Five ways to eat better on a student budget

November 30, 2015
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We all know that one of the most common experiences at uni is having to live with other students’ dirty habits. Breaking up is one solution, and the other is to live alone. But the latter solution isn’t all rainbows and sunshine: a recent QUT study has found that it can lead to a low diversity of food intake. As authors Dr Katherine Hanna and Dr Peter Collins point out, it means missing out on the cultural and social roles of cooking and food found within a household of more than one person.

Fear not, though. Here are five ways to eat better on a student budget, whether you’re living alone or with others.

Go home during study breaks and get free cooking lessons from parents

While you may have moved away from home to get your parents out of your hair, you should go back during breaks to learn basic cooking and nutrition skills. They love you (I hope), so it’s free education. Dr Hanna says leaving home without this knowledge is a common issue for some university students.

“Working parents meant that they were probably time-poor to cook healthy meals, let alone be patient teaching their children,” she says. “It was mostly about feeding the kids and getting fed themselves.” But it’s never too late to let your inner child re-emerge and learn, since kids who cook are hungrier for healthy food choices.

Seek affordable cooking classes

If your parents always blow up in the kitchen when trying to teach you, then perhaps seeking external counsel may be more suitable. Look for some cheap local classes, like Groupon’s Brisbane-based cookery courses and Cooking Club Meetups in Sydney. Or, if you’re feeling charitable, start your own cook-for-charity initiative, like chef Jeffrey Tan’s efforts to raise funds for various charities. Taking the charity route may alleviate any negative psychological impacts on diet that come with living alone.

Join cooking clubs at uni

The best way to catch that food-loving contagion while young and poor is to join foodie clubs at uni. Doing so allows you to mingle with likeminded individuals and helps you avoid making friends with champions of fast food. Take a look at the University of Sydney Union’s food and beverage clubs, for example.

Dr Hanna reckons unis should play a large role in helping students be more aware and educated about healthy eating. “The QUT Student Guild sometimes host group cooking classes with food from various cultures, so students not only learn cooking, but also multicultural values behind different types of food,” she says.

Go ingredient-shopping with friends

Being a student can come with a lack of means to explore where the best value-for-money ingredients are. To combat that, try asking your foodie mates to carpool to weekend markets: you can save time and money on the multiple transfers between buses, and the peer pressure from buying healthy food will serve you well. If you’re lucky enough, you might not even have to leave campus to attend markets. “Some universities now hold their own markets with fresh produce,” Dr Hanna says. Macquarie and Melbourne universities have already jumped on the bandwagon.

Appreciate and value good food

To do any of these activities well, you must learn to appreciate and find value in good, healthy food - and then keep those values instilled. The food you eat ultimately affects your health and wellbeing and, therefore, your academic results. Like most activities, though, once you learn the basics of dishing up a hearty meal, it’ll become habitual.

Dr Hanna says the most enduring way to ensure eating healthy food for life is to make it fun. “Derive enjoyment from cooking and food,” she says. “Nurture that enjoyment, because it then becomes intrinsic satisfaction rather than something you feel like you have to do.”

Toby Vue

Toby is a Master of Arts (journalism) student at Charles Sturt University. He tweets at @tobyvue.

Image: Justine ReyesFlickr Creative Commons license