Students spill the beans on how they plan to eat well at uni - From the BBC website
Great article for all of those who are at uni for the first time and want some helpful guidance on how to keep yourselves well fed with wellbeing in mind.
There’s a lot to think about before heading off to university for the first time – how to manage your money, make friends and decide what to take with you. And that’s before you’ve even considered what you’re going to cook. No parents to stock the fridge, suddenly (unless you’re in catered halls), you have to decide what to make for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We spoke to students (old and new) to armour freshers for the year ahead.
Plan food for the week Poppy Stewart-Jackson, who studies at UCL, recommends planning “food for the week, or at least having a rough idea, so you know what to buy, reducing waste and cost”. With essay deadlines, socials to attend, and finding your way around a new city, having the brain space to plan what to eat for can seem impossible. But 20 minutes of prep can save you so much time and money. Look through our really easy student meals for a week’s worth of ideas to get you started.
Cook a big panful to last a few days Making a big batch of something (as long as you have freezer space or don’t mind eating the same thing for two or three days) is a great way to have a hearty meal night after night without spending too much money or time. “I would like to create meals that stretch over a few days, but with a different take each day”, says Holly, who’s off to University of Arts London later this month. “A simple veggie chilli made with a mix of fresh and tinned ingredients, one night with a baked potato, then rice, then with nachos loaded with homemade guacamole, salsa and cheese.” Frank, who’s starting at City University of London, got into meal prep to supplement his gym going. He says fitness “YouTubers often give tips about how to save money yet keep a good protein-filled diet”. As a result, he plans to bulk-buy staples like pasta, rice and noodles and batch-cook on rotation. For example, “I’m going to cook chicken, rice and broccoli on a cycle… keeping items in the fridge for when I need them.” Ruby Craig, who’s going into her third year at Edinburgh University, recommends making soup on a Sunday to see you through the week, something she does regularly with her housemates. “Soup is the best lunch and so useful to have pre-cooked... spending as little on food whilst making the most out of it is the only way through uni.” Bea, who is starting a Foundation year, likes to make soup by frying chopped onion, celery, garlic and chilli in a bit of oil, then adding a tin of tomatoes and another of water, and a handful of red lentils, and simmering for 30 minutes.
Cook together “I really recommend cooking together from week one – it steers you from any takeaway temptation and brings you closer as a flat”, says Oscar Dilley, a second year student at the University of Bristol. Starting with fajitas, Oscar and his flat progressed onto tagines, homemade pizzas and Christmas dinner. Poppy agrees, “you can show off your skills (or quickly acquire them), and it’s a good way to learn about your flatmates”. Once you’ve found your confidence, you can try hosting dinners for fun nights in (you can find plenty of examples of student Come Dine With Me on TikTok ), like Ruby. “Every week we’d rotate who cooked on Thursday, a random country had to be generated and you had to pick the national dish. It was fun, we ended up cooking food from places like Turkmenistan and Djibouti, and it broke up the week up”, she says. Try our super-easy budget dinners to cook for your friends.
Pick up some kitchen kit “Set yourself up to cook well”, says Oscar. “You won’t get a lot of ‘real estate’ in a uni kitchen… therefore a few bits of high-quality kit will really help you out”. He recommends having a decent kitchen knife and non-stick wok for a smoother transition to solo cooking. Flynn Goulding, who’s starting at the University of Arts in London this autumn, is taking a toastie-maker. “I’ll make toasties with things like ham and cheese, with veg like sliced peppers and tomatoes to make them big.” He's also taking a cheap stick blender to whizz up soups.
Hone a few basic skills “Get a few basic skills honed, such as how to do proper seasoning and how to cook rice, for much more enjoyable food”, suggests Oscar. It may sound obvious, but mastering a few techniques is a great way to grow your cooking confidence. It’s amazing how much better pasta tastes if you cook it properly, and how easy it is to slice an onion evenly and quickly if you know how. We have really quick video guides to everything you’ll need to know, from cooking perfect scrambled eggs to preparing vegetables quickly, in our techniques section.
