How Much Does a Tight Budget Restrict a Student Diet?

Survey of students finds 24% have to cut back on books in order to feed themselves

Nearly a quarter of all university and college students spend £15 or less a week on food, a new survey has found. In addition, 24% of those interviewed said they had to cut back on books and studying materials in order to eat.

Official advice from British universities such as the University of Reading, Heriot-Watt University and the University of York states that students should set aside between £32 and £44 a week to eat healthily. However a survey by found that 23% of students in the UK spend less than £15 a week on food, with 62% of students spending less than £25.

The average spend was £24.12 – with food buying making up 50% of a student’s average weekly expenditure.

Even though their food spend is below national guidelines, students have a realistic view of the cost of a nutritional and well-balanced diet – saying it would cost £42.76 a week on average.

A healthy eating plan is defined as including the government recommended five portions of fruit and veg per day, with an overall balanced diet being low saturated fats.

When asked if there are things they have to cut back on in order to eat healthily 24.50% said books and accessories for studying had to be restricted, 12.25% said they had cut down on their heating with 6.25% claiming they would go without medicines. Not returning home or visiting family as often as they would like is a sacrifice which 32.25% of students would make.

Asked to reveal whether they had ever eaten an unhealthy or strange meal due to a restricted budget, 70% of respondents said yes. Some of the unhealthy and unusual meals students said they had eaten included bananas with baked beans, butter and sugar with rice, cereal for every meal of the day, chips and ‘mystery’ meat, crisps for breakfast, fish fingers and bacon and a bleak combination of just bread and water.

Other horror stories listed included eating stale tortilla chips for breakfast, lunch and dinner or living off cereal and baked beans for a week.

Student Martin Neilsen, 20, who studies at Cambridge’s Anglia Ruskin University, says he survives on spending around £15 a week on food. He said: “I tend to buy in bulk, I don’t like spending an excessive amount of money on bits here and there. In my weekly shop I’ll definitely have rice, pasta, chicken, minced beef, fruit and then silly stuff like multi-packs of crisps. Three quarters of my food budget goes towards rice, pasta, oats and meat. Every two weeks I could probably spend about £30. I’m not concerned about my health, just price. I don’t mind eating the same thing all week – it’s cheap, it tastes good and makes me feel good after.”

Nutrionist Dr Rosland Miller from the British Nutrion Foundation said it was possible for students who faced a tight budget to eat healthily.

She stated: “It is important to eat a healthy, varied diet whatever your age and whatever your income. A good diet can help reduce the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, several forms of cancer, osteoporosis and dental disease. A healthy diet does not mean that you need to buy expensive foods, but an understanding of food budgeting and good nutrition can help.”

Voucherbox Country Manager Shane Forster commented “The results from this study are extremely revealing. It’s common knowledge that the average student diet is unlikely to be the pinnacle of healthy eating, but to see the percentage of students who don’t have the basic funds to achieve government guidelines is quite insightful. For such a high number to not have the amount university institutions themselves recommend, and for students to have to cut back on important amenities such as study equipment and medicine, is also very concerning. Although the strange meals and diets could be put down to a lack of time or cooking skill, and can even be seen as somewhat creative, there is still a very real, grim reality behind these meals which is simply that students have no option but to put up with meals definitely below the recommended levels of nutritional value, purely due to budget.”

Dr Miller’s top tips for eating on a budget included:

· Make a shopping list before you head to the shops to help you to avoid making impulse buys.

· Shop around for the best deals and try fruit & veg markets and local butchers, as they can sometimes be cheaper than the supermarket.

· Buy fruit and veg in season, as this can often be cheaper.

· Buy frozen or canned fruit and vegetables (in water or fruit juice rather than syrup or brine), these are often cheaper and you can use them when you want without them going off.

· Trade down to cheaper brands – these can reduce your shopping bill and are often nutritionally equivalent.

· Buy canned oily fish (sardines and salmon)- often cheaper than fresh fish but still contain those essential nutrients.

· Eat cheaper cuts of lean meat – if you eat a lot of meat you can try to cut down- replace with protein-rich alternatives (e.g. eggs, beans and lentils) – beans and lentils count as 1 of 5-A-Day, plus they are low in fat and are a source of fibre.

· Base your meals on starchy carbohydrates like jacket potatoes (with their skins), brown rice, pasta and couscous, these are often low priced and will keep for a long time so you can reduce waste.

· Cook at home – swapping takeaways for home cooking can save you money. Freeze leftovers or eat them for lunch the next day.

If you want to save money on your online shopping, we’ve got some great Sainsbury’s vouchers available.

151009 infographic studentdiets r02 How Much Does a Tight Budget Restrict a Student Diet?