A recent survey found that 62% of students spend less than £25 a week on food, £10 less than the supposed required budget for a healthy eating plan.
A healthy eating plan is defined as including the government recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, with an overall balanced diet being low on saturated fats. So less beef, bacon, butter, lard – if for some reason you like to eat lard, do less of that – that kind of thing.
Some would view this as an atrocity, that scholars in this “first world” country can’t afford to sustain themselves properly, there being instances of students selling books to feed themselves, or eating such outlandish meals as bananas and baked beans, rice with sugar and butter or even a Bible classic of bread and water. Others, like my editor, see only a challenge. And they exercise their position of authority to subject those beneath them to their whimsical games. Here, then, is my experience of trying to eat healthily on less than £25 a week.
It’s ten to nine on Monday morning and it becomes quickly apparent to me that I’ve still not done my weekly shop when I realise I have nothing for breakfast. Things are going swimmingly. My eyes wander to the freezer where some meals I’d brought back from home were frozen, but my journalistic integrity says “No!”
Some panicky googling takes place to work out what a budget, healthy shopping list looks like. I see a word I’d never seen before, “lentils,” I see it often and think I’m going to roll with that. It later transpired that this is the key ingredient in making dhal, a dish I grew up never liking but now that I’m at university and more aware of my own culture, I figure it’s time for a dhal reawakening.
I make the convenient 2 minute cycle down the road to Lidl and get browsing. My friends’ tips of mythical markets in Hoxton where avocados go for criminally low prices mean a lot less to me when I’m already running late. Grabbing cheap veg, raiding on offer meat and cursing the milk roster I arranged with my flatmates, the list is checked off. I Tetris style store all my shopping in two backpacks – as if I’m paying 5p for a bag – and cycle home. Chewing on carrot sticks and scoffing at the ease with which I’m pulling this off, I throw an apple and banana in my bag and cycle to the Strand. These last three items are basically what I snacked on all week.
After the 20 minute, seemingly totally uphill cycle north my stomach rumbles its protestations. I reluctantly slink past Greggs and head across the road to LSE where followers of Hare Krishna hand out free rice and vegetables, as well as some bread and fruit, and there’s nothing cheaper than free. I even grab three lemons going spare.
Turkey mince was something I’d never worked with before, nor did I even know it was a thing, and so I thought I’d try making some food porn – or dinner, as it used to be known – with that. Turkey balls on sweet potato fondant sounded fancy as hell but, in the end, my effort is a tad burnt, and certainly the word “ball” would be a generous if somewhat misguided attempt at associating any known shape to what form my turkey took on. Taste-wise though, it went down deliciously, it’s healthy, and there’s enough left over for a lunch later in the week.
Porridge for breakfast, I slice a banana and add it to the colourless matter for something like flavour.
Going about my day as usual, I hit Hare Krishna again for lunch, a flash of what my editor told me yesterday about this being cheating briefly enters my mind before I disregard it, as most of the people in the queue for the free food are from King’s anyway. I ask the man handing out paper plates of food what’s on the menu today, he informatively replies “Rice…and vegetables!”
Slogging through a run later, I go home and eat an apple for some juice (ba dum psh). For dinner I grill some chicken, dice some peppers, add some low fat condiments I had in and make two very satisfying chicken pitta…things.
Another morning, another bowl of oats ‘n’ milk ‘n’ fruit, I have to say I thought I’d get bored of this. I wasn’t not wrong. After getting knocked around and shouted at for an hour and fifteen minutes, or as those who box call it, “training,” I have the leftover turkey and sweet potato fondant for lunch. For dinner I have a roasted pepper omelette. Peppers go a long way once you stop disregarding the green one as just some tag-along with the far superior red and yellow peppers.
Porridge. Fruit. Lunch is another Chicken Pitta Thing ®, which since Tuesday I’ve had registered as a trademark. For dinner I use all of the chicken thighs to make a chicken & lentil stew, I even zest one of the Hare Krishna lemons, and there’s enough for the weekend’s meals.
Each bowl of porridge I eat now makes it a little harder for me to feel joy. Hare Krishna for lunch again. No time for dinner later as I’d had plans for the evening that deprived me of the time required to properly eat dinner (when you factor in the recipe googling, prep and cooking, the food porn shot taking, it really takes a bite out of your day) but as I’d budgeted well enough to this point, I indulged in a midnight burrito. That’s two of my five a day right there. Three with guac.
I wake up mid-afternoon, in a puddle of my own saliva and feeling sorry for myself, and know only one thing: I’m not eating porridge today. Instead, I have another roasted pepper omelette for breakfast. Lentil and carrot soup for lunch and for dinner I make turkey meatballs with spaghetti, a lot less contrived than my previous effort with turkey mince. The end is in sight, I’m beginning to think lustily of the zero effort meal deals and simply not tracking what I eat. All the time.
A return this morning to the comfortable monotony of porridge, I take back what I said about it being a joyless bowl of matter, porridge is alright by me. For lunch today I defrost some chicken stew and for dinner I chuck the rest of my carrots into another soup, even going so far as to invite a friend over for dinner and feed him to demonstrate that you can feed more than just yourself on the budget.
Not an easy phone call to make, by the way. “Come over for some carrot soup- DON’T HANG UP, IT’S FOR AN ARTICLE!” In the end his detailed review was “Rah I thought that’d be a dead scran but it was actually peng you know.” Which loosely translates to “Good job, friend.”
Adding estimated costs of ingredients I already had in: spices, condiments, spaghetti, coffee, as well as the bit of lettuce I stole of off my flatmate for my Chicken Pitta Things®, I stayed comfortably within challenge. Plan your shopping, cook your meals, bulk buy things like rice and pasta and you too can hang onto your books and your health at the same time!
Bananas – £0.50
2 x Apples – £1.18
Carrots – £0.39
Onions – £0.39
Oats – £0.39
3 x Tinned Chopped Tomatoes – £1.17
Eggs – £0.75
Peppers – £0.89
2 x Orange Juice – £1.30
Lentils – £1.00
Sweet Potatoes – £0.50
Milk – £0.89
Pitta Bread – £0.42
Breaded Chicken Mini Fillets – £1.39
Turkey Lean Mince – £1.25
Chicken Thigh Fillets – £2.49
Burrito – £5.00
Total – 20.06