Shopping For Food on a Student Budget

The week before my little brother left for his first year of uni I sat down and worked out his student finance for him. A little background: Matt thought he would be eating a typical “body building diet” when at uni. Matt cannot budget. Matt has no concept of money other than that it is something shiny he can exchange for X-Box games and vodka and cokes (sorry Matt). His weekly budget turned out to be roughly £45 per week this term- with help from out parents (I won’t lie: our parents help us a lot: we aren’t rich but they have done all they can to prevent us worrying about money at university). He can say goodbye to his plans of “I’ll just have some rice and a chicken breast/tuna steak/ steak and broccoli every night”. Somehow I don’t think his budget will stretch to 7 fresh tuna steaks…

As I study in Newcastle, which is considerably cheaper for accommodation, although my loan was less than Matt’s for first year, I ended up with more spends per week- usually never reaching the maximum amount I could spend because I’m pretty tight with cash (unless I’m buying coffee). But my little brother’s studying further south than me, and so living in a more expensive region,  has brought back home how much we all need to keep an eye on what we do when food shopping. So, although I already have a wealth of student posts (of all of them this is my favourite: Student Meals Cheat Sheet ), I thought I’d write this one with a few tips to keep food costs down…

Tip 1- Batch cook

If your loan is incredibly small, and your accommodation is incredibly expensive, then you may want to consider buying some foil trays, and enough ingredients to make four massive meals (for example: one pot of chilli, one of a curry, one of a stew, one of a soup) . Then, freeze these in portions. If each meal serves four people, and you make four meals you have 16 individual portions. Which means you have enough to eat at leas one frozen meal per week (assuming you have a 14 week term).


Tip 2- Buy dried and canned goods you can use in multiple meals

Ingredients such as rice, pasta, and noodles are perfect for dried accompaniments. You can use oats to make a bowl of porridge, or a quick flatbread (mix 1/2 cup with enough water to make dough, squidge into a flat pancake, and bake on 190*c for 20 minutes). Canned goods you’ll want to keep in include baked beans, a variety of canned beans and pulses, canned tomatoes, (often they’re on offer, 4 for £1 in Asda), some canned fruit…this means if all else fails you can use canned ingredients to make a meal. Mix half a can of beans with cooked rice, canned corn, some canned tomatoes, and any veg you have floating around. It might not be a Sunday roast, but it’ll do. Below are my recommendations for canned goods and dried foods. Pick a few and take them along to uni…

  • dried: pasta, cous cous, rice, noodles, oats
  • canned: chopped tomatoes, sweetcorn, peas, baked beans, kidney beans, rosecoco beans, chickpeas, canned tuna multipacks


Tip 3- Frozen foods are great value

Buy some frozen berries, and some frozen peas. These are minimal things you want to have in the freezer. I know that you can get frozen broccoli and carrots…but in all honesty once these are defrosted I usually find they’re floppy and horrible. If you eat meat, then take a look at frozen chicken breasts, fish etc. You can get some great deals on these. Speaking of deals…

Tip 4- Look for multi-buys that you can freeze

You can get 3 for £10 in most supermarkets now on meat and fish. Buy up this stuff and freeze it. If you get one two pack of salmon, one pack of chicken, and another of either of these things, then you have at least 6 portions of meat. This should stop you needing to buy meat for a little while. Alternatively, if you’re a veggie, look for offers on Quorn and similar products.

Tip 5- Eat more vegetarian food

Although you can have meat, eating vegetarian food can really cut down the costs. Veggies cost less than meat, and you’ll get more meals out of them. Try to swap a few meaty meals for some veggie dishes during the week.

Tip 6- Hunt for the cheapest food shops

In Newcastle I’ve found the cheapest market stall with the best fresh produce, and also the cheapest supermarket (Tesco Metro by the market). The sooner you figure out where sells stuff at the best prices, the better.

There you go, six more foodie tips for uni life. And below, you’ll find some more great tips from someone who has made it to third year, and so is now an old hat at this…


Just a few simple meal ideas for you

  • Rice with canned tomatoes, canned corn, canned beans, frozen peas
  • Pasta with canned tuna, canned tomatoes, canned peas, any veggies you can find
  • Pitta bread pizza
  • Cheese and tuna on toast/ cheese and tomato on toast
  • Cous cous mixed with tabasco/pesto/peri peri sauce and veggies/tuna/chicken/quorn/tofu
  • Porridge with canned apples and nut butter
  • Smoothie using milk, frozen berries, one banana, and nut butter
  • Mushrooms, garlic, and mustard all fried together and chucked on top of toast


Final thing: I have loads of student posts up here, so be sure to go and check them out. Hopefully you’ll be able to get some great tips and meal ideas from them…


Good luck at uni and enjoy Fresher’s life!


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