Student Guide to Eating on a Budget


Have you just got your A’Level results? Perhaps you are a student already and are you about to enter your next year of study? Either way, the plans will soon begin to prepare for the start of term next month. After rising accommodation fees (average costs are £3,400 per year on top of course fees) have been paid, students will need to survive on ~£40 per week to cover all other costs of living – books, clothes, going out, returning home etc. This is not a lot! Somewhere in there you will need to find enough money to eat! How will you get your ‘5 a-day?’

The stereotypical student will be surviving on beans on toast, pizza and pot noodles, but seriously this is not good enough. For the brain to function well, if students are to perform well academically, they need to feed those brain cells. This means REAL FOOD, including fruit & veg, wholegrain carbohydrates and some protein. Going home for a proper ‘home cooked meal’ will certainly help but one good meal a month or a term will not compensate for all the other days you might ‘make do’.

My tips below will help you ensure you eat properly at least some of the time whilst studying and not completely break the bank!

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1. Don’t be a food snob.

Mum and Dad won’t be doing the shopping any more, you will. Aldi and Lidl offer great quality food at very cheap prices; cheaper than Asda and Morrisons from my experience. The number of stores are rising across the country so more than likely there will be one near your Uni. The fruit and veg is particularly good value and good quality! I really cannot taste the difference between the expensive brands and the ‘I’ve never heard of that make before’ brand so wish I had moved camps ages ago. Saving a little money each week on food adds up over the months and may mean you can do those things you want to do, without busting your overdraft.

If it’s been a while since you did some food shopping, now is the time to step into the store and familiarise yourself with the cost of everyday food. You might be surprised!

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2. Happy hour shopping

Pick your moment to go shopping, swallow your pride and get the pick of the reduced section (perishables will be cut price: meat, fish, fruit n veg and try to limit the ready meals!). By going shopping an hour or so before they close, especially before a bank holiday, the shops have to get rid of it so practically give it away 🙂 Pride yourself on becoming a great bargain hunter but you must eat food before the ‘use-by’ date to avoid getting ill. You can freeze food on the day of purchase to save wasting it.


3. Plan your meals

This may sound dull but can make a real difference. Do a menu plan for the week and then write a shopping list. If you live in shared house you could plan this together? This way you are less tempted to throw whatever looks tempting into your trolley and just buy what you need. Impulse shopping is expensive! Plus you can ensure you eat a range of foods over the week so get your quota of fish, lean meat, rice, pasta, potatoes and different vegetables etc.

4.Don’t go shopping with the Cookie Monster

Don’t ever go shopping when you are hungry. This is a BIG MISTAKE!  You lose all sense of rationale and become an impulsive shopper – you’ll only end up throwing junk in the trolley or eating half of it on the way round. You will get back to your ‘pad’ and realise you still have nothing to eat! Trust me I know!

5. Set some ground rules when it comes to cooking and get creative.

Give yourself rules when the cupboards get low at the end of the week. See it as a challenge to rustle up something edible for tea with just a few ingredients – a bit like ‘Ready Steady Cook’ if you have ever watched that. I’m probably showing my age now………I’ve done this at home with my husband. It suits our competitive natures and we have had a lot of fun. I think only once (when my husband cooked) it was inedible so don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!

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6. Buy or borrow some student cook books

Specifically written to help students cook on a limited budget, they are great to stop you getting bored of cooking  and eating the same thing 5 days a week. Here are some suggestions from Amazon. The reviews are great and cost less than £7:

Good Food: Easy Student Dinners: Triple-tested Recipes (Good Food 101)

Nosh for Students – A Fun Student Cookbook – Photo with Every Recipe

The Hungry Student Cookbook

For free recipe ideas, try beyond baked beans and BBC Food

7. Bulk it up!

Protein, especially meat is expensive so bulk out your meals with nutritious vegetables that will make your dinner tasty and satisfying.  Plus your meals will go further. Add different beans (chickpeas, kidney beans, cannelini, borlotti or haricot beans – in tins are fine) or lentils as these are high in protein so a great alternative to meat, even if you don’t want to be a vegetarian.

