Hungry? In this article, you'll find all you need to know to get started with cooking at uni. If it's specific recipes you're after, you'll find those in the TSR Recipe Book. And to discuss anything from making meringues through to your favourite Pot Noodle flavour, head to the Food & Drink forum. Oh, and for the tipplers among you, we also have an alcohol guide for freshers
A complete list of suggestions to take to university is available from TSR's What To Take To University guide.
Here are some essentials that most people need at some point.
- Small frying pan
- Wok or large frying pan (with lid)
- Saucepans (small, medium and large, all with lids)
- Small casserole dish
- Baking trays
- Mixing bowl
- Chopping board
- Wooden spoons
- Slotted spoon
- Tin opener
- Bottle opener
- Vegetable peeler
- Cheese grater
- Potato masher
- Egg whisk
- Lemon squeezer
- Microwavable bowl
- Measuring jug
- Tupperware (plastic) tubs for storing left overs.
- These will be indispensable because they let you cook larger meals and store some for another day. Write your name on the lids and the tubs to prevent them going missing or getting mixed up in the fridge.
Getting hold of cheap kitchen equipment
Start by asking your mum if she has any stuff she doesn't want anymore. This could work two ways:
- She gives you decent stuff she already has.
- She will buy you stuff she already has but thinks is "too good" to give to you.
Next, join your local Freecycle group and ask. Many people have stuff in their kitchens that they never use, but could be useful to you.
It's useful to keep certain items handy at all times, because they're used in many different types of recipes. With these basic ingredients, you can pretty much knock something up any time you are hungry.
- Oil (vegetable, olive, sunflower etc)
- Herbs & spices: garlic, basil, parsley, oregano, chilli, paprika, cumin, coriander, turmeric etc. Get more if you cook more. Dried is fine. Pesto is handy.
- Salt and pepper
- Flour (plain and bread flour)
- Pasta (spaghetti is by far the cheapest type of pasta)
- Rice (the bigger the bag, the cheaper)
- Tins of beans, tomatoes, more beans, spaghettios
- Cheese of some variety
- UHT milk. Yes, it is URGH to some, but when you wake up with sandpaper throat from last night's beer fest and you have no fresh milk in the fridge, you will be grateful for that handy carton of UHT milk in the cupboard for your soothing tea.
For other Recipes, visit the TSR Recipe Book.
Places to buy food
The Tesco Value range is a godsend to students everywhere although it is a bit of a gamble when it comes to satisfying taste buds. Tesco.com will deliver a good few miles away for between 3 and 6 quid depending on the time. Do a big shop at the beginning of term (or before parties when you really CAN'T carry that much beer!)
Slightly more pricey than Tesco, but also in many cases slightly better quality, Sainsbury's isn't the ideal student supermarket. Unfortunately for some of us it's the only option. In Sainsbury's, buying in bulk really does make a difference. Unlike Tesco, that seems to be standardising prices, Sainsbury's really does take the economy line where buying three times as much loo roll means you only pay twice the price! The Sainsbury's Basics range is quite good value and has the advantage over Tesco Value and ASDA Smartprice in that it actually tells you why it's in the Basics range. The reasons are usually minor and the food is good quality.
Aldi & Lidl
Aldi and Lidl is a must for at least basics as well as cheap meat.
Like Tesco, Asda also has its own low price range 'Smartprice'. Sadly, where Tesco Value really is cheap-but-ok, Smartprice falls down occasionally. You might be best off steering clear of Smartprice vegetables unless you're planning on using them THAT day! Try to save your money by buying Smartprice things that are going to be casseroled/cooked with sauce/boiled to a pulp in true student style and buy normal Asda's-own for things that need to be kept, or are going to be cooked as they are.
Worthy of note is the Asda range of stir-fry sauces which are ridiculously cheap, but also ridiculously good at turning slightly wilty salad into tasty stir-fry!
The cheap end of Morrisons' range goes under the name "M Savers" (Most packaging is white with a coloured illustration of the product) and its expensive ranges go under the name of "The Best" (packaging is black and silver).
