Life as a student is easy right? At least when it comes to food- we won’t go into the mountain of work, exams, essays, deadlines, socialising, one night stands, walking home at 4am, and having to actually master using the washing machine. I mean, what student doesn’t basically live on a diet of packet mixes, pot noodles, tinned beans/soup/spam, vodka, and the occasional Dominos once your loan comes through? Oh, and coffee- lots and lots of coffee.
Now comes the awkward moment that I put my hand up, and the argument commences- because this student doesn’t. Planning meals in advance keeps me happy, healthy, energetic, and my bank balance in positive figures. I get to eat like a queen to be honest. I also kind of like the feeling of knowing what’s for tea each night- it’s comforting and what I was, very luckily, brought up with.
I blame my penchant for organisation on my mum, who plans what we will be eating a week in advance. She handles the household budget extremely well, and passed that on to me. So, I have seven simple steps to planning your meals as a student (or anyone else on a budget), when you have no idea where to start…
1) Lots of meals
Write a list of all the meals that you like, can cook, want to learn to cook, or have come across in magazines/on Pinterest/on blogs. Next to each meal idea write down: the ingredients that you need, the quantities of each ingredient, and the number of servings it makes. Make this list as big as possible, much longer than one week’s worth of meals. Aim for around 30-50 different dishes, anywhere from porridge, to sandwiches, to beans on toast, to curry from scratch. Include breakfasts, lunches, and main meals.
2) Cupboard basics
Look at this list of meals: identify ingredients that crop up often, or that will last for a long time. These include things like:
- Italian herbs
- Cous cous
- Peanut butter
- Dried fruit
- Oil/cooking spray
If you are a student then it may be worth asking your parents if they can help you stock up with these ingredients when you first arrive at uni. Mine took me to the shops and we filled two cardboard boxes with these basics, which then lived under my bed at uni.
3) Dates in your diary
Make a list of definite, and possible, events in your calendar for that week. These include exams, social stuff, lectures, seminars, nights out, occasions where you may be eating out…I also designate a day to do my next food shop. For example, I may plan from Monday to Saturday morning, intending to do my food shop Saturday afternoon.
4) Assign each day a meal
Taking into account what you’re doing each day, begin to assign meals. So, on an exam day you may want a quick and filling tea (wholemeal toast with chicken, avocado, and cheese melted on top maybe). On a day where you have a 9am seminar, you may want to prepare overnight oats before you go to bed the night before. I usually eat porridge or overnight oats for breakfast, and so can easily slot those straight in. Next I would consider what main meals I want. Take into account that meals using the same ingredients will be cheaper to buy for, as you can buy in bulk! For example: chilli con carne, vegetable stir fry, and ratatouille all use onions. So…
Monday- Stir fry
Tuesday- Chilli con carne
Then consider what you would serve with these. I would have noodles with the stir fry, pasta with the ratatouille, and sweet potato wedges with the chilli. I can serve some broccoli with the chilli too, and use the rest in my stir fry. I’ll serve pasta with the ratatouille, and I fancy chicken with my stir fry. That means I’ll have three chicken breasts leftover from a pack of four; two can be frozen, and I’ll have one on Thursday….you see where I’m going with this. Continue adding in sides and try to get a good balance of fruit/veg, protein, and carbs in each meal. You can also add in any dessert you may want.
5) Plan for leftovers and freezing
Keep an eye on the number of servings each meal makes. My stir fry will be making 3-4 portions, so I can then plan to use these for lunches on the days following; I can have boiled eggs and a pita bread with this one day, then tuna and a pita bread with it the other day…
Monday– Overnight oats; tuna (1/2 can) stuffed pita bread, carrot sticks, apple; Vegetable stir fry, noodles, chicken breast
Tuesday– Porridge + fruit + Peanut butter; Leftover stir fried vegetables, 2 boiled eggs, pita bread, orange; Chilli con carne, sweet potato wedges, broccoli
Wednesday– Porridge + fruit + yoghurt; Leftover stir fried vegetables, tuna (1/2 can), pita bread, banana; Ratatouille and wholemeal pasta
Thursday- Overnight oats; Leftover ratatouille with 1/2 can chickpeas and 1 boiled egg, naked bar; Chicken breast marinated in spices, sweet potato jacket, asparagus, 2 grilled flat mushrooms
Be sure to cool and freeze any extra portions of meals like chilli; you have a tasty meal to defrost when you’re running short on time or don’t fancy cooking. Keep a list of all the meals and meal components (chicken, fish, Quorn, peas) you have in your freezer, and the date they were frozen. This can help you to easily plan meals in advance as you progress through your term at uni.
6) Make a shopping list
Now that you have your meal plan for the week, write out a shopping list. I like to divide mine into: ‘Meat/fish’, ‘Dairy & Eggs’, ‘Bread’, ‘Fruit & Veg’ etc… Be sure to add in the dates of anything you need towards the end of the week, so that you know what ‘Use By’ date to look for in the shops. For things like pita breads, if they only have the 3rd on them, and you need them up to and including the 7th, then freeze half the pack. You can defrost them as you need them. This saves you multiple shopping trips, which can be difficult if (like me) your nearest supermarket is 20 minutes walk away, and the walk back to accommodation is all up-hill.
7) Go Shop!
Don’t forget to ask for student discount…