25/09/12 - Freshers Week Extravaganza 2: Eating

Believe me, the food at university is one of the biggest shocks to your system.  Or at least, it was to mine.  Going from having my parents cooking plenty of delicious food at mealtimes and cupboards which were always well-stocked, to a grotty shared kitchen where things consistently went missing and catered halls which were more akin to school dinners than real food and where the only vegetarian option tended to be pasta or chips?  Not fun.  Especially not for someone like me, who would rather have a goat's cheese and beetroot salad than a Pot Noodle and baked beans.  

This is NOT cooking!
Healthy eating can be a struggle in your first year of university.  I found that the freedom of living away from my parents seemed to equal the freedom to order takeaways and live primarily off ice lollies and crisps.  This is probably the reason I put on so much weight in my freshers year - that, and the alcohol...but that's another point for another blog post.  And then when I went home at Christmas and was confronted with all the lovely home-cooked food and other trappings that the festive season brings...well, it was becoming a problem.  After Christmas, I did join the gym and gave up crisps, my biggest vice, for Lent which helped a little.  But overall, it was not an attractive year in Hannah Land - I gained a stone, give or take, just in my first few months of uni and didn't drop it again until the summer.  

My main advice would be:

  • Don't let yourself get overwhelmed by the abundance of takeaway menus you will find everywhere coupled with the money that appears in your bank account every term nearly as magically as the food used to appear in the fridge at home.  Give yourself a few weeks of excitement and then try and settle into a routine.  I know the temptation will be strong, particularly if you're not in catered halls and have to feed yourself every night.  The occasional hungover McDonald's breakfast or late night cheesy chips won't kill you - although both those options turn my stomach - but trust me, in the long-run your waistline and your skin will thank you.
  • Buy a wok.  You can stirfry anything.
  • Never go food shopping when you're hungry.  It is a recipe for disaster - everything you see that's on offer will seem like an amazing purchase, and when you get home you'll be left with a cupboard full of Jaffa Cakes, pre-packaged cake mix and weird flavoured Pringles...and not a lot else.
  • On a similar note, always make a shopping list of the essentials you need.  Work out what you need before you go and try to stick to it as closely as possible.  And don't forget to shop around to find the cheapest way of buying things; you may be used to your branded ketchup at home, but supermarkets' own brands work out much cheaper and are often just as nice.
  • If possible, travel further afield.  Although the little convenience supermarket at the end of the road may be the quickest way of doing your weekly shop, they are always much more expensive than larger city centre or retail park branches, and the stock is much more limited.  Either man up and get the bus, fork out for a taxi (extortionate) or make sure you have friends who own cars - I love you, Charlie and Charlotte!
  • Be realistic.  Yes, bulk-buying frozen ready-meals because they're on a great deal sounds logical, but when you get home to a tiny freezer you share with eight other people (again, just my own experience) and try to shove it all in, the bargain soon begins to look a bit silly. 
  • Don't be snobby.  This is something I have had to learn myself.  To this day, I admit to being a bit of a snob when it comes to certain types of food - mostly bread and cheese.  But face facts: you simply can't afford to be.  Doing your week's shop at your local Lidl or Aldi may seem like a blow to your reputation from which you may never recover, but it's sometimes the only way.  And it will grow on you - Lidl is a haven for bizarre cheap food, but they also stock loads of popular brands at a fraction of the price you'd pay other places.

And don't think just because you're not living at home means that you'll be deprived of all your favourite meals - just learn to cook them yourself.  My Quorn chilli, in my opinion, is now of a standard to rival my dad's...and that is saying something.  I am of the opinion that everyone can cook, just not everyone knows how to.  To help you along on this task, I will be posting regular student-friendly (i.e. cost-effective!), healthy and super-duper easy recipes on here for you to try out.  The best things to cook are ones you can make a lot of and freeze or refrigerate the leftovers - it's possible to feed yourself for a week from a minimum of ingredients if you know what you're doing. If anyone has any healthy recipes or money-saving suggestions, please leave them in the comments!