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Understanding Food

It is important that you eat well at University because it is all about student survival.

Too many kebabs and too much chocolate is quite likely going to encourage spots and a bit of a belly so you need to have some sort of plan when eating at University. It's up to you to make sure you don't waste away. And what's worse, you're expected to do it with the aid of a fiver, a two-ring hob and a toaster.

Starchy Foods

You should eat lots of starchy carbohydrates as part of a healthy balanced diet. So, try to base each meal on a starchy food, such as those mentioned below. The good news is that these foods are often very good value, if you shop wisely.

Porridge oats - You can get a 1kg bag of porridge oats for well under ?1, and this is a really filling meal to start the day. If you don't like porridge made the traditional Scottish way with water and salt, try making it with milk and honey. And you could try adding some fresh or dried fruit for variety.

Bread - Bread is a good source of starchy carbohydrates. Choose wholemeal bread rather than white, because it's more nutritious and more filling.

Potatoes - Heard the expression 'cheap as chips'? Baking potatoes are great value and very versatile. Cost-effective fillings for baked potatoes include cheese, tinned tuna, and baked beans. You can also boil, roast, mash, sautee or fry them. But remember you'll generally pay more for baby new potatoes.

Rice - Another good source of starchy carbohydrates, rice makes a great accompaniment to dishes like curry and chilli. You can also use it to make risotto or add it to salads. Make sure that you store cooked rice in the fridge and reheat it until it's piping hot all the way through.

Pasta - It's generally cheaper to buy pasta in bulk. It's filling, low in fat (provided you don't smother it in creamy sauce) and very easy to cook. Experiment with making your own sauces with tomatoes and veg, chicken and fish, rather than buying ready-made pasta sauces, which can be quite expensive.

Fruit and veg

We should all be eating at least five portions of fruit and veg each day. They still count whether they are fresh, frozen, tinned, dried or juiced (but juice only counts as one portion a day, however much you drink).

Avoid overcooking vegetables, because most of the vitamins end up in the cooking water. It's better to cook them for a short time in as little water as possible.

If you have the freezer space, try buying frozen veg. These are economical, because you can take just what you need out of the freezer and then there isn't any waste.

Tinned tomatoes ? These can form the base of all sorts of sauces, are low in fat and count towards your daily portions of fruit and veg.

Carrots ? Carrots are one of the cheapest veg around when bought loose, but you'll pay a premium for packs of baby carrots. Add them to soups or casseroles, or snack on them raw.

Onions ? These are usually really cheap and are useful to add flavour to pretty much any dish. Red and white onions tend to be more pricey.

Frozen peas ? All you need is a pan of water to cook these from frozen in a few minutes. Adding a few spoonfuls to a meal is an easy way to boost your fruit and veg quota. Serve them as a side dish or put them in rice and pasta dishes.

Apples ? Of course, the cost of apples differs according to the variety and the time of year, but some are really cheap. A medium-sized apple counts as one portion and makes a healthy snack.

Fruit juice ? Concentrated fruit juice, which you will usually find in the soft drinks aisle, tends to be much better value than the varieties sold in the chilled section.

Sources of protein

Baked beans ? Beans on toast is a classic student dish and it's actually a very healthy option, especially if you use wholemeal bread, low-fat spread and beans without added sugar and salt.

Chicken ? Chicken tends to be better value if you buy it in larger quantities. So, if you've got a freezer, you could chop it up (removing the skin to lower the fat content) and then freeze it in small amounts. Always defrost and cook chicken thoroughly, and make sure it's piping hot all the way through with no pinkness left.

Pulses ? Dried beans and lentils are a cheap source of protein and other nutrients for meat-eaters and vegetarians alike. Always follow the instructions about soaking and cooking on the label.

Eggs ? Eggs are easy to cook and versatile. Try scrambled egg on toast, make an omelette with leftover veg, or chop up hard-boiled egg to add to sandwiches or salads.

Canned fish ? Mackerel and sardines are good sources of protein and Omega-3 fatty acids. And since canned fish keeps for ages (remember to check the 'Best before' date), it makes a great standby snack, served with a bit of toast or mixed into pasta.

Milk ? It's full of calcium and vitamins, so a glass of milk is a healthy drink at any time of day. Choose semi-skimmed or skimmed milk for a lower-fat option.

Crimes against hygiene

Some people think that having piles of dirty washing up in the sink and eating foods of dubious safety is an essential part of the student experience. But if you don't think a bout of food poisoning is going to enhance the term, here are a few of the safety corners you really can't afford to cut:

Leftover takeaways (takeouts) ? If you really want to, there's nothing wrong with eating a bit of leftover pizza or curry for breakfast, as long as it's been kept in the fridge. But you mustn't eat it if it's been left out at room temperature overnight. In the right conditions, one bacterium could multiply to thousands of millions in twelve hours. Remember to cool leftovers within one to two hours and then put them in the fridge. If you reheat them, make sure they are piping hot all the way through.

'Use by' dates ? 'Use by' means exactly that. There really isn't any leeway ? once the 'Use by' date has been and gone, you just can't be sure the food is safe to eat. If you chance it, it could make you ill. 'Best before' dates are used on less perishable foods. Once this date has passed the food might not have such a good taste or texture, but it's unlikely to make you ill.

Mouldy food ? Once you spot some furry growth on food, don't be tempted to cut that bit off and eat what's left. Moulds and other fungi produce invisible toxins, which can penetrate the rest of the food and make you ill. So, if a food has gone mouldy it's safest to bin it.

Food on the floor ? Floors aren't clean, so any food that is dropped on the floor - even it makes contact for just a fraction of a second - could be covered in dirt and bacteria when you pick it up. So, if your proverbial toast lands buttered side down it belongs in the bin.

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