apples, bagels, lettuce, and bananas in shopping bags
University students have been changing their eating and food shopping habits due to financial struggle. Credit: Unsplash

The stereotype of university students living at the mercy of student finance and lining their stomachs with pot noodles before drinking Lidl’s finest vodka has been perpetuated for years. Many students nowadays are attempting to live healthier lifestyles, but this could be hard to maintain in the cost of living crisis.

”My wellbeing is important to me, but I am having to think in different ways.’’ The cost of living crisis has stretched the pockets of adolescents to be thinner than ever before, as 22 year old MSC Product Design student, avid gym goer and healthy eater Will McGuinness has discovered, with his food shop costing £5-£10 more a week.

Will is not alone in his money worries, as The Guardian reported that 66% of students were extremely worried about the cost of living at university.

We’ve rounded up expert tips from nutritionists, food bloggers and consumer psychologists to provide insight on the easiest and cheapest nourishing meals, as well as how to carefully navigate a supermarket to grab the best deals.

Bulk is best

Planning is said to be the key to success, and this is true when it comes to efficient food shopping.

Lauren Leyva is a fifth year Architecture student at the University of Nottingham, who has amassed a following of More than 30,000 on Instagram as ‘The Starving Student’, sharing cheap and healthy recipes for students. Her top tip is to bulk buy dry foods. ”I store oats, pasta and rice under my bed in an airtight container. You can get a big bag of three kilos for cheaper than lots of little packets.’’

This can be applied to prepping meals in bulk, which nutritionist Jordan Storey highly recommends. ”Prep meals on Sunday to last till Wednesday. Also, don’t prep a meal when hungry as you may snack unhealthily in between making that meal.’’

Nutritional value can be cheap

”High sugar makes you crash,’’ says Jordan, which is supported by award winning nutritionist and healthy living strategist, Dr Monika Gostic. Though she acknowledges the huge sugar cravings students have when cramming in the library, she references carbs being ”food for brains.’’

Additionally, Dr Gostic emphasises the importance of fibre and protein, which can be attained by swapping white foods, such as rice and bread, for cheaper brown foods, as they contain microbiome. ”Microbiome, the gut bacteria, has been attributed to anxiety and depression, and affects student performance,’’ explains Dr Gostic.

Fruit and vegetables also contain vitamins and minerals, and can be frozen, making them budget friendly.

Have a balance

Students may feel as if they have to eat sparsely and cannot stretch to buy sweet treats once in a while. Will shares these worries about his ”frivolous spending,’’ but Lauren assures that giving into cravings sometimes is acceptable.

”Being a student, people would stay up late, and do all nighters, so there’s going to be times when you can’t be as healthy as you want, purely because you need to keep your energy up and you want food that you enjoy, and that’s okay,’’ she explains.

For healthier alternatives, Lauren recommends swapping chocolate bars for cereal bars, and Jordan suggests protein yogurts, rice cakes and chocolate nut mixes which retail for under £1.

student in a supermarket looking stressed whilst shopping
Students are urged to cut back on impulsive purchases and be clever when supermarket shopping. Credit: Unsplash

Freezer first

Dr Gostic reports a recent increase in people asking for advice on how to source cheap meals. She recommends freezing food, including everything from bread to fruit and vegetables, for health benefits.

”Reheated carbs like bread, potatoes and pasta are actually better for you and contain more resistant starches, which is what our healthy gut bacteria likes to eat.’’

Avoid brands

Avoiding branded products is something which Jordan, Lauren and Dr Gostic suggest, particularly as ”they are not any better in nutrients.”

Lauren advises ignoring the products placed at eye level on the shelf in the supermarket. ”Below them, there are the supermarket’s own brands, which are half of the price, the same stuff, and just as nice.’’

The less ingredients the better

Ingredients dictate what makes for a cheaper but healthier meal.

”You don’t have to live off pot noodles. I know it sounds tempting, but that’s probably because we never have imagination,’’ explains Dr Gostic.

She urges students to be creative with their meals, pointing out cous cous as being just as easy to make by boiling water and adding stock into it, similarly with porridge.

Showcasing efficient, student friendly recipes on her Instagram page, Lauren is a fan of soup, which can be as cheap as 50p a portion and personalised to your tastes, similar with pasta.

For a weekend treat after a long working week, the blogger also reveals how desserts are cheap to make from ”cupboard ingredients,’’ which we already have. ”I tell everyone to make banana cake. The most expensive thing is probably the bananas!’’

Don’t fall into impulsive supermarket traps

Consumer psychologist Gareth Harvey has spent his career dissecting supermarket’s marketing strategies.

”Everything from the width of an aisle is carefully designed.’’ Slower music makes people shop steadily to consider impulse purchases, and branded products at the ends of aisles have paid to be there, meaning they may not be the best value for money.

Shopping with a basket or trolley also acts as a psychological prompt to buy more, coincidentally explaining why they have increased in size over the years. ”The basket acts as a prompt, as that’s a present social norm about how much you’re expected to spend.’’

Gareth shares that impulse purchases can be avoided by making a physical list and checking it off as you shop, writing the list in the order that you will encounter the products. Additionally, shopping when hungry, caffeinated, or in an extremely good mood leads to you spending 2% more.

”The retail environment is always designed to influence behaviour,’’ so understanding supermarket ploys can mean hundreds being shaved off your shop across the year.

With this advice, student living needn’t be so hard after all.