University is an exciting time indeed, the buzz of a new town or city, new accommodation, meeting new people and the impending assignments and exams all add to the experience. If you’re a student and reading this then you will be well into the swing of things now, no doubt you’ll have a few assignments on the go, workshops to attend and a less than healthy looking bank balance! Uni is a special experience that I encourage you to embrace wholeheartedly, granted it doesn’t come without its struggles, but let’s be honest…struggle is the necessity of anything worth having!
If you’re anything like me then, the gym quickly becomes your escape and therapy during those 3-4 years at university. Exercise is a release, the endorphin release synonymous to the pain of those final few reps is an instant pick me up, the social aspect of meeting like-minded people is therapeutic, and the physical activity offers a perfect balance to the inevitable periods of inactivity the closer you get to deadline day!
There is a commonality that profoundly effects all of the above, it’s called TIME. Although money can be tight as a student you will at least have a student loan or grant to tide you over, but one of the commodity’s you will never have enough of is time. So in order to minimise stress and maximise productivity you have to use every second you have and not waste it wallowing around with a hangover and spending the next day like a zombie! If you were a student who was going to Uni for the ‘ride’ then you wouldn’t be reading this article, so I am going to tell you how I got through 8 years of Uni without ever going hungry or letting my training and physique slip…
Do all student eat the same?
No, of course they don’t, but legend will have you believe that the poor lowly student has to live on baked beans, eggs and bread during their degree, and this simply isn’t true! Yes, the above foods will be included, but there is no reason at all why you can’t enjoy lean meats, hearty stews and nutrient packed, mood lifting meals every day too. Trust me when I tell you it can work because I’ve been there and done it.
Try not to skimp on nutrition!
I get it, you’re not going to be living on fresh tuna steaks, Rump steak or Venison, budget is a very real factor that you have no choice but to respect, but if you can invest 30mins of prep a week then I assure you that nutrition can be as good, and if not better than ever.
In a nut shell, batch prepping is prep it, cook it, bag it or Tupperware it and refrigerate it. It’s as simple as that and yet next to no one bothers doing it at Uni. So over the next few paragraphs I am going to show you some of the best ways to nail this process down in as little time as possible.
1.) Slow Cooker – Just as you would go and buy pots, pans, cutlery and cooking utensils…I would suggest you stick a slow cooker in your trolley too, and if you haven’t then go and get one now. You can pick these up for £15-25 and the one off investment will pay you back tenfold in time and energy. The nature of slow cookers is that you throw in the ingredients e.g. chicken, vegetables and potato, add some water or stock, turn it on and crack on with your assignments whilst the food cooks away over 4-8 hours. This is a winner in more ways than one, you spend the same time prepping your meal (30-40mins) and yet you get 4-5 meals at the end of the cooking process. Result!
Once the food has cooked, leave to cool and bag it up or stick it in a Tupperware tub. Tupperware costs money, maybe 5 or 6 quid for 2-3 tubs, but plastic bags are as little as £1 for 30+ and the bags can be frozen and re-heated days or weeks down the line.
2.) Tray Bake – Similar to the slow cooker, a tray bake can deliver 4-5 meals via only 1-2 processes i.e. chop the veg and meat, place on some oiled foil and whack in the oven to bake for 20-30mins. If you are picky when it comes to consistency of your meat and you prefer it to be moist as opposed to char-grilled then try wrapping the meat in tin foil for that steamed consistency. Once the meat and veg is ready, Tupperware or bag it up remembering to consume your food within 3-4 days (cooked meat can generally be safely consumed 3-4 days after cooking).
3.) Monster Chilli Prep – Perhaps one of the easiest meals to bulk prep is a good old fashioned Chilli-con-carne or Spag bol. The slow cooker comes back into play here, just add the mince, chilli-con-carne sachet and chopped tomatoes and hey presto, you’re good to leave it cooking for a few hours whilst you crack on with work or exercise. Once it’s cooked you know what to do, bag or Tupperware it up and you’re good to go in the week.
4.) Batch Prep Individual Ingredients – If you want some variety in the week, which many people do, then by all means cook off some inexpensive white fish such as Pollock or Coley at 56p per 100g to accompany the chilli, or get some tinned tuna and mix a couple of tins with some cider vinegar or balsamic so that you have your protein ready to go for in the week. The Pollock and Coley taste just like cod but is a fraction of the price and it can be stored in your Tupperware and dipped into over the week making for a nice lean alternative to chicken or turkey.
Cook off some basmati or wholegrain rice, 150g of uncooked rice usually covers 2-3 meals alone, then cook (well, basically add hot water) to some packet cous-cous and fill a Tupperware tub with that. That’s your starchy carbs sorted for the week. Vegetables can be cooked off and stored in the fridge to save time, alternatively you can get microwaveable bags that can are ready in seconds and will last forever in the freezer saving risk of waste.
Is it worth it?
We all have 168 hours in our week to play with, so taking less than an hour to prep all of the meals for the week ahead is a very small investment for the very large benefit of good food, nourishment and extra time. Think of it this way, you walk in shattered from a day or nights work (or both) to the realisation that your Mum, Dad, partner or guardian haven’t prepped your dinner because you’re all grown up now…bad times. You now have to prep and cook your meal (and tomorrow’s lunch) which can take anything between 20-40mins. So understandably you might decide to reach for that tin of beans and bread for the classic gourmet student delicacy that is beans on toast, which is nice, but offers little in the way of nourishment for your muscles and brain!
So what about a takeaway? They are quick, easy and provide meat, veg and carbs in abundance right? Well, yes you won’t be short in calories and protein, carbs and fat, but be prepared for the salt, preservative, sugar and fat hit that accompanies these meals, and expect to pay 2-3x as much for the privilege.
All things considered then, batch prep is a money and time saver that delivers from a nutritional perspective too, plus you can fuel your passion that is exercise, and that offers a whole host of benefits from stress relief right through to looking and feeling your best. You might think that something has to give when studying, and that may be true, but it sure as hell doesn’t have to be your nutrition…so get prepping!
About the Author
Tom Irving Nutrition is a highly respected Performance Nutritionist, qualified Dietitian and active Nutrition Consultant with vast experience in the nutrition and supplement industry. Tom has devoted his adult life to nutrition. He studied it for nine years which saw him complete two degrees, the first in Sports Science and the second in Dietetics from one of the most highly respected Dietetics Universities in the UK.