By Alice Lampard, Fourth Year, Veterinary Science
The Croft Magazine // Getting used to university life is difficult, and it can be easy to let what you are eating slip under the radar. Alice Lampard shares how she replaced ready meals with home-cooked food.
When I started university, I arrived at halls with boxes full of cooking equipment – my parents had ensured I had everything I needed and sent me into the adult world equipped with my first cookbook, Nosh for Students. In the first couple of weeks I didn’t even attempt cooking: I was far too busy meeting new people, enjoying the social life and adapting to university. I assured myself that I would start eating better once I had settled in properly.
However, after the course work and social commitments started building up, I found I kept resorting to the classic microwaveable ready meal. These were always on offer at the local supermarket and there seemed to be so much choice. After a long day at university, it was so tempting to simply pop one of these meals in the microwave and within five minutes, it was ready. No dishes, no time, no hassle.
On the surface this seemed ideal but after several months of these dinners, their negative impact was starting to show. My bank account was emptying much quicker than I had anticipated and the ‘amazing’ choice of meals was starting to seem limited, with most meals consisting of the same sauces or vegetables and that familiar tomato-cheesy taste.
I was growing tired, and not just of the meals – my daily energy levels were low, much lower than they had ever been before. These meals were marketed as the perfect ‘dinner-for-one’ packages, but I never seemed fully satisfied consuming one. I realised it was time to change.
I obtained advice from several friends who only eat home-made cooked meals. They gave me some simple recipes and some advice on how to shop for fresh food without creating any waste. I dug out ‘Nosh for Students’ from a box tucked under my bed and opened it for the first time.
The transition took time, but I was soon cooking the majority of my meals. It’s not an easy change to make, going from only eating ready meals to home cooking most of your dinners – but I would certainly recommend it.
Setting aside even just half an hour in the evening to make something fresh and healthy will guarantee numerous benefits.
Not only will it taste nicer than microwave meals (yes, even if your cooking skills are limited!), but there are so many other benefits. Some of the main ones I have noticed are outlined below:
1. Saving time in the long run. Batch cooking and freezing portions in re-usable containers for another time is one of the best things about home cooking. You can drag yourself home from a long day of university, knowing that a lovely, nutritious, home-made meal is waiting for you in the freezer.
2. Saving money. Ready meals may seem like a good deal at first glance, but when you start to buy fresh vegetables and raw ingredients rather than pre-made meals, your weekly shopping bill will surprise you (in a good way!).
3. It’s your choice. No more trying to find ready meals which omit that herb you hate or trawling through the ingredients list to ensure that a certain allergen isn’t present. With home-made meals, you can use whichever ingredients you want and you can get creative and make meals you would never find on the shelf.
4. Portion control. How many times have you felt hungry after eating a ready meal ‘ideal for one’? Or pushed that takeout to the side after the restaurant piles on the greasy mountain of chips? When you make your meals, you’re in control. Eat as much as you want and have no guilt over wasting.
5. Nutrition. The biggest problem with ready meals is what they contain – or rather, what they don’t. Processed foods lack so many of the vitamins, minerals and proteins essential for a healthy and active life: no wonder you are always feeling exhausted. I remember being shocked the first time I ever examined the back of a ready meal package – most of them contain over 80 per cent of your daily recommended saturated fats (a standard beef lasagne ready meal can contain 93 per cent)! Start eating fresh vegetables daily and you will see an improvement in your energy levels within the week!
Cooking every single evening is not what I’m suggesting, nor I am suggesting you should banish all takeouts or ready meals. I’m aware that not everyone enjoys cooking and not everyone gets on with their flatmates well enough to organise group meals – but setting aside even just half an hour in the evening to make something fresh and healthy will guarantee numerous benefits.
It's truly amazing how changing simple eating habits can affect your energy levels and mood - trust me, you'll feel more active, more motivated, better rested and you will be shocked at the impact nutrition can have on both body and mind.
Featured image: Epigram / Rosie Angel-Clark
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