No, tomato sauce is not a vegetable

Fresh fare is much cheaper than fast food. So why are students still living on beans, chips and lager?
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Indy Lifestyle Online

It's not easy leaving home. For freshers new to college there's the thrill of freedom, with the prospect of having to manage all the budgeting, shopping and cooking that most parents took care of. And as if getting to grips with the household chores wasn't enough, there's all the academic work they're supposed to do to justify getting away from home in the first place. No wonder students are notorious for living off take-aways.

It's not easy leaving home. For freshers new to college there's the thrill of freedom, with the prospect of having to manage all the budgeting, shopping and cooking that most parents took care of. And as if getting to grips with the household chores wasn't enough, there's all the academic work they're supposed to do to justify getting away from home in the first place. No wonder students are notorious for living off take-aways.

Nothing marks out a first year more than the malnourished pallor of an 18-year-old who hasn't mastered the basics of feeding themselves. In this year's guide for students in Leeds, not eating properly counts as cliché number 4 in its list of common pitfalls. Even peers won't respect those who can no more wield a wooden spoon than handle six pints of discount lager.

So do students simply have to remember beans on toast, tuna bake and banana sandwiches? Add the odd apple, and is that about as healthy as it gets? Is it possible, as one second year convinced his mother, to get almost all the nutrients you need from beans on wholemeal toast and oranges?

Huh, that's his story! He's more likely living on chips, pizza and lager. And anyway, a dietician will tell you this diet contains too little vitamin B12 (result: anaemia) and fat, and too many calories, protein and sodium (risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and stroke).

Whatever students admit to, fast food on every street corner and 24-hour vending in many universities and colleges make it all too easy to succumb to non-stop junk eating. But this is the stuff of sludgy brains and eaten every day will wrap itself round the heart faster than any boy or girl of amorous intent. It will also gobble up a grant faster than you can say "pint of lager and a packet of crisps, please".

Rachel Cashman, the National Union of Students' vice-president for welfare, is worried that students are not eating well. "University is a very stressful time for new students who look for quick-fix solutions to their diets," she says. "But cheap, simple and nutritious food is incredibly important for mental well-being and overall personal development. Students are not textbooks on legs."

Most universities and colleges provide pastoral care to varying degrees, but it's a rare educational establishment that offers advice on food and diet. It's even more unlikely to find students seeking such solace when there's a take-away next door.

Louise Proudlove, education and welfare officer at the LSE Students' Union says food and diet is an issue of student hardship. There is no financial guidance for new students who have to juggle funds between food and play.

"We need pro-active health campaigns, proper health and welfare advice," Proudlove says.

Student survival guide

IT COSTS far more to live off fast, take-away, or processed foods. And a diet of fast food gives you chemical peaks and troughs, which can send you all over the place emotionally and mentally. Fresh foods are cheaper, especially from street markets. Eat breakfast - it'll stop you feeling famished and tempted to spend on snacks mid-morning.

Equip yourself with: three knives - bread (serrated), a little one for peeling and a large one for chopping and slicing; two chopping boards; three pans - big for pasta, middle-sized for everything else and a frying pan large enough for Sunday's fry-up for 10; a roasting tin and a couple of oven-proof dishes; a measuring jug; lots of wooden spoons; a colander; a hand-held electric blender or wand; a good basic cookery book - Nigel Slater's Real Food, Pru Irvine & Mary Contini's Easy Peasy or Diane Seed's The Top 100 Pasta Sauces.

Once you've got all that stuff, you'll need a basic store cupboard: tins of tomatoes, red kidney beans, peas and chick-peas, salt and pepper, curry powder, Worcestershire sauce and tomato ketchup, plain flour, bag of sultanas, tins of tuna or sardines, rice and pasta, drinking chocolate, oil and wine vinegar, lots of different cereals. You won't starve with that lot. Add in some fresh food and you can pretty much cook anything. As long as you've always got bread, a potato, milk and an onion, you can make soups, pasta and rice dishes, bean salads and... your own bean bake.

Recipe

Scrumptious beans, from Pru Irvine's Easy Peasy All the Time, published by Ebury Press in February 2001.

This dish will keep in the fridge for about four days and has everything you need for several really healthy, cheap and filling meals.

You'll need: a red pepper, an onion and a large clove of garlic, three-four tablespoons of olive oil, a big handful of mushrooms, a tin of red kidney beans and a tin of tomatoes, sultanas, a teaspoon of milk curry powder or paste, about two tablespoons of mango chutney and a good pinch of salt and plenty of black pepper.

Wash the pepper in cold running water. Cut off its stalk and scrape out seeds and any white, pithy bits. Slice into small chunks.

Peel the garlic and onion and chop it into little chunks.

Heat the oil in the saucepan on a medium heat. Drop in a tiny piece of onion and when it sizzles add the rest of the onion, garlic and pepper.

Stir it around with the wooden spoon and let it cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to stop the vegetables sticking to the bottom of the saucepan.

Prepare the mushrooms by cutting a thin slice off their bottoms and wiping them with damp kitchen paper. Then chop them any old how.

Rinse the kidney beans under cold water. Give them a shake.

Now add the beans, the mushrooms and everything else. Give it all a good stir and when it starts to look very hot, turn the heat right down. Put on the lid and let it cook very slowly for about one hour, stirring occasionally.

Serve scrumptious beans with crusty bread and a crisp salad.

If you hate kidney beans use butter beans or cannellini beans. Add sliced sausage or chorizo if you like. The dish is just as delicious hot or cold and seems to taste better the next day.

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