Over the last month or so I’ve been talking to a few younger people, a few people who are just off to university. First off, I genuinely can’t believe it is over four years since I moved away for the first time; it still feels like yesterday. University definitely flew by in no time at all! Secondly, it was so, so clear that the fears I had are still the biggest worries today; how will they cope on a student budget.
Now, I definitely have my own tips – cook fresh, choose shorter washing cycles, use low-energy bulbs, shop around for deals on bills – but retailer B&M are offering students their best tips on how to survive on a student budget with an infographic.
I thought it gave some excellent advice. Having a clear-out to raise extra cash is something that I did between my first and second year and I raised a lot of money, just from clothes and ‘junk’ I had lying around. I even got £80 for a old phone with a completely smashed screen! However my biggest tip is to utilise a piggy bank – throw any loose change into a jar at the end of the week and leave it there. It’s an easy way to save the pennies you would otherwise spend without thinking!
I think sorting out all my kitchen stuff for university was the most difficult part. I was already a pretty keen cook back then, and knew I really wanted to keep both baking and experimenting with dinners right the way through university – and not deal with non-non-stick pans and replacing things after every year. I know I spent quite a bit more than the average student on my bits and bobs, but at the same time the vast majority made it through my four years away and will be used more over the next few years.
Most annoyingly, the flat I’ve just moved into has an induction hob. The pans I’ve kept nice throughout university, carted up and down the country and made W carry up four flights of stairs? Yep, they weren’t induction suitable. But hello new shiny pans! #everysilverlining
Over the last few weeks I’ve worked alongside the Steamer Trading Cookshop to put together a list of student essentials, a Back to Uni bundle if you wish! It includes some pieces I’d definitely recommend to all new students, and some things I really wish I’d had…
Crockery and Cutlery. This is where I kept things simple and saved money. You don’t need a set, you don’t need a fancy pattern. I went for a plain white set and it’s lasted me well (plus it’s far easier to photograph new recipes on white crockery!). You’ll need a big plate*, a small plate*, a large bowl* and a mug*. I’d suggest grabbing a small bowl too – and possibly pick up a few duplicates as you will most likely break something.
Spiraliser. These have become SO popular in the last four years, I picked up a julienne peeler just before the craze really kicked off but am loving have a ‘proper’ spiraliser* with varying blades. It makes the perfect courgetti for my low-carb-onara.
Pots and Pans. This is definitely where I spent most of my kitchen budget, I was SO hoping these would do me through university and beyond – and they would have done had I not been moving into a flat with an induction hob. At absolute minimum I reckon a student would need a small saucepan, a large saucepan/casserole dish and a wok*. The wok can double up as a frying pan, and also as an extra saucepan if it’s deep enough – definitely worth picking one up.
Microwave Gadgets. My kitchen in halls was disgusting. Our white chopping board was black by the November, we had ants in the fridge, the floor was permanently sticky and I wanted to spend as little time in there as possible. I did a lot of cooking prep in my room (I genuinely mixed up cake batters in there, carrying the filled tin straight to the oven). During that year, little gadgets to help me cook using the microwave (as I could clean it quickly before each use!) were lifesavers. Egg poachers, steamers, soup pots, popcorn makers* – I loved them!
Water Bottle. When I moved to uni, the one thing I noticed was I didn’t drink enough. At home someone always had the kettle on, was always making a pot of tea. Left to my own devices, I didn’t make myself drink and I quickly found myself getting dehydrated. A good water bottle definitely helped me combat this, I’ve talked about my love of Infruition bottles* before and it’s still strong!
Knives. These are definitely worth spending a bit more on, I’ve never enjoyed using a basic-level knife (something about the light-weight of them makings chopping seem like a lot more effort). A good knife set* will definitely last you through your time at university, mine certainly still looks as good as new.
Toastie Maker. This is definitely something I wish I’d had in my first year. With my kitchen being as filthy as it was, I’d have loved the grill function of a 2-in-1 machine* to be able to cook myself meat/fish/veg/almost anything without having to clean the oven or hob first. Plus it makes gorgeous panninis. Need I say more?!
