Success on a Silver Platter?

Food is often the last thing on our minds during exam time.

A health warning before we begin: if you’re a fresher, this will probably just make you laugh. As if you’ve even thought about revision in the holidays. Count yourself lucky that you can enjoy this sunshine and that you don’t have to consider how to feed yourself through those three weeks of hell. You too, damn final year livers-in.

I know the last thing many want to think about is the impending hours that will soon force us, ready and willing or not, to sit glued to desks. However, a little bit of organisation won’t hurt anyone. Welcome these words of culinary wisdom, for I shall now impart on you my oh-so-excellent advice on how to succeed. How to excel. How to get that 40% pass. A casual disclaimer: this has not been proven effective in all situations. What is well accepted, however, is that it is important to eat well when all seems dark and despondent in the depths of the library.

Escape the world where the most important numbers are those percentages dictating your future. I urge you to trade these books for something a little more light-hearted and tummy-filling. Instead, consider how to you’re going to sustain your energy and make the most of the 24/7 library opening hours throughout the exam period. There is a lot of truth in the notion that relaxing can get you through a stressful slog, and cooking is both a great way to take a break from your work and ensure you have enough energy throughout. This way, when you emerge triumphant, you can do so knowing that you’ve exercised your mind in the best way possible, and with classy glass of champers in hand. Or cheap dark rum and mixer. Or just a modest flute of Schloer. Whatever floats your post-exam boat.

On a more serious note, there are three things to remember during exam time (on top of the knowledge you need for your degree):

  • Time is of the essence;
  • A clear mind is a full mind; and
  • A break is essential

Bearing these things in mind, you can throw together a quick, healthy and hopefully stress-relieving meal in bulk that should last you at least the week. Here are the foodie tips for surviving the breakdown period.

So you’ve done close to nothing all Easter, and in the coming weeks you’re planning to hit the library as early as possible to snag a seat, then to hog said place with a stack of library books that bear no relevance whatsoever to your degree. Whether you’re planning to go 9–5 then return home for tea or camp there overnight, a quick, energy-boosting and filling meal is what you’re going to want after exerting your brainpower to the max deciphering words (or numbers, or pictures. What do I know, I’m just a law student – I’ll be deciphering the lengthy transcripts of old men in wigs).

Top tip for right now is to start the week by taking time to cook a huge freezable batch of something. This way, you can set aside portions for the coming days. When you get home from being out all day, or even if you’re not the library kind and just think it’s time for a mental break at home, it’ll all be ready for you to heat up and devour within minutes.

Now, I know that magazines and student cookbooks aplenty always recommend this. We all start off planning to do it, and then get lazier and lazier, and unhealthier and unhealthier. Soon, instead of books piling up in front of us, we get pizza boxes and empty ready meal trays. But for your health, your soundness of mind and your stress levels, reconsider before you fall into this trap. There are many benefits to cooking in batch at the beginning of the week, especially during the exam time. Hear me out, and you might actually start to find the exam period something you can actually tolerate if you know there is food waiting for you at the end of the day.

It gives you a good excuse for a break

Procrastination. Don’t we all love it? Why do you think I agreed to write a short essay about how to eat yourself through the exam period when my dissertation was due? In order to justify procrastination, combine necessity with a break. Go into town and grab some fruit, veg, carbs and protein then whip up a storm. Firstly, you’ll welcome the break and fresh air in the wonderful spring weather. Secondly, you can guarantee that you’re setting yourself up for a well-planned week, and by taking this time out now you’re saving time later. Although it may not seem like it, constant travelling to the shops will eat up your precious revision time quicker than a stressed student in the library eats up the contents of the café’s vending machines.

Bulk is best

Bulk cooking, as I implied earlier, is definitely the way forward in this stressful time. Frozen leftovers are heaven-sent, and certain meals lend themselves to batch cooking. Think chunky pasta sauces, fried noodles, curries, chilli con carne, stews. All these one-pot meals can be done in large amounts and kept for the long run. If you, like me, shy away from bulk cooking to avoid having to eat the same thing day after day (undoubtedly adding to the monotony of your home-library-home regime overtaking your life), what you can do is start early while you still haven’t yet got The Fear. Instead, can get The Kitchen Skill, and for two or three days, cook a few batches of food, then you have your very own buffet of ready meals to choose from for the weeks ahead. Make sure to separate meals into portions when you freeze them though, so you don’t defrost a huge batch then have to eat it all in the days ahead because we all know to NEVER refreeze anything you’ve defrosted – right?!

Good food means more revision

As well as making sure you’re actually eating, eating good food will help massively to boost your mental capacity. Firstly, it’s not a good idea to skip meals, nor is it a good idea to binge on a certain kind of food. In 2003, this article noted that sales of “brain foods” were on the rise in university towns such as Durham. This mainly meant fish, laden with omega-3, which improves your mood. Although eating fish won’t technically make you smarter, better mood translates to better concentration levels, and we all know this is paramount in the world of Facebook/YouTube procrastination. For the veggies out there, fish can be substituted for lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans and soybeans.

Other concentration boosters include carbohydrates – rice, pasta, bread. My favourite lecturer last year was asked what we should eat before our exam. She claimed it was the strangest piece of exam revision advice she had ever doled out, replying, “a big bowl of pasta” – not realising that we had to sit the paper at 9:30 the next morning. So, maybe this is not always the best pre-exam meal. For breakfast, consider wholemeal bran cereals or porridge, something substantial and healthy so that you can stay alert.

Try to have coffee and tea in moderation. If I actually recommended avoiding tea completely I could face some extremely unpleasant backlash from pretty much everyone out there, but coffee is certainly not recommended for bingeing. Neither is ProPlus, which I know is sitting tucked away in many drawers ready for the night of May 16 and beyond. The main tip is to eat balanced, eat well, or more generally, EAT! There is to be no starving tolerated.

I apologise to everyone not in charge of their meals in term time for the unfortunate irrelevance of this article. Wait. Actually, I don’t. You all get to bask in the glory of college serving your success on a silver platter. Although I’m sure a few would argue that success is not all they’ll be serving, and it doesn’t always look good…

Good luck everyone! See you on the other side.

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