With many of you heading off to university, or perhaps having your own children flying the nest for the first time to study far from your loving arms (and fully stocked fridge), there has never been a better time to get involved with meal prepping. One of the most notorious anecdotes told by parents and new students-alike is that once left alone for what is sometimes the first time in their lives, many students end up eating poorly and often skipping meals. Sometimes this is due to a lack of skills in the kitchen, laziness, or restricted funds (of which buying food may, heaven forbid, cut into the social life kitty!). We get it, you want simple, no-fuss meals at a reduced cost that will taste good, and nourish the soul. With that in mind, meal prepping with be your key to eating well whilst at university, and the following tips will help an already hassle-free lifestyle become even easier (and cheaper).
Get those staples sorted
The first thing to consider when you head down to the supermarket (or more realistically, log onto their website) is to order in the staples. Those ingredients that are your ‘go-to’ when it comes to meals at home should be front and centre of your buying regimen at the beginning of each term. Rice, pasta, tinned tomatoes, beans, frozen veg, and a selection of herbs and spices are cheaper to buy in bulk, and also tend to be used often. Obviously, you should feel free to substitute any ingredients for those that suit your taste, but making sure you have the staples at hand will make meal prepping that much easier when the time comes. If you happen to be someone who has trouble starting a task, adding to your workload (i.e going to the shops to buy the ingredients first) will only make you more likely to cheat and order that takeaway. Stock up, and be ready!
One week, one meat
This one is for the meat-eaters out there, but as one of the most expensive ingredients you will be purchasing, choose one type of meat, poultry, or fish per week. Again, buying in bulk is going to save you a considerable amount of money, and doesn't necessarily mean you have to eat the same thing all week either. If for example, you buy salmon for the first week, you can cook yourself fish skewers flavoured with chilli flakes for one meal, throw a few salmon cubes into a curry sauce for mid-week, and leave yourself with some mustard and ginger salmon steaks for the weekend. It's all about mixing up the flavours and diversifying the recipes.
Don’t forget the most important meal of the day
Life at university often revolves around late nights. These are often followed by early morning lectures, which is a combination that doesn’t lend well to eating a nutritious breakfast. For those of you who have trouble making sure you have something to eat before your lessons, you can find your mind wandering as your attention span and energy levels start to wane. Combat this by prepping a decent breakfast that you can take with you before leaving your dorm room in the morning. From frozen smoothies packed full of delicious fruit or veg and frozen in zip-lock bags, to bacon-wrapped egg cups, there will be a breakfast recipe out there that you find both tasty and energizing. Get your breakfasts prepped and ready before your busy week starts!
Don’t just prep meals, prep snacks too
When it comes to the afternoon segment of the day, post-lunch but before you get home to eat dinner, you are more than likely to experience another drop in your energy levels. This is often when we reach for a chocolate bar or packet of crisps from the convenience store. Not only are these snacks expensive for what they are, but the result of eating them is a quick energy boost, followed by an equally quick dropoff. Instead of reaching for the quick (and less effective) fix, prep some snacks for the days where you are out of the house for a considerable amount of time, and see the difference in your alertness. Hummus with carrot sticks, mixed nut selections, oatmeal ‘energy balls’ and simple boiled eggs are all great options to keep your brain ticking over during what many of us find is the most tiring part of the day.
Get yourself into a routine
The last and perhaps most important tip is to put aside one afternoon or evening to actually do your prep. Being at university means that this might not be the most usual day for meal preppers (Sunday) as your life will revolve at a very different pace to those of us who work the normal 9 to 5. With Sundays being a popular (and cheap) night to socialise, you may find that a Wednesday afternoon is the least busy period in your week. If so, use this time to prep for the week, and stick to it. In the long run, sticking to a meal prepping regimen will save you a lot of time, and as mentioned before, a lot of money too. Putting it off and thinking that you will just catch up the week after tends to snowball, and before you know it, you are clicking on the takeaway app and wondering where all that money you put aside for social events has gone. Don’t let yourself down, get prepping and start enjoying your university life!
Buy the right tools
It should go without saying that a selection of meal prep containers is an absolute ‘must-have’, along with a few other utensils that you find yourself using often (a few of which we have discussed before, here). Once you have a regularly stocked larder or fridge, all the cooking utensils that you need, and meal prep containers, you are good to go! Half the battle when you are first living away from home is getting into the swing of your new lifestyle. By all means, go out and enjoy your new-found freedom, but don’t forget to listen to your body and fuel it accordingly. You can thank us later when your less-prepared friends are hung-over and wasting money on regular takeaways whilst you have eaten well and have more money in the banks as a result!