A cursory glance across various university websites indicates that a university student can spend, on average, upwards of £200 a month on food, meaning that some may even be spending significantly more than that. It’s banal to say, but food costs money, and, other than actual accommodation expenses, it’s likely to be the thing that cost students the most money. But eating doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to leave you in crippling debt at the end of the term either.
To help students, this is one part in a series of articles devoted to specific tips on saving on food costs. The possibilities are endless, but many university students leave home not putting too much thought into this. They surmise that getting microwaveable meals might end up cheaper, or that ordering takeout over a few weeks can’t be that bad. Even ignoring health issues, being wise about food – opting for preparing your own food in particular – can be a great cost-cutter. This first series examines three very basic tips. They come with larger responsibilities, but they can pay off in the long run.
Learn to Cook
It cannot be overemphasized: if you are heading to university away from home and the idea of boiling pasta makes you balk, then you are in serious trouble. Learning to cook does not mean having to reach chef-like capabilities, it simply means being able to turn the simplest of fresh vegetables into a satisfying meal at a fraction of the cost you’d pay for a ready-made one. There are five basic aspects of simple cooking all students stand to benefit from – pasta, soups, potatoes, eggs, and rice. These five separate items/meals give you varied options for weeks of cooking. They can be prepared in various ways for varying consistencies and with great simplicity that makes for a filling meal.
Spicing It Up
The most common criticism against students cooking for themselves is that they always think ‘my food won’t taste as good’. Probably it will never be restaurant quality, but it can be good quality if you remember one simple thing: love your spices. Stocking up on spices is an essential to cooking for yourself. Don’t pass the spice aisle in the supermarket, stock up instead – get thyme, coriander, rosemary, paprika, masala, curry powder, ground pepper. The list goes on. A dash of spices adds flavour and variety to the simplest of meal, taking it from something rote and basic into something flavourful and exciting.
Stock Up On Stock
Pasta is a simple thing of boiling water and draining, but it’s the folly of too many first time cooks to just add water alone. Sure, it’s edible but it’s incredibly basic. Add salt, add some black pepper, some coriander, and some thyme to the boiling water your pasta will be immersed in. This hint of flavour will go a long way to turning your pasta into something you’re much more excited to it. Are you planning on doing a simple potato mash with your pasta? Add the same spices to your water to boil your potato. But even more helpful, after draining your pasta with the salt-pepper-coriander water, use that same leftover water to boil your potatoes. Don’t balk at the idea of reusing the stock – flavourful stock is something supermarkets have made money off of when you can so easily reuse your own.
Here’s a tip to ensure your food has flavour. When you boil your potato, drain and keep the water. Use it the next day to boil your pasta, or better yet save it for tomorrow when you’re making your soup.
A Simple Soup Recipe
Soups: not so glamorous, nut they’re easy to make, tasty if done right, and can be done in a variety of ways. One of the easier, healthier soup options is a simple vegetable soup. So if you boiled some potatoes for a salad on Sunday, drain the water and store it in the fridge, then use it for your Tuesday soup.
- vegetable stock (make your own)
- 1 large onion
- 2 cups of chopped tomatoes
- 1 cup of chopped mushrooms
- 1 cup of spring onions
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 can of green peas
- 1 can of sweetcorn
- 1 cup of chopped carrots
- 2 cups of diced potatoes
In a pot heat up a little bit of oil, chop a large onion and fry it for a few minutes and then gradually add in three chopped tomatoes with their juice, some spring onions and a few cloves of garlic and some mushrooms, fry on low heat for five minutes more. After it’s as soft as you’d like add your stock and add some water. Depending on how much soup you want, a two litre pot boiling with stock and water gives you enough soup for at least four meals.
Gradually add your ingredients and keep on a low fire for 30 minutes, more if you’d prefer mushier vegetables. The thing about an ad hoc recipe like this is you’re free to change what you like. Add some chopped cabbage if you would prefer, some diced pumpkin, or some chopped aubergines. Throw in your salt, your paprika, whichever spice takes your fancy (but make sure it fits with the other flavours!) and you can add whichever vegetables you’d like for a conflation of flavours. If you’d like a bit more protein, add a can of chickpeas half way in.
Those familiar with traditional Indian food might be familiar with dal, a healthy lentil based option, which bears some resemblance to soup. Dal takes a while to cook, but it’s hardly any work. In short, you boil lentils (red lentils are my favourite) or split peas for a few hours with spices. The end result is an aromatic liquid that makes great comfort food at low cost. This is one example of an excellent simple dal recipe, but there are plenty more out there online!
Use the Internet
And that’s the final point in simple cooking:. seek out simple recipes online. There are scores of way to do your pasta, or your eggs, or your potatoes. So many simple recipes now come with visual guides as to what each process looks like as well. Buy your ingredients cheap and test your skills and you’ll end up saving money you’d be wasting on takeout.
In the next entry of Food and Student Life we’ll take a trip to the grocery store, where there are tons of hidden ways to save money.
By Andrew Kendall