Students: who will cook your meals?

Are you setting off for uni with shiny new pots and pans and Jamie tucked under your arm? Stop. And consider catered accommodation

You’re about to start uni: should you go for catered or self-catered accommodation in your first year?

Huge numbers of students – past, present and future – consider the catered option for a mere millisecond before opting for self-catering. The most obvious reason is, as Rachel McDermott puts it: “You can cook whenever you want to.”

And that’s perfectly true – what you eat and when you eat is your choice.

However, this very freedom of choice may be one of the key reasons why so many self-catered students end up in poor health after their first year.

Chrissie Robson of Northumbria University went self-catering in halls: “I fell into a bad routine of oven pizzas, chips and lots of pasta.” She blames not a lack of facilities but “general first-year laziness”.

Chrissie, Rachel and other students I have spoken to all say that at the beginning they made the effort to cook proper meals. However, as time went on, they were defeated by student sloth. In Rachel’s case, the usual problem of lazy housemates not doing their share of the cleaning led to a maggot infestation and the entire kitchen eventually having to be refitted.

Lots of first years pile on the pounds during their first two semesters. Chrissie and Jack King-Spooner point a finger at fatty kebabs, carb-to-the-max pasta, calorific doughnuts and sausage-rolls. Copious amounts of alcohol and late-night take-aways also get a mention.

But I think first-year weight gain has less to do with the quality of the food eaten and more to do with the irregularity of meal times.

A doctor, dietician or health-savvy website (such as this one) will tell you the key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is to eat at the same time every day.

If you eat at varying intervals, your body doesn’t know when the next meal is coming. So each time it does get a burst of nutrition, it stores it away for safe-keeping – in a handy ring around your belly.

Catered accommodation takes away your freedom to eat exactly when you want, but offers you instead the opportunity to maintain a balanced diet and a healthy weight. Meals are at set times, and a balance of food groups, including nutritious fresh fruit and veg, is generally on offer.

Take a look at what you’ll be served up at Lancaster University over the course of a week, for example.

If the health benefits aren’t enough to entice you, perhaps the financial aspect will. The difference between catered and self-catered at two major UK universities – Newcastle and Edinburgh – is £20 and £30 a week respectively.

Getting your shopping in for less than £30 is doable, but getting it in with the variety and quality offered by catered meals is not. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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