Cook one-pot or one-tin recipes Poppy recommends “one-pot or one-tin recipes, they are great for saving on lots of washing up”. Bearing in mind kitchen kit and hob/oven space will probably be limited, meals you can make with just one pan, pot or tray are a fresher’s best friend. They’re easy to put together – and delicious. Once you’ve experimented with a few recipes, let your imagination run wild – sausages, chicken, salmon, halloumi, chopped veg, rice, potatoes and even pasta can all be used to make a deceptively simple dinner. Bea plans to make risotto, as it just needs one pan. She fries onion, garlic and sliced mushrooms in butter or olive oil, then adds risotto rice, before slowly adding stock – topping it up as each ladleful is absorbed and stirring often. When the rice is cooked she mixes in some chopped spinach and grated Parmesan. Flynn is going to make quesadillas in a frying pan with “just two wraps and things like cheese, chicken, mashed mixed beans and spinach in the middle”. He’s also planning to make lots of one-pan egg meals. “I make scrambled eggs in a frying pan so I have the space to add other things to it, like bits of bacon or peas.”
Have a few go-to recipes “If you’re a newbie to cooking, staple meals that are simple but nutritious (you need good energy to work and play hard) are spag bol and jacket potato and beans – and use up odds and ends of veg, plus a bit of protein, in stir-fries”, says Poppy. “A staple of our flat is a classic dal”, says Ruby, “because you can make it with the few seasonings in your cupboards, and lentils are so cheap and filling”. “I love a filling breakfast”, says Holly, “a healthier fry-up… mushrooms and spinach fried with chilli and garlic… it’s a good way to start the day.” Georgie Bewley is heading off to the University of York with some delicious recipes in her arsenal. “My mum is a pizza wizard but I’m hopeless at making dough so this is her very simple solution... Cook a tomato sauce (olive oil, garlic, chopped toms, mixed herbs and seasoning), spread over pitta breads and scatter over mozzarella or cheddar and toppings before baking at 200C/Gas 6 for 10 minutes.” Every student needs a good stir-fry, and Georgie plans to use her Beijing aunt’s hack, using instant noodles – making a quick sauce with the seasoning packet, soy sauce and water (you can also add ginger, chilli or spring onions). Thinly slice and fry whatever veg you have before adding the cooked instant noodles and sauce. She scatters on peanuts as a garnish, and suggests you can add cooked thin strips of meat if you prefer. Oscar turns his ramen noodles into a full ramen by “adding a soft-boiled egg, some miso-fried mushrooms and pak choi. Top with peanuts, chilli, soy sauce and pan-fried chicken if you like.” Master our easy classic recipes in our Back to Basics collection.
Student Oscar Dilley adds extras like boiled eggs, pak choi and peanuts to instant ramen noodles
Buy frozen ingredients and seek out cheap shops At the end of the day, your student loan is only stretching so far. Getting the best value-for-money food is a non-negotiable. Frank plans to supplement own-brand cereals with nuts from local convenience stores, which he finds “cheaper compared to big supermarkets or chain convenience stores”. Ruby and her housemates buy frozen vegetables for adding to everything from stir-fries to homemade ramen. “It’s easy to forget to eat all your veg, even if you really like it, so having a whole bunch of frozen veg in the freezer and being able to add it to literally any dish is the best”, she says. Oscar recommends exploring local fruit and veg stalls and markets. “The quality of ingredients is generally much better, at a similar cost, and you are supporting local businesses”. It’s worth discovering low-cost ingredients that are versatile and nutritious, like vegetables, grains and pulses. Pulses and beans such as chickpeas are cheap, filling and very good for you, and can be used to make tasty curries and stews. Pasta and rice are budget-friendly and can be combined with a seemingly endless number of ingredients for quick, satisfying dinners.
Scour social Well, you’re on your phone anyway – why not pick up some food tips? Social media is a fount of foodie inspiration. Video hacks for chicken wraps, baked oats and that feta pasta have taken TikTok by storm. “If you like a certain type of food, there are masses of Instagram pages out there”, says Poppy. “It’s a bit of trial and error finding the recipes, tastes and personalities that work for you. Some of the vegan pages are good fun and the recipes work, too!” Need more inspo? Take a look at our student hub, full of delicious, easy and budget-friendly recipes.