8. Batch cook

When you are making a meal, particularly if it’s a one pot wonder (a great way to cook cheaply), double the quantities for cooking, portion it up and stick it in the freezer. That way you’ll always have a fall back plan when you need to eat so you’re less likely to pick up the phone and get a take-away or nip round to Subway / Maccy D’s.

9. Cook slowly

If your parents have a slow cooker lurking at the back of the kitchen cupboard they never use – ask to ‘borrow’ it! Slow cooking is a great way to use cheap cuts of meat and make them into a mouthwatering meal.  Stewing, braising steak or oxtail for example are very cheap.  Then if you add a load of veggies etc. you will be surprised how a little goes a long way. Better still, you can set your dinner off before you head off to uni for your morning lecture (yes you will need to get up a bit earlier!) but after that it’s no hassle. Or set it off when you go to bed and it will be ready the following morning for your dinner that evening (providing your house-mates don’t raid it whilst you sleep!)

10. Be inventive with your leftovers

We throw away too much food – this is simply money down the drain. Think how you can reuse your leftovers and make a new dinner – see tip 5! Soup is always a winner. Just chuck it in the pot and play soup roulette 😉 Try these websites for some inspiration!

Channel 4 leftover recipes

Love food hate waste – leftover recipes

Keep an eye on use by dates to avoid wasting food (and to avoid getting food poisoning!). Make sure the use by dates for at least some foods last until the end of the week.

11. Take a packed lunch to uni

I know this can be a tricky one. Who has time to make their lunch in the morning? Well I don’t either so I do it the night before. You probably won’t have somewhere to heat up food on campus but sandwiches you make yourself will be a load cheaper than those you can buy in the Student Union Shop or the Canteen. You can also save money by taking your own cold drinks (squash in a reusable bottle) or a flask of tea /coffee into uni. Where I work, we are charged £1 for a tea, 50p for hot water (if you take your own tea bag) and £1.70 for a cappuccino or latte.  If you grab a drink most days in-between a lecture, you could be spending over £30 a month on liquid refreshments, never mind food!

12.Make time to cook!

One of the main reasons students eat a lot of baked beans and pizza  is they simply don’t make the time to cook. Social and study commitments can make student life full and demanding and as a result, we seem to have forgotten how to cook (or never learnt). Why not ask someone you know who is a good cook to help you out, or teach yourself – you mum or your nan perhaps? If you are a novice cook, spend the next month having a go with a few basic recipes. Another good way is to get a bunch of friends together and cook a meal. Why not have a simple cooking night when you can make a main course and dessert together. You can set the rules so it’s healthy and support each other in healthy eating. You’ll be on ‘Come Dine With Me’ in no time!

13.  Food parcels

Going to uni with a food parcel will help set you up as you mean to go on. You may be lucky to get additional parcels when you visit home with your huge pile of washing too.

Non-perishable items that you can keep in your cupboard will be a massive help. Then try to keep stocked up on these long-lasting items that can be used to rustle up quick and tasty meals and drinks.

Cupboard items

  • teabags
  • coffee
  • sugar
  • long life milk
  • salt
  • pepper
  • vinegar
  • ketchup / brown sauce
  • Worcester Sauce
  • tomato puree
  • dried pasta
  • jam/marmalade/honey
  • soup (canned/instant)
  • tinned tomatoes
  • baked beans/spaghetti 
  • canned tuna
  • rice
  • tinned peas/sweet corn / chickpeas / kidney beans
  • tinned fruit
  • cooking oil
  • mixed herbs, spices and seasonings
  • biscuits

Fridge and freezer staples

  • butter/margarine
  • cheese
  • eggs
  • potatoes
  • frozen mixed veg
  • frozen chicken breasts
  • frozen loaf of bread/pitta bread
  • frozen pizza

Misc –  depending if any equipment is provided (in halls for example).

  • Wooden spoons
  • Sharp knife
  • Can opener / bottle opener
  • Washing up liquid
  • Tea Towel
  • Cloth / sponge / scourer
  • Pan / frying pan
  • Whisk
  • Cheese grater
  • Potato peeler
  • Tuppaware pots

I hope you find this helpful. If you think of anything I have missed, please comment in the box below 🙂


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