I love cooking. Picking ingredients, trying out new recipes, sharing my dishes with other people… it’s one of my favourite things to do and it is possible on a tight student budget!
I am a big advocate of learning how to cook at uni. Not only is it a valuable life skill, it’s also more cost-effective than living off ready-meals and takeaways. Here are some tips on how to get started.
1. Make investments
I know what you’re thinking. It’s weird to start off a blog about eating on a budget with telling you to spend money, but stick with me. If you want to establish an efficient, cost-effective cooking routine you need to invest in a few basics.
First, cooking utensils: a good knife, a big pan, a saucepan, an oven dish and a stirring/flipping device of your choice should cover you just fine. Really think about what you need and don’t splurge on things you’ll use once. A lot of things already in your kitchen can be repurposed – I’ve often used empty wine bottles as a rolling pin, for example…
Second, build up a basic spice collection, which yes, is a little pricey, but they last for months and are a true life saver.
Lastly, invest in some sturdy, good-sized food containers.
2. Do a weekly shop
This one involves a bit of willpower, but I promise it works. I budget my food money weekly (spending about £20 on my food shop) and do one big trip every Sunday. I write a list, drag myself to one of the big supermarkets (I recommend Morrisons or Aldi), and somehow manage to carry 5 carrier bags of food back home.
Only allowing yourself one shopping trip a week will prevent you from running to the cornershop 5 times a week only spending ‘change’, which then turns out to be way more than you’d planned to spend. Plus, it’s way easier to plan your meals, which brings me to my next point.
3. Food prep
When I do my shopping, I usually have a rough idea of what my meals will look like that week. After I come back from the supermarket, I write out a meal plan, noting specifically when I will need to prepare a packed lunch for uni.
Now, I don’t go all out with food prep – I don’t cook all my week’s food in advance – but I do make the actual cooking preparation easier for my tired, mid-week self. Essentially, I cut up my vegetables and put them in containers. That’s just one step, but it cuts down the time i have to spend cooking during the week. Plus, if I forgot to pack lunch the night before, I can just grab some already prepared carrot sticks and salad from the fridge and run.
Food prep is also helpful for knowing how much food you actually need in a week and prevents you from wasting groceries.
4. Batch cooking
This is an invaluable time and money saver. I buy a lot of groceries in bulk – mostly to take advantage of offers and coupons. Then, I go home and cook. And cook. And cook. There are a lot of dishes perfect for bulk cooking: chilli, pasta sauces, pies, lasagnas and casseroles. Basically, cook a ton of food, measure out portions into tubs, freeze them, and thank me later.
5. Start a recipe journal
There are tons of recipe websites and books specifically targeted at students and people with tight budgets: start collecting, tweaking and adding your own. If you’ve never had to cook for yourself, don’t worry – most of your friends won’t have a clue what they’re doing either. Why not get together with your flatmates and try out a new recipe? Split the cost and have fun.
6. Choose a catered room
If you don’t want to commit to cooking full-time, maybe go for a catered room option. It’s included in the room price and very good value for money. You get breakfast and dinner from Monday to Friday, and there are multiple, rotating options each day. I was catered in first year and I can’t tell you how amazing it is to drag yourself out of bed, walk 100 metres in your pyjamas and get served a full fry-up without having to lift a finger. Plus, you still get the option of cooking for yourself on weekends.