Along with a stack of student cookbooks (though I’d also recommend grabbing a copy of Jack Monroe’s book to flick through), I reckon this lot would do even the most keen cooks through university. Yes, there’s some rather ‘extravagant’ bits there, but I know they’d have made some of my time away easier and a lot more enjoyable!
Food. One of the greatest loves of my life, as you can probably tell from this blog, and it was something I really agonised over before starting university. What food should I take to university with me? What will I cook after lectures? So this post is dedicated to the food shop, what meals you’re likely to be cooking, and what you should try and keep in your cupboards.
I’m lucky enough that my parents do my first shop of the school year, so I really stock up on goods that last then. I’ll also stock up on meat and spend the first few days batch cooking. Doing this really helps to keep my costs down for the rest of the year – generally I spend under £15 a fortnight, but even including my big shop my food spending is actually quite low. Now, in this list I’ve really only listed basics…in terms of this is what I always try to have in. Obviously you’re going to want other bits – green vegetables, other fruit, ready meals if you’re that way inclined…but I find if I have the following I can always make a good meal.
So, what food to take to university? And how long do you cook it for…?
Pasta – in my big shop, I’ll always pick up a 5kg bag of pasta, usually penne. Then I’ll just grab some spaghetti. Value pasta is absolutely fine, I don’t see the point in spending more. Yes, fresh pasta is delicious, but having money is more important! Most pasta wants 9-10 minutes boiling in salted water, unless you are making One Pan Mac’n’ Cheese.
Rice – basmati is my go-to. Value rice is not fine, it is often far too starchy, to the point I’d rather have no rice. Again, 10 minute boiling in salted water is generally how I cook rice, just be careful to watch it as it can boil over.
Noodles – plain egg noodles are a must for me, as they are great in stir-fries and soups. I prefer thicker ones as they seem to fill me up more, and I also like to go for ones that just need soaking. I will usually soak mine for 5 minutes (just pour a boiling kettle over), and season with soy sauce.
Lentils – lentils seem to take very little time to cook, but they are great for bulking up meals and thickening sauces. A standard packet of red lentils lasts me just over a year – I will simmer a spoonful in with my bolognese or stew.
Chopped tomatoes – if you’re a normal person and not allergic to them that is! They are obviously the cheapest way of making most sauces, so make the most of them if you can eat them!
Beans – whilst dried lentils are quick to cook, dried beans aren’t. I do prefer using dried beans, but for convenience’s sake its often easier to buy tinned as they only need heating up, though I tend to simmer with everything in chillis and stews.
Sweetcorn – I’m not a huge fan of sweetcorn, but I had a housemate who couldn’t live without it! Either buy tinned or frozen – I prefer tinned as I don’t eat it often enough to aware it freezer space. Again this only needs heating up.
Coconut Cream – cooking a lot of single-portion curries, it doesn’t make sense to buy coconut milk. Instead I buy coconut cream and stir a small piece into hot water before adding it to the dish. It’s not as rich, but it saves money and calories!
Sauces/pastes – if you have a favourite curry, stock up on the paste or ingredients to make it. I also always pick up soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, and a Wahaca chipotle sauce.
Gravy – I’m Northern, gravy is something I have to have. I always have both onion gravy and chicken gravy in my cupboard. For one person – two rough tablespoons in a mug, top with boiling water and stir well. This makes quite a thick gravy, so adjust as required.
A whole paragraph for this one! I’m slowly building up my spice collection, having added to it bit by bit over the last two years. I’d start off with cumin, curry powder, italian seasoning, and cajun seasoning. And salt and pepper, obviously. Then add as and when you can afford – coriander, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cinnamon (really only if you plan on baking), crushed chillies, thyme, ginger…anything else you fancy really. Over my placement year I’m planning on really expanding my spices in an attempt to ‘finish off’ and having something that will let me cook any kind of dishes. I’m heading towards Beef Rendang soon!
