Six Tips for Eating Well on a Student Budget

Joey finished her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing and History in 2013, and is currently in her final year of her Masters in Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing. 

It doesn’t take long for the thrill of living out of home to wear off—eating nothing but pan-fried haloumi and condensed milk eventually takes its toll on your health and your bank account. I’m no Michelle Bridges, but I’ve learnt a few fresh-as skillz for eating healthier after many failed dinners and budget nightmares:

  1. Plan your meals ahead

I usually go shopping on a Sunday night and try to buy all my meals through to Wednesday lunch, but you can choose a grocery night that works for you. I will say, however, that Coles Radio do a fantastic Sunday sesh that does wonders for a well-structured shop.

If you’re not used to budgeting and buying ahead, I’ve found $5 a serving is a reasonable price—so if you spend $15 on a meal, ideally it should stretch across two dinners and a lunch, or serve you and two housemates. The key to this is making a meal that keeps and can be made in bulk—stay away from foie gras and crème brulee and instead embrace pasta, soup and other things that can be kept in containers. If you can eat it while doing the Nutbush, it’s probably a dish that keeps well.

Life doesn’t always work out that easily —sometimes you’ve got to seize the day and splurge on Mersey Valley Original Vintage Crumbly Cheddar—but if you at least try to stick to $5 a serve you’ll end up saving money somewhere along the line.

Buying your groceries ahead of time also means you won’t drag yourself home on a Thursday, see your empty fridge and then order a 3 Large Traditional Pizza with 2 Garlic Breads and a 1.5 Litre Coke for $33.95 from Dominoes. I mean, that could be something they offer, I wouldn’t know.

  1. Google stuff

 Get yourself excited about your meals by cooking whatever the hell you want to cook. Ya like chickpeas? Google ‘healthy chickpea recipe’ and see if there’s anything that tickles your fancy. Are noodles your bag, baby? I’m not even kidding: google ‘healthy noodle recipe’ and pick one that sounds good.

Here are some websites with easy, relatively healthy recipes I found in a five minute Google sesh:

And yes, most of these have a shitty clickbait element but there are also some good recipes in there you can use as a base and adapt at will.

  1. Stock up on your basics

 Here are some items I’ve never once regretted having in my cupboard:

  • Chicken stock
  • Garlic
  • Lemons/limes
  • Fish sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Flour
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar/rice wine vinegar/red wine vinegar
  • Pasta/noodles
  • Parmesan
  • Yoghurt

Here are some items I have regretted having in my cupboard:

  • Nut butter

If you have these guys in your cupboard at all times, you can just grab some greens and a chicken breast from Safeway and damn, you got yourself a stir-fry!

  1. Know your prices

 I’m not an economist. I don’t know much about market prices or… vegetable econometrics, but I have a simple yet effective method of calculating value for money: I look at the price of a product and ask myself, ‘How many carrots could I buy for that?’

I mean, I don’t even like carrots that much, but they’re cheap. You can buy a bag of ten for, like, a dollar. So if I pick up a head of broccoli and it’s like $3, that’s like…. Thirty carrots. Like I said, I’m not an economist… but this method does help to give a reference point.

For example, CHEESE IS SO FREAKIN’ EXPENSIVE. OH MY GOD. I WASN’T TOLD. HOW DID I NOT KNOW? And I cannot morally buy an avocado if it’s over three dollars, because honestly, that is some Grade A Level bullshit. Use a reference point for good value, adjust your shopping accordingly and buy up big when something is on special. And yes, I sound like a middle-aged housewife who just bought a Thermomix but I’m doing it for the good of your bank account and vitamin levels.

  1. Stick to the fresh food section

It sounds simple, but walk into your local supermarket and go straight for the fresh food and deli sections—if you’re buying the majority of your food there, you’re doing well. Ideally, you want to only be venturing out for essential basics like flour, shampoo, and Old El Paso Crispy Chicken Spice Coating.

If you find the majority of your trolley is from the freezer section, you could branch out, as freezer meals/pre-packaged stuff is more expensive (see Nobel-Prize winning Carrot Rule above). And while frozen garlic chicken balls feel good when you’re eating them, the less pre-packaged meals you eat, the more your skin will glow like Ceres, goddess of agriculture, grain crops, fertility, and motherly relationships.

  1. Learn substitutions/additions/subtractions

If you find a recipe that lists the final ingredient as ‘Sriracha (optional)’ then for the love of God don’t waste your money buying sriracha. Can’t afford that extra chicken breast for your pasta? Just double the vegies and forgo the chicken. Quinoa hardcore tastes like nothing, but it’ll sit in your cupboard through an atomic bomb blast and is a great, healthy filler in a whole heap of dishes. Basically, for each ingredient of a recipe ask yourself:

  1. Will the dish taste like feet without this?
  2. Is there something cheaper I can use that will also allow the dish to not taste of feet?

If you answer ‘no’ then ‘yes’ to the questions above, go bananas and unleash your inner improve Masterchef.


So go forth, my friends—gorge yourself on carrots and try not to die of scurvy.

– Joey

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