A student’s guide to food, from a student’s point of view!

I’m Bethan Lewis and am doing a work placement for my degree at studentcooking.tv/Campus Life. I thought that I could give you all some simple tips for keeping your diet varied and how to shop effectively, from one student to another. Being in a house of 6 girls, the percentage of us who cook ‘proper’ meals is very small. You’ll find empty noodle and pasta packets, frozen chips and pizza boxes around the kitchen and very little fresh fruit and vegetables.

So what can you do to change this?

Sometimes it can be very difficult to shop in large amounts and you find yourself doing smaller shops too often, or when you’ve run out of food completely. Not only does this cost you a lot more than one large shop, because you’re shopping when you’re hungry (it’s proven that it encourages you to buy foods you don’t necessarily want on a whim) but you are more likely to buy foods that won’t make up meals or last… So my advice is:

Online deliveries:

Finding the cheapest products in store is time consuming, confusing and more often that not, you won’t find the cheapest option. Online is faster, from the comfort of your own home and delivered to your door. If you’re busy with exams in this January period, it will save you a lot of time and stress.

ASDA, Tesco and Sainsbury’s all provide a delivery service, which although you pay around £3.50 delivery for a 2 hour slot, (or £2 for an 8 hour) the offers are clearly labeled, you can refine searches in order to find the cheapest alternative and you can easily find out the weight and the price of a product so you can get the best deal.

My favourite delivery service is ASDA, they’re the cheapest option and they have so many food offers at all times. ASDA’s minimum spend is £25 but Tesco is only £15 so if you’re looking to spend less, remember to shop around at different online supermarket services. Just be aware that if deals that are in place at the time of your order change or finish before the day of your order you will receive the item but not at the offer price. So be prepared, but only allow a day or two before delivery if you’re bargain hunting.

Using the freezer:

Your freezer is probably the most essential piece of money and time saving equipment that you can have in a student house. Just be aware when you’re shopping, that in shared accommodation freezer space can be limited. A tip that we’ve found helpful is to space out large deliveries through the month so that you can equally share the space. We’ve also discovered that instead of buying freezer bags or tubs, simply save plastic takeaway boxes, put them in the dishwasher or leave them to soak, wash them up the next day and they’re perfect for sauces and meal portions, such as: Spaghetti Bolognese, Chilli con Carne and Lasagna. You can also use cling film to portion your fresh meat or vegetables.

Safety:

Although the freezer is a good friend, it can be fickle if you don’t use it properly.

Every time you freeze something you must remember to keep frozen foods covered to avoid freezer burn. That means cling film, freezer bags or plastic tubs, because if you don’t you will find grey leathery marks on your food which means air has got into the food and it is rendered inedible.

You also need to keep track of how long you freeze your food, although keeping things for longer than advised wont hurt you the quality is very much decreased… here’s a list of some food examples and how long you can keep them frozen for:

  • Bacon: 1 to 2 months
  • Breads: 2 to 3 months
  • Casseroles: 2 to 3 months
  • Cooked beef and pork: 2 to 3 months
  • Cooked poultry: 4 months
  • Fruit: 8 to 12 months
  • Frozen dinners: 3 to 4 months
  • Hot dogs: 1 to 2 months
  • Sausage: 1 to 2 months
  • Soups and stews: 2 to 3 months
  • Uncooked chicken (parts): 9 months
  • Uncooked chicken (whole): 1 year
  • Uncooked steaks, chops, or roasts: 4 to 12 months
  • Uncooked ground meat: 3 to 4 months
  • Vegetables: 8 to 12 months

The only things that you can’t really freeze are eggs, (in their shell) water rich vegetables, such as cucumber and lettuce, soft cheese and mayonnaise, but there are a few more, less obvious foods. Here’s a table to show you a few more foods to avoid:

Foods

Usual Use Condition After Thawing
Cabbage, celery, cress, cucumbers, lettuce, parsley As raw salad Limp, water-logged, quickly develops oxidised colour, aroma and flavour
Potatoes, baked or boiled In soups, salads, sauces or with butter Soft, crumbly, water-logged
Cooked macaroni, spaghetti or rice When frozen alone for later use Mushy
Egg whites, cooked In salads, creamed foods, sandwiches, sauces, gravy or desserts Soft, tough, rubbery, spongy
Cream or custard fillings Pies, baked goods Separates, watery, lumpy
Milk sauces For casseroles or gravies May curdle or separate
Sour cream As topping, in salads Separates, watery
Cheese or crumb toppings On casseroles Soggy
Mayonnaise or salad dressing On sandwiches Splits, and becomes lumpy
Fried foods All except French fried potatoes and onion rings Lose crispness, become soggy

A final word…

The final thing is what food to buy to get the most out of your money and your meals:

  • Baked beans - although a classic quick student meal they are low in fat, and high in fibre, protein and minerals! The cheaper alternatives to Heinz taste just as good too.
  • Cereal- A good, cheap and healthy way to include iron in your diet and of course milk is an excellent source of calcium. Milk is also freezable so make sure you snap up any offers!
  • Tinned soup - full of vegetables, herbs and spices and less than a £1 a can
  • Jars of pasta sauce - supermarkets do their own versions pretty cheaply and you can use them for a variety of different meals, the tomatoes contain a high amount of vitamins and nutrients as well as them being freezable. Of course you can add fresh vegetables such as mushrooms and broccoli.
  • Frozen meat – you need your protein to stay healthy and you can always find offers on frozen meat. You can find good quality meat for prices that aren’t outrageous, and you can separate the meat into portions so you don’t have to defrost it together.
  • Fruit- Apples and oranges are the longest lasting fruit you can buy; so you don’t feel pressured to eat as much as possible before they go out of date, and they’re good for you! They are also priced by weight so you can choose how much you want to pay.
  • Frozen vegetables- You can buy most vegetables in frozen form now, not only is it cheaper than the fresh alternative, they’re still beneficial and easily portioned.
  • All this has been so helpful to me so hopefully it will just as helpful to you and you can now stay organised, healthy and save yourself lots of time and money!

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