Today’s blog is going to move away from languages onto a topic that I’m particularly passionate about- food! Perhaps one of the biggest, non-academic challenges that comes with starting university is learning how to feed yourself. Unless your parents forced you to learn before departing (yes mum, you were right, thank you) it’s likely that you’ll start university with little to no knowledge of how to cook healthy, budget friendly meals. One of my flatmates spent the past two years subsiding on a diet of rice and mayo. Together. This still fills me with equal parts horror and amusement.
So, in an effort to prevent another student generation of Beckys, I’ve decided to create a two-part blog filled with ideas on how to be a thrifty cook. This post will focus on store-cupboard staples and shopping tips to ease the burden on your student loan. Part two will include a few recipes for simple meals.
1) Dried pasta and rice are the obvious starting points- cheap, versatile and easy to cook, stock up on these staples at the beginning of the year. Don’t be afraid to buy in bulk if they’re on offer as they won’t go off and pasta is your hangover’s new best friend.
2) Tinned tomatoes- your basic tomato sauce is perhaps the easiest thing in the world to cook, with the added bonus of being a lot cheaper and healthier than the pre-made variety. My recipe will be in next week’s blog. Once you master this, the sky is the limit on one-pot dishes.
3) Potatoes- The humble spud. Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew- the choices are endless! For a convenient, no hassle, ultimate comfort food dinner, it has to be a jacket potato.
4) Frozen fruit and veg- Fruit and vegetables can be expensive and often go off quickly. Last year I gave up the battle and turned to the frozen kind. From spinach to berries, fill your freezer and get your five-a-day!
Buying frozen also applies to meat and fish- frozen produce tends to be cheap and works just as well in meals. Alternatively, shop the reduced section and freeze them yourself. This tactic has won me many a bargain, including an entire joint of pork for just £2!
Herbs, spices and seasonings- These items might not be your immediate thought when doing your first shop but they are essential for any wannabe cook. Just as you wouldn’t have chips without salt, you can’t make a sauce without herbs. The best part is that you’ll probably only have to buy them once as a little goes a long way. For the basics, I would suggest salt, pepper and mixed herbs along with fresh garlic and onions. A personal favourite is paprika and, for those of you who like a kick to your meals, buy either fresh chillies or chilli flakes.
A whole chicken- this might sound intimidating to the new cook but, for the meat lovers out there, buying a whole chicken is far more economic than buying individual cuts. My record last year was 16 meals out of a £3 chicken. Once roasted (again, I’ll guide you through this in next week’s post), I portioned it into freezer bags and used it throughout the term in everything from pasta bake to risotto to curry. As I cannot abide food waste, boiling the carcass up to make stock for chicken noodle soup was particularly satisfying.
Other shopping staples include eggs, bread (freeze and defrost in the toaster to prevent it from moulding) condiments (I might not eat it with rice, but I do love mayo), cheap meats (mince, sausages and bacon are all reasonably cheap and make great comfort food- think spag bol), cheese (buy own brand to save some pennies, it’s just as good), milk, butter, tinned beans/soup, a frozen pizza for those nights when you just can’t (we all have cheat days and it’s cheaper than takeaway), beef and chicken stock pots (stock up (pun very much intended) when they’re on offer as they can be expensive but are vital ingredients in many dishes), sandwich fillings (even a £3 meal deal adds up to an extra £15 a week), and a few treats (you deserve it).
General advice- buy a student cookbook, Nosh is very good for basic recipes. Find out when your supermarket reduces its fresh produce for a bargain. Shop own brand- it really doesn’t have to be Heinz. Bulk buy expensive items when they’re on offer. Make your own- ready meals, takeaways and prepacked lunches will always cost more. It’s okay to treat yourself, just budget it in- we all have something we’re snobs about or just crave, for me (and for the safety of everyone around me) it’s good coffee.
If you have any other tips for thrifty cooking, feel free to comment below. Otherwise, keep an eye out for my next post in which I’ll be sharing a few starter recipes to get you through your first weeks at uni!