October 24, 2016

University is probably one of the first times that you’ll have to cook and shop for yourself on a full time basis. Having to juggle all of your own cooking, cleaning, washing up and food shopping, as well as studying and balancing a social life can be pretty daunting. It’s so easy to forget that some ‘chores’ like cooking can actually be fun, sociable and inexpensive!

Here are a few of my top tips for becoming a better cook at Uni:

1. It’s so easy to be lazy, but try not to make it a habit:

We all have those long days, where there is nothing worse than the thought of having to go home and work out what to have for dinner and then cook it. It’s easy to fall into the habit of eating very beige meals, the ones with absolutely nothing healthy or fresh on the plate, that most likely came out of a freezer packet. That’s fine every now and then, but eating ‘beige food’ all the time really quickly catches up with you and, if you’re anything like me, makes you sluggish and much more prone to coming down with something.

2. Plan ahead:

It’s fun being an adult and suddenly having complete control over what you eat and when, but it’s also about being realistic and setting a budget and a list to go into the shop with. Planning meals for the week will save you a lot of money and will mean you probably end up throwing a lot less food away. Make sure you treat yourself to some things too, but if you stick to your list it will definitely help you not have a nasty shock at the till!

3. Try something new:

Experimenting with food keeps it interesting. Everyone has signature meals which they like cooking and make often, but try to keep things fresh by trying new things. Good places for ideas on what to cook include:

  • @onepoundmeals on Instagram. This guy shows you how to create amazing meals for one, all for less than £1. If you’re struggling with your budget this is definitely the place to start!
  • Pinterest – I get loads of my recipes on Pinterest. I find Pinterest especially useful when there’s an ingredient that is about to go out of date but I don’t know what to use it in.
  • Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals – I love this show and the cook book. Even though not everything is realistic in terms of what a student can afford, recipes are there to be adapted! Get creative and give a recipe a try with your own twist!
  • Cookbooks – if you go into any charity shop there will always be a whole shelf of cook books. You don’t need to buy them all, but take the time to look at the recipes, and if there’s a book that you like – buy it! Paying a couple of pounds for lots of inspiration is never a bad thing.

4. Learn what your ‘Deal Breakers’ are:

Deal breakers are the things that you cannot eat without. For me, it’s Heinz Ketchup, Lurpak Spreadable butter and Walkers crisps. These are the things I refuse to skimp on – my deal breakers. Everyone has different deal breakers, but don’t feel guilty about spending extra on the things that are yours! Through trial and error I have discovered I don’t need ‘name brands’ for things like yoghurt, cereal, jam, chocolate, bread… the list goes on. Spending more where you need to completely balances out when you look at all the savings you made when switching to a supermarket own brand for the things you don’t care so much about.

Bargain hunt when you can;

Lidl and Aldi are amazing places to try and do your weekly shop, as they have great quality food for incredibly reasonable prices. But if you can’t get to a Lidl and Aldi, it’s good to work out when the best times to shop are. The big Supermarket brands always have great end of day offers on in the evening when things are reaching their sell-by-date, so go in and buy what’s on offer – even if you put it in the freezer until you know what you want to cook it with!

5. Invest in some staple ingredients:

Initially, investing in things like a variety of spices sucks – it means your shopping bill is awful when you get to the till! However, long term, having the stuff that means you can put a little bit of extra love into your food is so worth it.

It takes seconds to sprinkle some spices or some olive oil onto whatever you’re cooking, but it can make all the difference in the world to your meal.  The things I have found to be great staple items to have in the cupboard are:

  • Spices – For me these include Paprika, Garlic Salt, Rosemary, Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Thyme, Bay Leaves and Cumin. You can buy all of these for less than £1 each at Tesco.
  • Oil – Having different oils to cook with is important. Vegetable oil has a higher cooking temperature, so it’s great for frying things, but olive oil is better for you and tastes nicer. You can also sometimes get flavoured olive oils in places like Lidl on offer – which are delicious.
  • Baking Ingredients – Having plain and self-raising flour as well as caster sugar and baking powder to hand, is never a bad thing. When the mood strikes you to have pancakes, you’re sorted – and if you have bananas that are pretty much past the point of being edible, you can make banana bread without having to go to the shops.
  • Tinned Food – Perfect for the days where you just can’t be bothered. There’s nothing left in the fridge, and you could really do without having to going to the shops. Some tinned soup tucked away at the back of a cupboard will come in handy at some point, I promise you that!

6. Finally, remember to have fun!

One of the best things about cooking for yourself is that there is no pressure. You can experiment, fail fantastically and burn your dinner to charcoal, but it doesn’t matter. It’s just you and you can eat that can of soup at the back of your cupboard if it all goes horribly wrong.

Having fun with food at university is the best time to do it – if you can fall in love with cooking and trying new things at such an early stage in your life you will never regret it. Your friends, family and housemates will always thank you for taking that extra second to put some love into your food!