We’ve all been in the situation where you’re staring down the same leftover pizza you’ve been eating for the past three meals.
Cooking as a student can be daunting and the temptation to just subsist on pot noodle and Domino’s is strong. However, cooking on a student budget is possible; it’s way better for you than instant noodles and takeaway and way better for your wallet.
All students come to university differently equipped for life. Some people are already confident and competent chefs, and some people can’t even boil an egg. Here are some tips that should work for everyone; from those who can make a meal, to those who can just about boil a kettle.
HAVE THE UTENSILS
Seems pretty simple right? You probably came to uni with a few pans and plates and maybe a tea towel that likely disappeared in your halls kitchen; I know I did. It happens to everyone, you lend a fork to so and so and then someone burns your frying pan and your tea towel becomes manky because it gets left in the sink. Get yourself to Ikea or anywhere else you can get cheap kitchenware and makes sure you have, at minimum:
- A frying pan (non-stick is fine but remember you can’t use metal on it)
- A saucepan with a lid
- A decent sharp knife. Don’t be afraid of big knives, they’re actually much safer if you’re less confident in the kitchen than the small stabby kind.
- A chopping board
- Wooden spoon, spatula and tongs. These all do different things and you can’t just use one of them for everything
- A colander
- Can opener
- Oven roasting tray
- Plate, bowl, knife, fork and spoon. Maybe two of each in case you lose, drop or your housemates use them.
You might have some other things like a potato masher, garlic press or a toastie maker depending on what you use or what you like to cook, but these are the bare essentials.
KNOW HOW TO COOK THE BASICS
Pasta, rice and potatoes are going to be your best friends. These carbs are easily cooked, quick and really filling. Learn how to cook these and you’ll never be far from a tasty and filling meal. For instance, potatoes are super versatile. Baked potato is super simple: just rub a potato with oil, salt and pepper and bake for an hour at about 200C and you can top it with anything; butter and cheese, baked beans, a dollop of sour cream or a helping of tuna mayo. Mashed potato can be a meal in and of itself if you add some protein. Stir some bacon in or add in a few sausages on the side.
Rice can be cooked in under 15 minutes in salted boiling water and served with curry, stir fry or even just cooled and fried with an egg. Mix with with veg and salad dressing for a rice salad you can take to uni on a long day of lectures. However, pasta is undoubtedly the king of student foods. If you’ve had a long day, pasta and some jarred sauce with mince (meat or veggie), onion and garlic can be the best meal you’ve ever had. Carbonara, that fancy seeming Italian restaurant staple is actually super easy and only needs eggs, garlic, cheese and bacon (or mushroom for veggies) to jazz up a pasta dish into something you could serve to a date. It’s definitely worth mastering a bolognese sauce recipe as a student, since you can make a massive batch to freeze for yourself, or share with your housemates if you’re feeling generous.
KNOW WHAT YOU’RE COOKING AND SHOP WELL
You can look up recipes for anything online, and a lot of things are freezer friendly which means you can defrost and eat them later with way less hassle than cooking from scratch. This is definitely the way to go with student cooking as well as planning your meals in advance so you don’t end up with nothing but noodles in the house. But you can’t eat well if you don’t shop well- and that means actually going to a big supermarket (like Lidl, Aldi and Asda) to do a weekly shop and not buying all your ingredients at the Co-op down the road because it’s convenient. That convenience is costing you a lot more than you think, and the selection of food there is a bigger shop can’t be beat. You can also pick up deals such as bulk buying your essentials like pasta and rice, or heading to the World Foods section to pick up spices and things like soy sauce for way less than their counterparts in the regular sections.
KNOW YOUR OWN SKILL LEVEL
There’s nothing worse than spending money on ingredients to cook a new recipe which you end up completely messing up, and having to throw it all out while looking miserably through JustEat. Trying to improve your skill level at cooking is great, but you need to pace yourself. For instance, if you can’t so much as fry an egg you probably shouldn’t be attempting intricate meals. Write down a list of things you definitely can do in the kitchen. This can be as simple as making an omelette or dicing onions. Find recipes where you feel confident carrying out every step. If you really can’t do anything, try teaching yourself basic skills like frying, dicing and boiling, and look for recipes that involve very little involvement on your part, such as roasted vegetables or tray bakes that can be done entirely in the oven with minimal involvement, therefore minimising chances of you messing it up.