Hacks to eating well on a budget

Feel like some higher energy levels, higher grades and even higher savings? Side step a broken system, and meal prep your way to success.

​​It’s 3pm on a Tuesday. You’re just settling in for another hour of mindlessly checking emails in your tutorial, when you feel it. It starts off as a mere pang, nothing a sip of water can’t conceal. But then it grows, and it’s like a gaping void. A vacuum of emptiness has opened up in the pit of your stomach. The coffee and muffin demolished at 10am, a poor excuse for a breakfast, are but a distant memory. Ambitious thoughts of grabbing a snack quickly turn to a daydream, as you remember hot chips on campus are a steep $9. Might as well just push through, and wait until dinner. That hunger barrier was made to be broken.

We’ve all been there. But for some students, that sick feeling is induced not only by hunger, but by the impending anxiety that surrounds how they will make it through the week on a measly budget, comprising a grossly underfunded youth allowance payment and casual hospitality or retail wage. Between travel, text books, rent or board, petrol, and, dare I say, a social life, the cost of living in Sydney is unbearable — and the first thing to be sacrificed is often  high-quality, nutritious food.

In a university that prides itself on prestige and excess, student poverty is the dark, gnawing monster that follows too many of us around. It is an invisible killer, romanticised as one of ‘the struggles of uni life’, and easily laughed off over a $5 happy hour jug of cider. Stomach un-lined of course.

The way that under-eating on a budget is not only accepted, but glamorised, is innately toxic.  Students, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds or independent from family financial support, sit in state-of-the art science labs but cannot afford to eat three meals a day. Cup noodles are not the answer.

So, with the government doing nothing to help us out, I present to you a cheat’s guide to good food on campus, meal-prep style. Take it from one hungry USyd student to another.

Lunch boxes —

For all you first-time foodies out there, to make this BYO thing work you’ll need to invest in a lunchbox, a few plastic containers of different sizes, and a small ice brick. If it’s pink with love-hearts and comes with a matching drink bottle, even better. I wonder what colour Mr Morrison’s lunchbox is? Better ask Jenny.

Veges —

Another must is to prepare your vegetables over the weekend (or whenever you have free time). This makes them a more accessible option for when life gets busy. There is nothing more therapeutic than pottering away in the kitchen for an hour on a Sunday chopping veggies, or coating them in a mix of herbs and spices, and roasting them in the oven. Even better, select a packet of frozen veggies, which cook up just the same, but are a nutritious, budget alternative to the fresh kind that won’t ever be discovered as a mouldy mess in the back corner of your fridge.  

‘Killer Dressing’

A staple in my meal prep repertoire, which combines olive oil, mustard, honey and lemon juice, shaken (not stirred) in an old pesto sauce jar. This liquid-gold is best served over your roasted vegetables, packet rice, or a tin of tuna or chickpeas. If you’re feeling fancy, or enjoy making fellow studiers jealous, I’ve been known to heat up this stellar combo at the microwaves in Social Sciences, transforming what can be a fresh summer salad into a hearty winter winner.

Approx. $4/ salad serve

‘A $2.85 roll’—

Yep, that’s the price of six crusty long rolls from any regular supermarket. To elevate the humble roll, make  a budget-take on a Vietnamese classic Banh Mi by layering a combination of your pre-prepared veggies (carrot, cucumber, lettuce etc.), and topping with shredded barbecued chicken, your killer dressing, and a good squeeze of mayo.

Approx. $5.80/ roll

‘Baking for the non-baker’—

If you’re more of a snacker, or veges are not your thing, try prepping some cheesy mite scrolls. To make your sticky dough, combine 2 cups of flour, 80ml milk, and 50g butter with your hands. Once rolled out, spread the dough with a thick layer of vegemite and grated cheese. Then roll up the dough so it forms a long cylinder shape, cut into 2cm discs, and cook in a moderate oven until golden and crispy. Paired with a piece of whatever fruit is on special that week, these scrolls double as nutritious public-transport-friendly brekky too.

Approx. $12/ batch, <$1/ scroll

No student should have to starve, and meal prepping is an easy habit that keeps you full and saves hundreds over the course of a month. So, until the government catches up and starts providing struggling students with the funding they deserve, take matters into your own hands, and into your own kitchen.