With budgets often very tight when it comes to student living, Niamh O’Regan talks to Caitríona Redmond about shopping and cooking on a budget.
The life of a student is (often) a frugal one, fraught with questions of; what’s for dinner? Do I have even have food for dinner? Students, especially those living away from home are working off a budget which they must not only party on, but also feed themselves properly. Enter Caitríona Redmond, founder of the blog Wholesome Ireland and the author of the cookbook Wholesome. Talking to her is like talking to your own mother, or an enthused relative who hasn’t seen you in years; energetic, welcoming and happy to talk about anything, especially food. Her focus is on cooking quality wholesome food, but on a budget. Simple ingredients you have in cupboards already or that are widely and cheaply available, and using them to make delicious food without damaging the bank balance.
For those who do the shopping, Redmond finds that the greatest saving is not to be had in the major discount supermarkets, but in the Asian and Polish ones. She recommends that those working on a budget, of which almost all students are, to bring a large bag and some extra cash next time they go into the city centre and stock up on large bags of rice and fresh fruit and vegetables and other store cupboard staples from Asian supermarkets. Also get dried ingredients like beans or other pulses as well as pasta from Polish supermarkets, where you can often find other things which are not sold in mainstream supermarkets like set yogurt cheeses.
In terms of saving money in the larger supermarkets, own brand is the way to go. “The only branded thing I’d buy now is tea”, and while she finds that Ireland doesn’t quite compare to the huge range of own brand products available in supermarkets in the UK, we do have some and what is here is mostly very good and of high quality.
Fresh fruit and vegetables when in season, are cheaper everywhere so if you are set on buying Irish produce, in the current season, cabbages and turnip are generally lower in price. However, due to costs of food, buying Irish is not always an option, but keeping up vitamins is. As well as the Asian Supermarkets, LIDL and ALDI are great options for maintaining your five a day, with weekly offers on selected items.
Arguably however, the cheapest way of getting high quality, in season, fruit and vegetables is to grow your own. “I think it’s a fantastic idea”, even for students. If a group of students got together, with the idea of growing their own produce, it’s relatively inexpensive in terms of renting an allotment and seeds are “quite cheap” and you don’t need to grow loads, and what you do grow doesn’t have to be high maintenance. There is also a growing trend towards “Guerrilla Gardening”, whereby one utilises public spaces to grow things, or instead of planting flowers in your flower beds, you plant seeds or runners, in such a way that you can still have a beautiful garden but decorated with lettuces and peapods, instead of roses and daffodils.
A final tip for saving on the shopping is simply, to not to do so much of it; Redmond “loves cooking with leftovers” and that’s not to say she enjoys reheating things in the microwave “one of the more recent blog posts there is a chicken pie, but basically it’s about using up the leftovers from a chicken”. While not all students will have leftovers, as often they are cooking for one, when they are there it is important for your pocket that they don’t go to waste.
Caitríona’s blog can be found at www.wholesomeireland.com. Her book Wholesome, published by Mercier Press, retails in all good bookshops nationwide and is also available for online.