Morrisons home section does retail very cheap crockery, pans and the like - ideal for those needing stuff for uni accommodation.
Iceland sells a lot of frozen takeaway-style meals, perfect for keeping in the freezer for your "I can't be bothered cooking" moods. They also offer a free home delivery service (when you spend over £25) so you don't have to try to carry all your bags back home.
Markets and independent shops
Farmers markets and various independent shops are worth a try for the purchase of cheap products such as fruit and veg, herbs and spices. Butchers and fishmongers can also undercut the supermarkets. Even better if you can bargain a bit.
Costco great for buying all the stuff like electronics, clothes, tobacco, booze, meat, fish, fresh produce, bakery, confectionary, tyres, snacks, furniture as well as optical and pharmaceutical needs.
Costco is good value for money
Waitrose is considered a upper class supermarket but the misconceptions were a thing of the past as Waitrose has launched new ranges aimed as those with less money aka us uni students. In general in comparison to 10 years ago, Waitrose is dramatically cheaper throughout.
Money saving tips
- Go to supermarkets in the last half hour before closing time because that is when a lot of the items will be sold at reduced prices.
- Supermarkets are clever and will try to make you buy more than you would normally. For example, I buy a litre of juice every two days, and that does me fine. However, if I buy two litres, then I will drink it more quickly and end up buying two litres every three days. Don't let the offers increase your consumption.
- There's a big difference between "1/3rd off" and "3 for 2". Ask yourself:
- "Do I actually want two more of these?"
- "If I didn't buy two more, would I miss them?"
- "Am I just being made to spend more here?"
- Use the calculator on your phone to find out whether special offers are actually worth it, or whether another brand/size will be cheaper.
- Always look at the unit price.
- That is, the total price divided by the weight (or volume).
- So for example, if 250g (0.25kg) of cheese costs £1.50 then the unit price = £1.50 / 0.25 = £6/kg (which is cheap, for cheese).
- Supermarkets often do this for you - the unit price may be printed on the shelf ticket next to the total price.
- Use your phone's calculator to work it out if you have to.
- You'll also find that you can save a lot by buying larger quantities. However, make sure you have space to store it, and that it won't go off before you have a chance to use it.
- Don't go shopping when you are hungry - you will buy way too much, and you'll buy extra milkshakes, chocolate bars to keep you going.
- Buy bread and freeze half the loaf, unless you're planning to eat the entire loaf in 2 days.
- Make large batches of food such as spag bol sauce and freeze it (in single portions) to defrost later when starving.
- Share food with your flatmates. Take it in turns to cook for each other. You will save money by buying/cooking more at once, plus you'll get to try more different food.
Making good food last: tips to eat tasty food cheaply
Maybe you want to have a change away from your Tesco Value meals or the usual boring meal? Maybe you want to splash out every Friday/Saturday night on something you'll really enjoy?
Assuming you don't have a large appetite and your local takeaway isn't too stingey with its servings, takeaway dinners for one can usually be spread out over 2 meals. You may have it for dinner tonight and save the rest for dinner tomorrow night, or even lunch tomorrow (or breakfast if you wish). This seems to work best with Chinese and Indian food which can often taste better when kept in the fridge for a day/night and then microwaved. However make sure you store left overs well - especially rice.
Mexican dinner kits
These dinner kits, like the Old El Paso or Discovery ones, can be spread over two days (and possibly even three) with a bit of cunning planning. Burrito, Fajita, Enchilida and Nacho dinner kits will set you back around £3 and come with all you need for the base of your meal. You just need to add the meat, vegetables and/or cheese, depending on your taste. If you're feeling flush, you can splash out on refried beans (or make your own), jalapeno peppers and various other additions.
If you like the dinner kits or Mexican food in general, it can be cheaper to buy the wraps and sauce powder separately, rather than buying a dinner kit. Asda fajita seasoning mix lasts ages - you only need to use half the packet or less when making one meal. However, the dinner kits are often included in half-price deals.