Simple meal tips to save you money

As a working-class student, I understand how hard it can be to make food last as long as possible. Here are a few handy tips I’ve accumulated over my life as a Leeds student — take what works for you, and leave the rest.

Worried about your money? Understanding your money, how to budget, how to make more of your money and knowing what to do if things are going wrong are essential skills for life. Here are links and guides to help keep your finances on track.

There are plenty of stereotypes about tinned food being unhealthy, but the truth is a lot more complex. The BBC has reported that out of multiple research studies, the difference in nutrients between tinned and fresh food is negligible. These beauties are cheap, store easily and can be excellent calorie reserves if you’re waiting for your next payslip. Make sure you check the labels and consider salt content in particular when it comes to preserved foods.

One of the cheapest foods is a student staple — the pot noodle, super noodle, or whatever your local shop calls its own-brand knockoff. While these are delicious and filling, they aren’t the healthiest meal in the world, usually due to their high salt content. If you do find yourself eating a lot of these cheap wonders, do your bit to add some extra goodness. Frozen veg can give you a few of your five a day, while some beans or pulses mixed in can add some crucial slow-burn carbs. You don’t have to cut down on the pot noodles, just mix it up with some greenery if you can!

Pasta is an excellent source of slow-burn carbohydrates. It’s also fast to make and works hot and cold, which makes it perfect for batch meals (which we’ll touch on later). There are a variety of pre-made sauces out there, but they can be expensive and usually high in sugar. I highly recommend finding two or three staple sauces that you can rotate; it tends to be far cheaper and much healthier. This BBC Good Food tomato and basil is my current favourite!

Speaking of bulk batching, it’s been proven that buying and cooking in bulk is generally cheaper. It can also save you a bunch of time in the week as you dash between lectures, seminars and socials. If you have a freezer in your home, making two or three different meals in large quantities and storing them away creates an excellent reserve of food when you don’t have the time to cook or the money to buy new ingredients. Just make sure you follow food safety guidelines around freezing and defrosting food. Check out our blog for tips on batch cooking.

… are just as healthy and cheaper than their fresh counterparts! While nutrients in all food degrade over time, research has found that frozen foods are excellent sources of the vital food groups we all need. It also helps to change up an otherwise dull meal; sticking some frozen veg into your noodles could be the start of a great stir fry, while adding frozen fruit to your breakfast makes that bowl taste even better.

As a connoisseur of the yellow label, I can attest to the importance of trolling the reduced section in your local shop. These sections include everything from dented tins to smashed pastries, perfectly edible but less presentable than we’re used to. While short dates can be an issue, freezing and following a meal plan to ensure you use up all your goods appropriately can be an excellent penny-saver. Plus, these reduced foods can get you through the first few days post-shop while you bulk batch your meals for the end of the week.

Which leads me to my next tip. Best-before dates are marks of quality from the supermarket, indicating that the full flavour may not be there past it. That doesn’t mean the food is automatically unsafe to eat. While you should strictly follow any use-by dates on your food, it’s a clear indication of food safety, even if you can’t visually see any danger — you can absolutely eat things past their best before. Got some old bananas? Banana pancakes are delicious. Limp lettuce? Stick it in a stir fry. There are plenty of ways to revitalise what’s already in your fridge.

If you’ve gotten lucky enough to live with people who understand cleanliness cannot be achieved by kicking everything under the fridge, you might be able to swing a potluck night between you. Ask your flatmates to cook one home-favourite dish each and come together to share your wealth. Not only will you form great connections with your closest peers, but you will also experience a new variety of foods as people bring their tastes of home to your table. Can’t think of anything cheap to make? You can never go wrong with a hearty soup.

It’s never easy to ask for help, but you should never feel ashamed of needing it. Not only can you reach out to the Union if you need immediate help sourcing food, but you can also access one of the many food banks in the Leeds and West Yorkshire area to gain some support. The usage of these food banks has rocketed in the past few years, so you will not be alone, and it is never a sign of failure to ask for help. If you need to use these resources, contact the Union first to see what they can offer you.

I hope these tips help you find a financial sweet spot in your weekly food bill. If you’re still struggling to make ends meet, more financial support is available at the cost of living hub.

Written by Kat Padmore

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