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Student food shopping: top tips for staying healthy on a budget

If there’s one thing that almost every student misses, it’s a proper meal. In fact, 46% of freshers miss their mum’s cooking more than anything else from home.

When microwave meals and frozen pizzas started to make me feel sick, tired and emotionally exhausted, I decided to take action – and find a diet that was both cheap and nutritious.

And I’m not the only one – according to one report, more than a quarter of students put on up to two stone in their first year of university, and others lose weight.

Danielle Wenlock, 20, a law student at Bournemouth University, struggled to maintain a balanced diet. “I lost weight because fresh food would go off and fish was expensive,” she says.

“I’d bulk buy cereal, porridge and large bottles of milk, which kept me going for the mornings. But I’d cut out meats and fish because I couldn’t afford it.”

However, with many students figuring out weekly budgets and frequenting discount stores, almost three quarters of those in the UK say they are eating three good meals a day, according to a survey by Herbalife. I wanted to see if I could manage the same.

I’ve now learned that it’s possible to whip up a meal that will keep both your stomach and your bank account full. Here are some tips:

  • Fresh vegetables: Someone always leaves a week-old broccoli shrivelled and yellow at the back of the fridge. But don’t be put off buying it in the first place, as most vegetables can either be bought fresh and put in the freezer, or come already frozen. Frozen vegetables can be incredibly cheap, last a long time and they retain their nutritional value, so stock up.
  • Buy meat from the butchers: Butchers sometimes do cheap deals, and the produce is fresh. A friend recently bought enough meat to take up a whole drawer in the freezer for just £20, and that’s an offer no carnivore could refuse.
  • Shop in the evening for reduced prices: This is when supermarkets sell food that’s close to its sell-by date, such as bread and fruit, for a reduced price. It shouldn’t be avoided though, as often it can be frozen and eaten later.
  • A budgeted weekly shop is cheaper: Save one day a week to do a big shop. Plan your meals so you don’t get tempted to overspend. Stock up on all your food groups in one trip and you’ll save money.

Steve Nowottny, consumer and features editor at, advises students to reduce the amount of food they waste to save money.

“Every student should learn the difference between a use-by date, which is a health warning, and a best-before date, which is usually just the manufacturer’s view of optimum quality. Use your eyes and nose to check – but food that has passed its best-before date is often fine to eat.”

There are even stores that specialise in selling food beyond its best-before date at a discount, says Nowottny, and Approved Food does this online.

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Philippa Hardiman, 20, a music student at the University of Kent, sticks to supermarkets’ sale sections wherever possible. “The discount section keeps me on budget because it’s a much cheaper way to buy meat and veg, which usually lasts just as long as if you’d bought them at full price,” she says.

Nowottny also recommends writing a meal plan to make sure you use up the ingredients you already have. “Online services like Supercook or BigOven suggest recipes for whatever is in your fridge or cupboard,” he says.

Jayna Rana, 23, a postgraduate journalism student at the University of Kent, says she finds it easier to eat healthily by sticking to a weekly budget. “I write a draft menu for the week and then a shopping list to stop me from buying things I don’t need or accidentally overspending,” she says.


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