How to cook: a kitchen guide for students
Worried you’ll burn through your food budget by Thursday? Looking at a weekend of plain pasta and toast?
Takeaways and ready meals make for quick and handy dinners, but the cost adds up and they're rarely the healthiest choices. Try these kitchen hacks, and you’ll have healthy and delicious food with cash to spare.
1. Get the basics
- Stock up with tins of food that cost very little and won’t go off
- Pasta and rice are your cupboard staples, quick and easy to cook and won’t break the bank. To get more fibre into your diet, try the wholegrain varieties, just check the cooking times as they take longer to cook
- Tins of tomatoes are great for making sauces for pasta or rice, or adding to meat and veg for a full meal
- Beans are among the cheapest form of protein you’ll find. Jazz up some black beans with hot sauce, dollop on some sour cream and top with grated cheese for a meal with attitude
- Lentils are a great source of protein too. To give them a hit of flavour, cut up a few rashers into smallish pieces, fry them in a pan, remove any visible fat, add the drained lentils and heat through for a really tasty meal
- And it’s always worth having some spuds around for a baked potato which can be pimped to perfection by using different toppings
2. Frozen vegetables
- A bag of frozen veg is your friend. It waits quietly in the freezer till it’s needed, it doesn’t take up valuable fridge space and it’s packed with goodness because the fast freezing process means most of the good bits aren’t lost
- Add it to rice with a bit of low-sodium soy sauce for a quick veggie dinner, use it in a stir fry with noodles or add it to a dish you’re cooking for your housemates
- For added protein you can add a beaten egg to rice or a stir fry by just breaking it up as it cooks
- Meat substitutes like quorn are also good freezer staples
3. Make friends with mince
- You’ll get all the flavour of beef for a fraction of the cost when you cook with mince. It also means that you have a nice tasty base to add to vegetables so that you get your five-a-day. Shepherd's pie, chilli con carne and spaghetti bolognese are great mince dishes and we have the low down on making your own mouth-watering burgers in this video.
- While you’re at it, check out our top tips for cooking with mince, and if you’re looking for a really lean mince, why not give turkey mince a go?
4. Stock cubes
These cubes of flavour are great for adding a punch to a bland dish. They’re cheap, they don’t take up a load of space and they don’t go off. Look out for the reduced salt option and add it to the water to cook rice. If you want to make a meal out of it, just add some frozen vegetables and any leftover chicken or meat. Done!
5. Simple soups
Soup is incredibly easy to make and is a great way to use up vegetables in your fridge. Pick up an inexpensive stick blender, and after you have cooked your vegetables till tender in stock, just whiz it all up for amazing results. Make sure your pot is big enough so that you don’t scald yourself when you start blending the mixture.
If you prefer a chunkier soup, just whizz about a third of the vegetables. And to turn this into a nutritious one pot meal, you can add some tinned and drained lentils, chickpeas or beans which are great, inexpensive sources of protein. Just heat through in the soup and you’re done.
6. Mix it up with some cool sauces
Learn to cook a few basic dishes and make them taste spectacularly different with a little bit of secret sauce.
- Worcestershire sauce is awesome dripped onto some cheese on toast before you grill it. A few drops are all you need as it packs a fair whack of salt.
- Similarly, a few drops of Tabasco will add a nice hot kick to anything that’s just a bit too timid.
- Soya sauce will give rice and veg a nice oriental touch.
- Try Sriracha for a bit of Thai heat.
- Hunt down the jars of concentrated Thai green curry which are so much cheaper than the usual branded ones.
- And for a more Middle Eastern touch of heat, grab a tube of harissa.
But remember, a little goes a long way, so have a tiny taste of the sauce or paste before you start lashing it into a dish.
All you have to do is Google "leftovers" to get piles of suggestions to use up the food lingering in your fridge. Make it easy by jotting down a few ideas, stick them on the fridge and you can turn leftovers into dinners without even thinking.
8. Freeze fruit
Don’t let fruit go off! If you don’t feel like eating the lot, peel it, cut it up into chunks and freeze it. It’s perfect for smoothies. Just add the frozen fruit to yoghurt and a splash of water, whizz it up with a stick blender and you have a powerful start to your day. Check out our recipes for banana and oat smoothie and raspberry and banana smoothie. If you're making smoothies from frozen pre-packaged fruit from the supermarket, you'll need to boil it for 1 minute and let it cool first.
9. Get some kit
We’ve already suggested you invest in a cheap stick blender as it’s great for making soups and smoothies. Another thing that is well worth buying, is a slow cooker. You can chuck in everything for a casserole in this nice big crock pot, your meat, veg and a tin or two of tomatoes, switch it to low and forget about it for the rest of the day. Come dinner time there'll be a seriously tempting smell wafting from the kitchen. And slow cookers are really economical with electricity, so cheap and eco-friendly too.
10. Keeping costs down
We have some other great tips on how you can keep the costs down when cooking on a budget. We also have information about food allergies, and just to ensure that you take food safety into account when you’re cooking, learn how to avoid cross contamination.