Nutritious and low-cost eating tips for students (and everyone else!) – By Laura Mayo

You’ve just started university. You’re probably feeling homesick and nervous about the journey ahead. I can imagine you’re not thinking much about what you’re eating.

However, eating a healthy diet is an important aspect to enhance your ability to study effectively (it’s also good for your mental and physical wellbeing!).

Put the right fuel in and your body and brain will thank you. While there’s nothing wrong with having a treat or take away now and then, it’s really important to focus on healthy, nutritious food for the majority of your time at university.

As this is going to be a busy time, it’s very useful to adopt habits that are easy to get into and remember. You’re also going to need that student loan to stretch out as long as possible… So here are some tips on eating a nutritious and low-cost diet while at university.

Pack meals you already eat with nutrient dense foods

There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with new recipes, but an easy habit to stick to is adding (a portion of) nutrient-rich food to meals you’re already used to preparing. 

Here are some ideas on how to pack your meals with nutrient dense foods:


Porridge/cereal – top with fruit, nuts, seeds and/or nut butter

Toast – spread some nut butter and top with fruit (bananas are the best for this!), have beans with mushrooms, or egg and spinach


Soup – throw in something that doesn’t take long to cook, such as leafy greens (e.g. spinach or chard) and/or beans.

Sandwiches – choose whole grain bread and add some salad.


Choose healthier starchy carbohydrates – include potatoes. Ditch the white rice and pasta, and go for whole grain versions instead.

Side salad – add this to your plate for an extra boost of vegetables.

Herbs and spices – don’t be afraid to experiment with these. They’re easy to add in, boost the flavour of a meal as well as the nutrition, and I guarantee you’ll find something you love that you’ve never even heard of!

Go for variety – if you eat mainly meat with your dinner, try substituting this a few times a week with tofu, beans, eggs or cheese. You’ll experience different tastes as well as getting a variety of nutrients.

These are just a few ideas, of course. Think about fruit, vegetables and other foods that you like and ways that you could include them in your meals. Get creative!

Eat your 5-a-day

This was an initiative started to try and encourage people to eat enough fruit and vegetables, as these foods are packed with nutrients. If you think about your eating habits over the day, it can be easy to sneak in fruit and vegetables, especially using the examples above.

Here’s an example of how you can get your 5-a-day:

Fruit with breakfast.

Salad or a portion of vegetables with lunch.

Afternoon snack that includes a piece of fruit.

Two portions of vegetables with dinner.

For information on portion sizes check out this handy guide from the British Nutrition Foundation.

Cut down on meat

Although meat contains a lot of nutrients, it can also contribute to health issues later in life due to its saturated fat content. Cutting down on meat (particularly red meat) is a good way to make your diet more healthy, will reduce your shopping bill and is a good move for the environment.

Make sure you replace any meat you’re cutting out with something else. Good alternatives are dairy, eggs, beans, tofu and other soya products alongside food that you are already having in your meal, such as vegetables, potatoes, pasta, etc. The Vegetarian Society as well as the Vegetarian Eatwell Guide are good resources for finding out more about how you can replace any meat you’re reducing in your diet.

Batch cook and waste less food

These two actions go beautifully together. Carve out some time to cook enough food to last you for a few days or a week, and store in your fridge or freezer. This will lower your prep time for the rest of the week. Lasagna, casseroles and curries are great staples for this.

You could even just pre-cook lots of vegetables, and then heat portions of them up with different accompaniments each time. This will help keep your meals interesting and will give you a variety of nutrients throughout the week.

While you’re rummaging around in the fridge trying to decide what you want to eat for the next few days, try to go for the food you know will go off quicker, or is starting to look a bit limp. This will save you money, as you’re not wasting anything you buy. It’s also better for the environment to waste less food (did you know around a third of the food we produce gets wasted?!). If you’re interested in finding out more ways to reduce your food waste, check out Love Food Hate Waste for some handy tips.

Shopping habits that save you money

Look at the reduced aisle in food shops every time you go in. You can pick up some great bargains by doing this, saving you a lot of money, and at the same time helping to reduce the amount of food that is wasted by supermarkets.

Food is usually cheaper if it’s been grown in season (it can also be tastier and more nutritious!). You can also bulk buy and freeze food you like when it’s in season so you can have it throughout the year at a lower cost.

Look out for shops, such as The 8th Day (very near MMU!), that usually only sell fresh produce in season, or think about having a veg box delivery, such as Veg Box People, who have a collection point at MMU. Check out Eat the Seasons to start learning which fruit and vegetables are grown at different times of the year and look out for them when you go shopping.

Do you have any other ideas that you think people would find helpful? Please comment below!

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