Before heading off to university, we thought meals were produced by mum magic. "Dinner's ready!" she'd shout from the kitchen, and moments later steaming plates of food would appear on the table. It was therefore a shock to discover that meals had to be cooked from raw ingredients, by hand, using something called 'a recipe'. Mum magic was a lie. It was worse than finding out Santa Claus didn’t exist.
Even if you’re the kind of culinary whizz-kid who could whip up a perfect soufflé at primary school, you'll still find cooking à la uni a challenge. A limited budget for books, bills, food and other essentials means you'll need to shop carefully, focusing on items that deliver the best value for money. However, that doesn’t mean you have to eschew tasty, nutritious meals in favour of grub that would disgust a medieval peasant raised on raw turnips. Don't believe us? You will once you've ingested our top tips for how to eat well on a budget.
1 - Stock up on basics
There's nothing worse than arriving home from a long day of lectures to find the only thing in the fridge is wedge of stale cheese, and your supplies of dried pasta, rice and noodles are exhausted. Once you've finished howling like a hungry Wookie you'll probably opt for a takeaway – and blow your weekly food budget. To avoid this happening stock up on basics at the start of every month, including olive oil, tinned tomatoes, and herbs and spices, then supplement your 'big shop' with a smaller weekly one for fresh items like fruit, milk, eggs and veg (and with Aldi’s Super 6 you can get fruit and veg from as little as 59p – bargain!). If you can stick to this tip you should always have enough ingredients for a tasty meal. Oh, and don’t forget to freeze any leftovers to ensure you've got home-cooked food on hand when you're low on funds.
2 - Split the cost (and the cooking)
If you're living in shared accommodation it might be worth splitting the cost of food with your housemates. If everyone chips in you'll be able to buy more items in bulk, and save some money in the process. It should stop you wasting food too: when you're shopping for one it's easy to over-estimate how much fruit and veg you'll need for the week. Plus, when everyone's buying their own ketchup and margarine and teabags and other essentials, fridges and cupboards quickly end up filled with duplicate products. Bonus tip: if you want to take the shared shop idea one step further, why not set up a weekly cooking rota too?
3 - Plan your meals in advance
It’s a good idea to plan your meals in advance rather than head to the shops at the first hint of a tummy rumble, as you’ll be less likely to make impulse purchases. What’s more, a tool like Aldi's week-by-week budget meal planner can cut your food bills to around £30 a week without sacrificing taste or nutritional value. Packed lunches will also help you stick to your food budget. And if you know you've got a big night out coming up, why not double the amount of dinner you'd normally make and pop the extra in the fridge? As Aldi’s Student Survival Guide says, it'll save you from having to stop for a kebab at 3am.
4 - Learn some simple recipes
Learning a few simple recipes will make your life at university a whole lot easier (and cheaper). Aldi have tons of great ideas for quick, simple dishes you can cook in a flash, including clever ways to use up leftovers. Making a simple soup, for example, will take care of any carrots that are about to lose their freshness. And if you can master a basic dahl curry, tuna bake or three-bean chilli, you'll be amazed at how little you need to spend to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Finally, don’t overlook the humble baked potato: pop one in the oven for around an hour, cover with beans, cheese, coleslaw or another topping of your choice, and enjoy.
5 - Shop smart
In order to stick to your food budget you'll need to shop smart. Make a list of everything you need before you leave the house and seek out local seasonal produce rather than the more exotic kind. Try buying chicken thighs rather than breasts, which are just as tasty in a curry or casserole and much cheaper. Or if you're feeling a bit more adventurous why not go meat free one day a week? Quorn mince is a great substitute for the real thing, and a fraction of the cost. By shopping at Aldi, you can be sure that they’ll offer you great value at low prices.