Date posted: 05/04/2019

Why cooking on a student budget can actually be good for you

Ramen noodles, loaves of white bread and student discounts at the local Thai restaurant on Wednesday nights is what typically springs to mind when we think about a uni student’s diet.

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Despite the increasing trend of people spending more money on takeaway or eating out1, research by Forbes2 comparing the cost of cooking at home versus eating out suggests that home cooking on average is five times cheaper and markedly healthier.

Cooking at home - even on a shoestring budget - can be an experience that supports our wellbeing and helps us thrive in our studies. Here are 5 reasons why cooking on a student budget can actually be good for you.

Save time and money by meal prepping

The most efficient way to stretch your money when it comes to home-cooking on a budget is to meal prep, and the key here is in the planning. Have fun dreaming up what you'd like to eat during the week, make a shopping list, and have fun with a weekly local farmers market or grocery store haul.

Eating Well3 recommends spending your Sundays engaging in a big cook up (made extra fun with a great playlist and friends) and storing your weekly meals in BPH-free storage containers or recycled mason jars. Taste4 offers an array of free healthy, budget-friendly recipes ranging from simple to extravagant - a great place to start if you're seeking inspiration.

Buy in season and in bulk

When you're at the grocery store or market, a great way to keep costs down is to buy seasonal produce and buy in bulk. It's actually healthier to eat food that aligns with the cycle of the seasons and nature will thank you too as eating seasonally promotes ecological balance5.

Based on supply and demand, food in season is inevitably cheaper than buying exotic items that have been imported from overseas. Most markets and grocery stores offer generous price reductions for items bought in bulk - a great trick is to check the price tag and compare the cost per weight between variations of the same item. Using olive oil for example, you'll find purchasing a 2L container is typically half the cost per 100g than buying a 500ml bottle.

Go for green and cook with friends

Research by Harvard University suggests that leafy greens support cognition thanks to high levels of vitamin K, folate and magnesium6.

On top of the nutritional benefit of buying fresh ingredients and preparing them at home, it has been suggested that the very act of cooking can stimulate and strengthen brain activity.

"A nourishing, home-cooked meal, shared with friends or family, is a familiar activity that exercises the brain," says Marwan Sabbagh, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health7. "It provides the nutrition our bodies crave and encourages social interaction, all of which are critical to preserving cognitive fitness."

So next time you're cramming for an exam, and you feel the urge to order some takeaway, exercise your mental muscles laterally and do your back pocket a favour by having a cook-up with your friends instead.

The kitchen is your canvas

Creativity needn't be reserved to the philosophical musings of an arts student, but instead an innate part of us all that can easily be exercised over the stove.

Author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost Ellen Kanner suggests playing around with the flavours you're naturally drawn towards and experimenting with them in other dishes.

"Also, rather than dashing out to buy a long list of ingredients, be inspired by what you have on hand. It'll save you time, [money] and stress, both of which tend to be barriers to creativity, and guess what? You'll have developed your own new recipe," says Kanner8.

Don't forget to relish in the feeling of accomplishment once you've cooked up your masterpiece. Self-rewarding for creative wins is a great confidence booster, so take that photo for your Instagram story!

Get grounded

No need for a meditation cushion, the act of cooking can provide endless opportunities to practice mindfulness according to Psychology Today9.

The food preparation journey - from washing fruits and vegetables to cutting, preparing and cooking - can be quite therapeutic. Like yoga and meditation, it involves a physical practice that can help you to get out of your own head, and focus on the task at hand.

"When you're focusing on the moment this way, you're not ruminating over past slights or worrying about future problems. Mindfulness also helps reduce stress and promotes greater gusto for life," the publication states.