to become a Michelin-starred chef (let’s face it, you’re unlikely to have top-spec equipment in your student kitchen), but having a few simple signature dishes that you like and can turn to regularly will help you maintain a healthy diet even when you’re busy.

Make batch meals

Batch-cooking meals is a great way to save time, money and effort, plus buying ingredients in bulk is often cheaper, too. Making one or two big dishes at the start of the week and freezing them also means you’ve got a quick meal to microwave later. Or, you can cook dinner for two and eat the second portion for your lunch the next day.

Fill up on fruit and veg

Packing plenty of fruits and vegetables into your meals is a cheap and healthy way to keep you satisfied. Instead of boiling extra rice or pasta, cook some carrots and broccoli to have as a side. Try to eat as many different plant-based colours as possible so that your body has all the nutrients and vitamins it needs to keep up with your busy and active schedule.

Use freezer and cupboard staples

When it comes to saving money, freezers and cupboards are your friends. Freezing, drying and tinning are natural ways of preserving foods and the good news is they’re often cheap to buy and last longer than fresh items.

Having the following staple items in your cupboards or freezer means you’ll always be prepared for a delicious and budget-friendly last-minute meal:

  • Herbs and spices: these will last up to a year in your cupboard and are a quick way to add flavour (but no extra calories) to your dishes
  • Tins: fish, vegetables, beans and lentils are all available in tins. Buy them for a few pence a can and use them for batch cooking, or speedy meals whenever you need them
  • Fruit and veg: buy them pre-frozen or put fresh produce in a zip-lock bag before freezing. Boil up or blend for a speedy dose of essential vitamins and minerals
  • Breads: wraps, pittas and loaves can all be easily frozen. Pull out to defrost a day or two in advance or heat up in the microwave or toaster for a quick snack
  • Meat or alternatives: mince is a particularly handy freezer item. Buy bigger packs of fresh meat and split it into freezer-friendly portion sizes - your future self will thank you

Choose cheap proteins

Fresh meat can be expensive and if you’re someone looking to reduce their meat consumption, you’ll want some good alternatives that don’t hurt your bank account.

Here are some cheaper proteins you can turn to:

  • Eggs
  • Plain full-fat yoghurt
  • Tinned fish (like tuna and sardines)
  • Lentils
  • Oats
  • Milk

Healthy student meal plan example

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Keeping your meal plan simple will help you save money and stay well-fuelled, even on the busiest days. That doesn’t mean your dishes can’t be tasty though, particularly if you plan for the week ahead.

Here’s an example of a week’s worth of healthy dishes below.

Breakfast Lunch Dinner
Monday Overnight oats Vegetable wrap Pasta bolognese
Tuesday Eggs on toast Pasta bolognese Chickpea curry
Wednesday Cereal Chickpea curry Stir fry with rice
Thursday Overnight oats Vegetable wrap Shepherd’s pie
Friday Breakfast sandwich Shepherd’s pie Easy wrap pizza

The shopping list for this menu will include:

  • Wraps
  • Bread
  • Eggs
  • Oats
  • Milk
  • Bananas
  • Potatoes
  • Chickpeas
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Lentils
  • Mince or plant-based alternative
  • Cheese
  • Carrots
  • Frozen peas
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Chicken or tofu

Healthy student recipes

Struggling to think of something new and tasty to cook? Here’s some student-friendly recipe inspiration.

Breakfast - overnight oats

An alternative to porridge, overnight oats are both simple and tasty. If you’ve been on TikTok or Instagram recently, you’ve probably seen some great recipes, too. Simply put equal amounts of oats and milk (or a plant-based alternative) in a jar or Tupperware with half as much yoghurt, then add your favourite toppings,peanut butter, nuts, cinnamon, fruit, seeds and honey are just a few healthy and delicious additions.

Lunch - easy filled pittas

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If you’re fed up with a boring sandwich in your lunchbox every day, swapping out sliced loaves for pitta bread is a good way to shake things up. Freezable and easily toasted, pack them full of vegetables, salads, falafels or slices of meat for a cheap, quick and easy midday bite.

Pro tip from us to you: for a healthy take on the classic kebab, make your own meatballs, add in fresh salad and a mix of yoghurt, garlic and hot sauce. You’re welcome.

Dinner - chilli con (or non) carne

Chilli con carne is a classic dish for a reason. It’s easy and cheap to make in bulk, quick to warm up and delicious to eat. Fry up onions and garlic with spices like paprika, cumin and chilli powder. Add in your meat or veggie mince, chopped tomatoes, kidney beans and bell peppers before cooking until the sauce thickens. Instead of veggie mince, you can also use red or green lentils.

Snack ideas

Fresh or dried fruits make for a handy, healthy snack to have in your day bag, or simply wrap up a bagel with your favourite filling to refuel easily on the go. For overnight study sessions and post-clubbing refuels, have satisfying snacks on hand, which will help you stay focussed and stop you from straying to the chocolate and crisps.

Get hungry for more with UNiDAYS

When you have to balance university, part-time work, a social life, your mental health and every other student worry, it’s easy to fall into bad eating habits. We’re here to support you and when it comes to healthy eating, we’ve got you covered. UNiDAYS saves you money on food (and much more), whether that’s a supermarket shop or an online delivery service—making your student life even better.

Oh, one more thing: it’s completely free!

Graduating soon? Don’t worry, you can continue to save with UNiDAYS GRADLiFE for another three years—phew!

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