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Spaghetti, tagines and rosti: a student's guide to meal planning

Look after your health – and your budget – while you study by following a menu full of fresh fruit and veg. But don’t attempt to carry all your groceries home by yourself

Spaghetti, tagines and rosti: a student's guide to  meal planning
With a little creativity, a big bag of veg can turn into several cheap and healthy meals. Photograph: FilippoBacci/Getty

For many young people, university will be the first time you have to cook and fend for yourself, and that can feel overwhelming. As a student, it’s likely that you’ll have a smaller budget to spend on food than your parents, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make food that tastes just as good.

In my experience, canned goods are your best friends – they’re cheap, versatile, and they don’t go off, so there’s less food waste. With cans of chopped tomatoes and beans, you have the base for a delicious bean chilli. Swap the beans for chickpeas and add some carrots and you’re heading for a tagine. Or you can turn it into an easy tomato sauce with spaghetti.

To cut costs, it’s worth ensuring you have at least a few meat-free meals every week – a can of beans or a couple of eggs are far cheaper than meat or most fish. Not only is this a good option for saving money, but beans in particular are an excellent source of fibre – something you definitely want to get enough of.

For your first big shop it’s worth getting a delivery, especially if you don’t have a car. Buying in bulk is cheaper in the long run, and you don’t want to be carrying kilos of pasta and rice around with you – especially if you’re coming down with freshers’ flu. If you get on well with your flatmates, it can even be worth having a weekly shop delivered, as you can decide a budget in advance, and spread the cost between you. It’s unlikely you’ll have every evening meal together, but it’s a great thing to try and organise a communal dinner once a week. One person can make a main dish, while another can make a dessert for everyone to share.

It can be tempting to rely on ready meals. While you don’t need to feel guilty about falling back on the occasional processed meal in an emergency, you’ll want to fuel your brain and body with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, good protein, and fats like olive oil, to get you fit, healthy and ready to absorb all the knowledge you can.

Meal planner

It’s cheaper to bulk buy ingredients, but eating the same thing every night can get boring. With a little creativity, a big bag of fresh veg can be turned into several different meals. Plan a varied diet around some cheap, healthy staples.

Fresh tomatoes
Pasta: Roast your tomatoes in the oven with olive oil, salt and pepper, and dried basil. Meanwhile, cook some spaghetti, and mix the two together. Serve with grated parmesan (I recommend buying a big bag of grated frozen cheese – it’s cheaper and easier).

Tagine: Chop up your tomatoes and any selection of veg you have. Cook them in a frying pan with olive oil, then add couscous and the same amount of water. Leave to absorb the water, then make a well in the middle and crack two eggs into the pan. Make sure you leave the yolks nice and runny.

Soup: Tomato soup tastes even better with fresh tomatoes, a little vegetable stock, and beans.

Sweet potato
Brunch
: Grate your sweet potato, mix in an egg, some flour, and a little chopped onion. Form into patties and fry on both sides. Makes a great brunch option, especially with salsa and guacamole.

Soup: Steam or roast your sweet potato, then season well and blend into a thick and creamy soup. Best served with plenty of crusty bread.

Stew: Fry some chopped onion and garlic in olive oil, then add some diced chicken until cooked through. Add a can of chopped tomatoes and some diced sweet potato and cook the excess water off. When it’s almost ready, add a can of black or kidney beans. Some smoked paprika is the magic ingredient for introducing flavour. By using both beans and chicken, you get all the protein and extra fibre, at half the cost.

Pixie Turner is a nutritionist and food blogger

Topic: #spaghetti
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