Although it feels like it should be very straightforward, staying healthy at uni can be one of the biggest challenges facing a new student. Newly freed from the shackles of living with parents, there’s the very real temptation of ordering takeaway every other night, along with simply skipping meals. Chances are you’ll arrive with several student cookbooks given to you by well-meaning relatives, that you’ll look at once or twice and then never use again. Despite this, if you get into good habits early on you’re more likely to stick to them throughout your time as a student.
Naturally, there are days when you don’t have the time or energy to throw something together, and a Dr. Oetker pizza is the most efficient way to fend off starvation, but try not to eat too much oven food if you can help it. Cooking communally with your housemates can be a good way to save money and socialise, as well as an opportunity to try something you wouldn’t give the time of day to otherwise. When I was a fresher my flat had a cooking rota where each one of us would cook one night a week, which endured for a surprisingly long time. Later on, my house developed a tradition of cooking a communal roast on Sunday evenings and watching Attenborough’s Planet Earth – absolutely tops.
Besides the health detriments of subsisting entirely on takeaways and Uber Eats deliveries, the other key risk is running out of money after buying several rounds of shots for complete strangers during freshers’ week. You don’t need to keep a weekly budget, but try not to spend all your student loan in the first month or so. Besides excluding you from any social events that involve paying to go out, you’ll have no way of buying anything vaguely nutritious. Be sensible in what you buy and where you shop: places like Aldi and Lidl are a godsend when you’re heading into your overdraft, and £30 can sort you out for a week’s worth of food.
At its most extreme, burning out of money at the start of term and subsiding on pasta can be damaging to your health. According to my best mate’s dad, when he was at uni at Lancaster in the 80s one of his housemates did just that, exhausting his student finance in the first few weeks and living on 79p bags of penne every day thereafter. By December he was seriously ill and was eventually admitted to hospital with the first recorded case of scurvy in Lancashire for more than 30 years. Don’t do this.
As well as eating with some vague regard to health, it’s a good idea to try and get some sort of regular exercise as well. This could be through joining a sports society, or by investing in a gym membership. Brighton has tons of gyms, many of which offer a student discount, so there’s plenty of choices when it comes to working out. Getting a good amount of exercise can help you sleep better and process stress, which is an aspect of health and wellbeing that often doesn’t receive the same level of attention. If you go through a bad patch, which can happen for any number of reasons – a breakup, a falling-out with a housemate, a particularly harrowing night out where you wake up in a nature reserve with no idea how you got there – going to the gym can be a good way of processing things you’d rather not think about.
Most students end up with a couple of meals that they can reliably cook each week which tick at least some of the nutritional boxes: stuff like chilli or curry that doesn’t really do anything new or exciting but at least fills you up. Something I got into the routine of doing was cooking more than I needed for an evening meal and then saving half in the fridge for the next day. Failing that, there’s always pesto; it’s mundane, but ultimately it means you have more money left over for fruit, veg and beer.
Seriously though, it’s worth giving consideration to your eating habits now, as they often stick with you after you graduate. A friend of mine, who is now 23 and technically an adult, still lives off McDonald’s and takeaways, on the grounds that cooking takes up time he’d rather spend doing something more productive. His body will absolutely not thank him for this in 20 years’ time. Furthermore, he’s missing out on the therapeutic process of food preparation. Cooking for yourself can be anything from an inconvenience to a joy depending on your outlook on food, but it’s good to get into the right habits as soon as possible.