Going to university guide Student food and cooking
Student cooking doesn’t have to mean a nightly choice between beans or spaghetti hoops on toast.
If you can write an essay or negotiate the student loans process, you can follow a recipe. Having an interesting and varied diet is then just about remembering to plan ahead.
If starting university means cooking for yourself for the first time, a little preparation can work wonders.
Getting ready to cook for yourself
- If a parent usually cooks for you, ask them to show you how to prepare your favourite meals.
- Buy or borrow a basic recipe book aimed at students or inexperienced cooks, such as Silvano Franco’s The New Students' Cook Book or Delia Smith’s How to Cook Book One.
- Visit sites such as Beyond Baked Beans and BBC Food for free recipe ideas.
- Think about what you tend to eat and plan in advance how much you should budget for food each week.
- Ensure you have the necessary pots, pans and kitchen utensils to prepare your favourite meals.
Eating healthily on a budget
It’s all too easy to get into bad eating habits as you get used to combining a hectic student lifestyle with cooking for yourself on a student budget. But eating healthily doesn’t have to be an expensive chore if you stick to a few healthy ground rules.
You should aim to get about a third of your daily nutrient requirements at each meal. As a guide, the Food Standards Agency says a healthy meal should contain a mix of foods from the Eatwell plate. This shows how much of what you eat should come from each food group, and covers everything you eat during the day, including snacks.
Use these guidelines to help you create healthy meals:
- Around a third of the meal should be made up of fruit and vegetables.
- Another third should be starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta - choose wholegrain varieties whenever you can.
- Some milk and dairy foods should be included, and should make up about 15% of the meal.
- Some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein are part of a balanced meal. These should make up around 12% of a meal.
- Foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar should be an occasional treat.
Food shopping on a budget
- Try to do a single big food shop each week. This will prevent you spending extra money in convenience stores and take always.
- Prevent impulse purchases in the supermarket by making a shopping list and sticking to it.
- Use discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Lidl for cheap essentials where you can.
- Consider buying supermarket own-brand products where they are cheaper than branded goods.
- Keep an eye on use by dates to avoid wasting food. Make sure use by dates for at least some meals last until the end of the week.
- Keep a stock of frozen meals and ingredients in the freezer for those moments when the cupboard is unexpectedly bare.
- If you have a choice of local supermarkets, use the comparison site My Supermarket to compare prices of items on your shopping list.
- Don’t automatically buy food for seven days’ worth of breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Look at the week ahead and consider how much time you’ll be spending at home.
- Buy packed lunch ingredients for cheaper meals on the go.
Staple items to keep in the cupboard
No matter how well you plan in advance there’ll always be times when you run out of appetizing options. Try to keep stocked up on the following long-lasting ingredients that can be used to rustle up quick and tasty meals and drinks.
- dried pasta
- tinned tomatoes
- baked beans/spaghetti hoops
- canned tuna
- tinned peas/sweet corn
- tinned fruit
- long life milk
- cooking oil
- mixed herbs, spices and seasonings
Fridge and freezer staples
- frozen mixed veg
- frozen chicken breasts
- frozen loaf of bread/pitta bread
- frozen pizza
- Struggling to budget for food? Read our tips for saving money on food
- Special occasion? Take a look a our guide to eating out on the cheap
- To make sure you are getting the financial support you need, read our guide to loans and grants