Food is one of the most important things in life. It not only brings us the necessary nutrition to get through our days, but it can bring us joy too. However, eating healthy and tasty food can be hard when living with a strict budget or a busy lifestyle. As a full-time student and a part-time worker, it’s often hard for me to find the energy or time to cook dinner every night.
If you look at my search history from a few months ago, you’d mostly see searches like “meal prep for students”, “cooking on a budget”, or “how to eat healthy when you’d much rather be eating chocolate.” Somewhere in that time, I discovered a few things that work for me – and hopefully they’ll work for you too. Please keep in mind that I am not a nutritionist and this is not a guide on how to eat healthy. It’s just a few tips that have helped me eat tasty (and somewhat healthy) food in a convenient, budget-friendly way.
Before you go shopping, always write a list. Otherwise, you’ll either forget something or you’ll spend money on things you don’t need. You don’t want to have to race back to the shops mid-spaghetti because you’ve forgotten the pasta sauce.
Plan where to shop. I know how convenient it can be to just duck into Woolworths or Coles when you’re out and about, but I guarantee you’ll find better deals if you go to a few different places. If you’re sitting at home watching TV before bed, have a look online at specials catalogues and supermarket websites in the ad breaks. Most places have a fruit market, an Aldi, a Woolworths and a Coles within a few streets of each other. If you’re willing to spend a little more time to save a lot of money, I’d recommend it.
Don’t be afraid of buying home-brand products. Just because a supermarket sells $6 pasta sauce doesn’t mean you have to buy the $6 pasta sauce. Have a look around – generally supermarkets have their own brand for much cheaper.
It’s okay to buy pre-made. I know that homemade sauces and pastas can be much nicer than what you can buy at the store, but it’s hard to find the time to make it all by hand. If you want to make your own, go for it, but don’t be ashamed to just buy it. It’s cheaper and quicker, and who knows, you might even be lucky enough to find one that’s tastier than Mum’s classic.
Cook in big batches – enough for around five serves. It might feel like a lot at first (and geez, how often can you have leftovers?), but you will use it all. I recommend cooking up a Chili Con Carne (again, using package mixes are great!). You can serve it with rice, on a burrito with some sour cream and salad, on corn chips for easy nachos, or even wrapped up in puff pastry and baked for 40-minutes. The possibilities are endless, and you won’t get sick of eating the same old thing.
Finally, meal prep. The day before your work week begins, take a few hours to prep your food for the coming week. Prepare lunch, snacks, and dinner. I’ve gathered a few of my favourite fast and easy meal ideas to share with you all. They’re super simple, customisable, and all you need to know is how to cut up some vegetables and cook some pasta.
Food for Breakfast & Snacks
Fruit salad is one of the easiest things to make and its creative possibilities are endless – but it often gets overlooked. All you need is some of your favourite fruit. I use pears, grapes and kiwi fruit. Just cut them into bite-sized pieces (or slices) and serve in a container, bowl, or mason jar. I’d recommend adding some Greek yogurt and muesli for a simple on-the-go breakfast or snack.
Another simple, healthy snack idea is sliced veggies. Peel and slice two carrots, grab a handful of snow peas and a Lebanese cucumber (celery works well too). Add them to a container and serve with a tablespoon of hummus. Alternatively, you could add some crackers and cheese for a “fancy” snack to get you through your afternoon.
You can pretty much use whatever you like in a smoothie. If you want a chocolatey flavour, add two sliced and frozen bananas, half a cup of milk, a teaspoon of peanut or almond butter, and two heaped tablespoons of chocolate protein powder or Milo. Blend until smooth, and adjust the consistency depending on your liking by using milk, ice or water. For a more fruity flavour, add half a cup of fruit juice (I’d recommend a breakfast juice), half a cup of water, 150 grams of frozen mango, 150 grams of frozen pineapple and blend until you hit your desired consistency or adjust if necessary.
Food for Lunch & Dinner
Chickpea or Pesto Pasta
Add 100 grams of dry penne pasta to salted boiling water, and let it cook for around 8 minutes or until al dente. Drain the pasta and let it cool for a few minutes. Fold a tablespoon of hummus dip or pesto sauce into the pasta, making sure it covers the pasta generously without becoming too runny. For chickpea pasta, serve with cherry tomatoes and carrot. For the pesto pasta, serve with cherry tomatoes, green beans, and parmesan cheese (to taste). Don’t be afraid to play around with this recipe – make your own sauces or add different vegetables.
This is very similar to the vegetable snack from above. Cut up your favourite vegetables and serve with quinoa or brown rice, and serve with dressing. I’d recommend adding cooked chicken breast, subbing out the rice/quinoa with crunchy noodles and adding some salt and pepper for a more hearty salad. Remember, salads don’t have to be boring (and they’re much more fun without lettuce).
Cooking doesn’t need to be expensive, lengthy or complicated. Just remember to eat your fruit and veggies, drink lots of water, and remember that cooking doesn’t always have to be a burden.