Being a student is usually a pretty humbling, poor experience. Unless you’ve been squirreling your gap yah money away, you’re probably going to be tightening that belt here and there.
A student budget is pretty tight, but fitness and meal prep are going to be key for anyone looking to make great choices and pursue their best fitness. So how do you get the best of both worlds?
Fortunately for you, that’s our topic for the day and you’re going to learn the basics of how to (maybe) stay out of your overdraft while getting in the shape of your life.
We don’t see it often, but some students actually can afford to shop at luxury supermarkets. Obviously, everyone makes fun of them going to Waitrose because we’re jealous and have been living on baked beans for a week.
This is the simplest tip possible: choose the right place to shop. If your only local supermarket is Selfridges, you might need to put some time into figuring out where to get delivery from. If you’ve got a local 4-letter budget supermarket, you’re already on your way to cheap gains.
There’s a big advantage to buying in bulk: less shopping trips, better prices per gram, and you’re always prepared. It’s the very spirit of meal prep: saving money, time, and the temptation of another late-night pizza.
If you buy your staple foods – usually carbs like rice, pasta, or cous cous – in large amounts then you’ll save cash and have the foundation for your meals prepared way in advance. These are often available at huge discount rates at your local specialist food market: my local east-Asian supermarket sells cheap 5-10kg bags of rice. Shop around, you’ll find great value.
You can find similar deals with frozen chicken breast, pallets of beans, and other top-quality basic ingredients that you can put into dozens of different meals and that store really easily. Hitting the basics hard is how you keep costs low and nutrient intake high.
Have a Plan
If you don’t know what you’re prepping, and you make it up as you shop, you’re going to buy a whole bunch of dumb stuff that just sits in your cupboard forever. That’s not saving money, that’s being unprepared and impulsive. Congratulations, you played yourself.
Before you shop, know what kind of foods you’re okay eating 2-3 times a week and how you’re going to prep them. The idea is to know exactly what you need, where it is, and keep it efficient. Make a loose meal plan before you make a shopping list.
You can buy bits and pieces on top of this, but having a general template is a good way of guiding your expenses. It also takes some of the guesswork out of what to do with your groceries.
Be Realistic: Supps, Shakes and Snacks
When meal prepping, be realistic with yourself and look at the stuff you tend to buy.
Have you ever done a really healthy food shop and cut out those frozen pizzas, only to find out that you end up ordering food because you “don’t have anything in”? This is what happens when you’re trying to go cold turkey on your diet, and you didn’t make a contingency plan.
There’s nothing with having a pizza here and there if your diet is generally-good but buying one from a takeaway is going to cost way more than a frozen one. If you’d been more honest with yourself, you could’ve prepared for this and keep a piece of junk food in the house for when you get bored.
This isn’t a big difference in your diet, but it’s going to add up on your bank account. Take the same approach with snacks – grab a multipack of a relatively-healthy snack (fig rolls forever) just so you have them available when you need something to tide you over.
Another great, easy choice is grabbing a good protein powder and putting together a protein shake recipe that you enjoy, get plenty of nutrients from, and makes a great “snack”. This is as simple as starting with a high-quality protein powder and a few key ingredients (like nut butter or other flavours).
Having a recipe in your head makes it easy to adapt when life is stressful.
A meal prep doesn’t need to be restrictive – just be prepared for all those different little cravings so you don’t have to buy them on the fly. It’s an investment and you’ll see the difference over time.
This is one for the real die-hard dieters out there who want the best results. Consider just having the same thing every day.
This is a bit of a controversial one, but we’ve seen it work fantastically well before: have 1-2 breakfasts, pre-workout meals, post-workout meals, and snacks planned out. They should be something you enjoy, but nothing too intense since you’ll get bored of anything too strong.
If you can get into this habit, you’ll definitely be dealing with a cheaper set of costs. You won’t need to buy too many different items, your shopping list and nutrition are predictable, and you can make huge bulk savings.
You can also supplement this by just changing snacks or occasionally subbing out one of the meals when you have a bit of spare cash on hand. It’s so routine that it provides you with plenty of options to bolt-on a Nando’s here and there. Cheeky.
Meal prep is about thinking it through and having a clear idea in your head. You should carry this through your whole prep, and use it to be realistic about what you want, what you’re going to crave, and how to shop smarter.
Bulk buying, pre-empting your own hangry patches, and being a smart shopper all make a big difference to your budget.