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University eating

Healthy eating on a budget

Maintaining good control of your diabetes at university can be a real challenge. You're away from home and have to take an independent role in looking after yourself.

But, giving a little thought to what you eat and drink can make a huge difference.

Money is usually tight, you have course priorities, and no doubt a busy social life, but the following tips can help you eat well on a budget and plan meals for one more effectively.

Lunch on the go

Finding something that doesn’t take a lot of preparation, is healthy, and fits your budget, can be difficult. We have provided a breakdown of some high street menus to point you in the right direction if you need to buy your lunch whilst out and about.

However, if you can spare a little time, it will be cheaper to prepare something yourself, as you can see below:

Lunch tips and ideas

  • Plan your lunches before you go shopping and buy enough to last until the next shop – this will save you time and money.
  • Cook extra pasta the night before – leftover pasta is great when bulked out with salad.
  • Carry enough snacks in case you get hungry to avoid buying something less healthy – fruit, unsalted nuts, and low-sugar cereal bars and yogurts are great choices.
  • Salads can be a brilliant alternative to sandwiches and are cheap and easy to make.
  • Vegetable and bread sticks with hummus make a good lunchtime snack, and you can make a cheap hummus or other dip yourself.
  • Experiment with various types of bread so you don’t get bored and try out different fillings: tinned fish, low-fat cheese spreads and even bananas can make a cheaper alternative to conventional meat fillings.
  • Alternatives to chocolate and cakes include malt or fruit loaf, teacakes or a scone, and they contain less fat and sugar.

There will be days when you find yourself out and about or with very little time. Here are some tips for making healthier choices...

  • Use food labels to choose healthier sandwiches, and cut down on your intake of salt and fat by choosing fruit and bottled water over crisps and fizzy drinks.
  • Try to avoid shopping for lunch (or any food!) when you’re really hungry – you might buy more than you need and you're more likely to make a less healthy choice.
  • Swap a canned drink for a diet version and save around 6tsp sugar.
  • Cut back on fat by choosing baked crisps as a healthier alternative to fried.
  • Choose a two-finger chocolate wafer biscuit, rather than a standard chocolate bar, and save on both fat and calories.

In the kitchen

Sharing meals with flatmates can not only make things cheaper but provides a good time to forget about studying. Try preparing some of these meals together, and you can all save money on takeaways:

  • Fritattas and omelettes

    Frittata or omelette padded out with cheap veg such as sweetcorn, mushrooms and tomatoes. Adapt it with whatever veg you have to hand.
  • Jacket potatoes

    Try filling potatoes with baked beans, jazzed up with some chilli powder or cayenne pepper, and a few mushrooms and caramelised onions.
  • Mixed bean chilli

    To save money, use 'value' range beans and swap fresh herbs for dried. You also don't need to use coriander.
  • Pasta

    Use cheap salad veg or cooked frozen veg that has cooled. For protein add pulses, tuna, chopped egg or reduced-fat cheese.
  • Soups

    Use a handblender to whizz up any leftover veg, cooked 'value' pulses and a tin of tomatoes. Flavour with any herbs and spices to taste.
  • Wraps

    Wraps are quick to make, and can be filled with anything – try boiled egg, lean ham, tuna or hummus bulked out with cheap salad veg.
  • Saag aloo

    If you don't have fresh chilli, ginger, or some of the other spices, you could add a tbsp of curry paste.
  • Vegetable chilli

    Delicious and cheap to make. Make more chilli than you need as it can last for several meals and tastes just as good when reheated.
  • Salads

    There aren't limits to what you can add to a salad, from a simple chicken caesar to something more sophisticated. Great for using up odd bits of veg in the fridge.
  • Channa dahl

    Lentils are a cheap, low-fat source of protein and packed full of fibre. Again, you don't necessarily need the coriander.

Eating without your housemates?

Cooking with friends may not be option, so for those times when you have to plan and cook for one.

You can also save time and money but still have a healthy meal by making the most of your microwave.


If you have type 1 diabetes and carb count, remember to find out the carb value of new foods, either by reading the label or making use of resources such as the Carbs & Cals book.

There are lots of great apps available to download, too.

Making smarter snack choices

It can be tempting to make the most of supermarket offers by choosing the latest reduced-price chocolate bar multipack, or grabbing a bar from the local shop. Healthier snacks don’t have to be boring or expensive. Why not try some of these tasty, simple ideas?

  • Individual tins of fruit in natural juice
  • Mini packs of dried fruit
  • Cereal and semi-skimmed milk
  • Yogurts, fromage frais or chilled rice desserts
  • Bread sticks and dips
  • Pretzels, Twiglets, or rice crackers (a lower fat choice than crisps)
  • Glass of milk (semi-skimmed or skimmed)

Beating exam stress

It may feel like your life has been turned upside down when you’re studying for, and taking, exams.

Eating healthily is probably the last thing on your mind, but eating regular, healthy meals and keeping on top of your diabetes can help you keep focused.

  • Try to eat regularly. Build meal and snack breaks into your revision timetable to remind you to eat.
  • Start the day with a good, filling breakfast to keep you going.
  • Keep brain-boosting snacks with you, such as bananas, mixed berries, apple slices with a little peanut butter, or a small handful of a homemade trail mix.
  • Get help from your friends or family. They could help prepare your meals for you and, if you’re lucky, they could bring you snacks and drinks.
  • If you’re making your own meals, try quick meals such as beans on wholegrain toast, a Spanish omelette, a wrap with cooked chicken strips and salad, baked salmon and vegetables, or stir-fries.
  • Cut back on the caffeine and keep well-hydrated with water and other sugar-free drinks. Aim for 1–2 litres a day.

More healthy snack ideas

Never be short of healthy snacks with our other light bite ideas.

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