Fruit & Veg
Bananas – on days I have porridge for breakfast, I always eat it with a banana mashed in. I also use bananas quite a bit in baking (nutella muffins, anyone?) – they great thing is that if you take them out of the skins, they freeze really well. You wouldn’t be able to eat it whole, but mashed into things they are great.
Potatoes – the slight Irishness in me makes it impossible to live without potatoes. I generally stick to mash (I’m not huge on roasties); for the perfect mash peel and quarter potatoes (red ones are the best I find), and boil in salted water for 20 minutes. Drain, add butter, a grind of pepper and a splash of milk, and mash away. Tip: don’t buy a cheap potato masher. I’ve gone through several in university as they seem to bend. And pour boiling water into the pan and over the masher once you’ve served up. Believe me, it makes washing up 10 times easier.
Carrots – despite not being a fan of carrots, I virtually always have them. I hate them boiled and served up alongside a roast, but chopped up in sauces, meltingly soft in stews, spicy in stir-fries and raw in slaws – they are great. If you are cooking them as a side, peel, slice into rounds and boil for about 4 minutes.
Cabbage – I love cabbage, I buy savoy and red types. I tend to only eat red cabbage raw and in stir-fries, but savoy cabbage wants slicing, and boiling for around 4 minutes.
Broccoli – I’m a fan of crunchy broccoli, so boil for 2-3 minutes, but most people go for 3-5.
Onions and celery – the basis for most sauces. I love braised celery too – it feels so filling, but has hardly any calorific content.
I don’t tend to buy many frozen things (apart from B&J’s when it’s on offer *shifty glance*) but I do go for frozen peas. Bird’s Eye Garden peas are the only ones I will buy though, again there are some things I would rather spend a little extra on or go without! Other than that I do try and have either fish fingers or fishcakes in the freezer, although that’s definitely not an essential for me!
What can I say, I like my carbs! I’m a lover of wholemeal cobs (Leicestershire gal!) – I’ll make up my cobs with butter and ham and freeze for the entire week. Then I will also get a load of the part-baked rolls. These keep in the cupboard for ages, making them a great standby option. You can also make pretty awesome garlic bread with them too…
Ah meat, if only it wasn’t so expensive! At the start of term I stick to the basics; ham, bacon, sausages, chicken breast, mince. The chicken and mince gets batch-cooked into bolognese, cottage pie, and curry. Bacon and sausage get frozen into individual portions. Cobs are made up with the ham, and frozen.
Crisps – I stock up on things like hula hoops (I’m a big child) and tortilla chips at the start of the year. Mainly because I hate buying them and walking home with them, they are so bulky!
Biscuits – can’t resist biscuits! To save money, buy a big value pack and keep in a tub to avoid them going stale.
Alcohol – obviously a must for most students, I admit I do rarely buy it. But when I do I either like some good vodka, or a nice wine. Yep, middle-aged before my time.
Squash – something else to stock up on at the beginning of term, I like to buy big bottles of double strength; one of these will last me a whole 12-week term.
Juice – to stop it going off, I buy individual cartons.
Tea/Coffee – again, stocking up at the beginning of term.
Milk – definitely not something to forget! I also try to keep a bottle of long-life milk in the cupboard too, just in case.
Cheese – I will always have a packet of parmesan, but occasionally I also buy mozzarella and cheddar too depending on what my meal plan is looking like.
Butter- generally I prefer to use real butter (not spread!) for sandwiches, but also for frying and obviously baking. Yes, not the healthiest, but I don’t care!
Cereal – I always go for porridge oats, I make it up with water so its a pretty frugal option!
Cleaning Stuff/Household Items
All Purpose Spray
So there you are – what food to buy at university. I obviously cook quite a lot – I’ve known people survive on ready meals though so its not anywhere near an essential list. But its what feels essential for me to have ! I also hope that I’ve helped with some of the cooking times!
What food did/do you eat at university?