Junk food: fast, convenient and most importantly, seemingly cheap! So why on earth would you take time out of your busy partying — or studying, but mainly the former — schedule to put effort in to cooking yourself dinner when you can pick up a McDonalds meal for under £5 in under 5 minutes? Ludicrous, right? Wrong! Cooking a meal is actually cheaper than grabbing something on the go and as a budget conscious student you might want to take note.

The fact is that while students are aware they need to manage their money at university, the knowledge of how to manage money in relation to food is lacking amongst the majority. Statistics show that consumption of fast food undeniably increases once one has left the comforts of home and to be honest it is not surprising. First year students are lacking an established routine and may be spending a lot of time socialising and adapting to the university work load, they thus simply think that there isn’t enough to time to cook! Similarly, a final year student may be majorly stressed out over the upcoming Final Year Project or dissertation and cooking is certainly not a priority. Time constraints coupled with the cliché that kebabs and KFC are cheaper alternatives to cooking at home anyway makes university students fast food junkies!

So first of all let’s get some perspective and tackle the myth that fast food is a cheap alternative to cooking your own grub. I went on to Asda.com and selected everything I would need to cook a roast chicken for 4-5 people (they deliver; handy!) Now I don’t mean a mediocre roast, I’m talking sausages wrapped in bacon, stuffing and bread sauce…the works! Amazingly all of this came in under £15.00! So technically speaking this is £3.00-£3.75 per person for a whole roast dinner!

I remember that Sainsburys even ran a ‘Feed your Family For a Fiver’ campaign a while ago, so let’s compare this with our good ol’ Maccy D’s menu, hmm…it seems a fiver won’t even get you five chicken selects with 2 dips for one!

Take one such Sainsburys recipe of Fragrant Thai Green Stir Fry for instance:

  • 1 onion – 14p
  • 1 carrot – 6p
  • Chicken Thigh Fillets 325g – £2
  • Broccoli – 79p
  • Thai Green Cooking Sauce – £1
  • Easy Cook Rice – 41p

Total = £4.40

So £4.40 could hypothetically feed you and your housemates. Seriously take that in! Plus if you split the cost of this between all of you then you’re talking an absolute bargain of a meal.

N.B. www.goodtoknow.co.uk/recipes has a good list of Sainsbury’s £5 recipes.

Now, are you at least a little more convinced that you could save some precious pennies by cooking in halls from time to time? No, you’re still thinking it’s too time consuming right? The unfortunate fact is that you’re not alone! Many students may be aware that fast food is more expensive but think that it is actually worth the extra money since it saves time. Well, my answer to this is….Bulk Cooking!

I cannot stress enough how economical it is to cook in bulk because it not only saves money but time. The concept is pretty simple, if you plan to cook a casserole or a chilli then make enough for a few meals and then freeze them. Then, when you’re up studying all night you have a meal waiting for you in your very own freezer; no taking an unnecessary study break to trek to Burger King!

Finally, I suggest investing in some herbs and spices. Fast food is often thought of as much tastier than homemade food but this certainly does not have to be the case. You categorically do not need to spend more money on a takeaway simply because of flavour! For example, oregano is a great accompaniment to tomato based pasta or chicken dishes whilst ginger tastes wonderful when it’s grated on salmon. I think cinnamon is absolutely divine on a sweet potato and undoubtedly chilli powder will spice up any meal. Take a look at www.spiceadvice.com for some more yummy suggestions.

So why not make the decision to stay in and cook a couple of times a week at least? Especially you first year students! Remember that while you may eat nothing but junk food in the first couple of weeks due to parties and a lack of a routine, this is not a sustainable way to live for the duration of your degree. You’ll be all too aware that every penny counts at university — even more aware once your parents stop telling you about it and you actually find this out for yourself – and managing your food budget will help enormously! Give it a go!