From a sizzling Sunday roast to home-made apple crumble, I think most of you will agree that nothing quite tastes like mum’s cooking! Heading off to uni is when it really hits you; you begin to appreciate all the things you took for granted living at home.
Studies show that university students aren’t the best in the kitchen, with many unable to boil an egg. Takeaway, I hear you scream. Hold fast though, whilst ‘Just Eat’ may seem like your best friend right now, we all know eating out every night isn’t healthy, or cheap. Don’t panic however, help is on hand, as I have some top tips on how you can make your uni experience as healthy and tasteful as possible, whilst keeping your wallet intact.
Okay so long gone are the days that cooking was for women only and involved long, tedious hours of preparation, so let’s leave all stereotypes behind. You too can get creative and channel your inner Gordon Ramsey-on a budget that is. Because let’s face it, most of uni is spent being pretty much broke, right? Making a few savvy introductions to your diet and with a bit of planning in advance, you can peacefully sit back and tuck in to your delicious, home-made (yes home-made) meals. Experimenting in the kitchen can be very quick and simple if you know how; it is also a life skill that will benefit you in the future. I’m going to talk you through some sustainable, nutritious, cost effective kitchen tips that will have you cooking up a storm in no time at all, and leave your mates wondering how-you can thank me later..
1. First of all, let’s master the art of seasoning. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s the thing that makes even the blandest foods absolutely mouth-watering.
• Salt and pepper: the ultimate go-to addition to quite honestly every meal you will ever make. Why? A sprinkle of the good stuff holds the power to transform any dish-if you can, invest in course black pepper and sea salt, although a little pricier, just a few granules go a long way!
• Mixed herbs: so I always wondered how pasta in restaurants left the fragrance of Italy lingering in the room and taste of fresh herbs in every mouthful. Well the secret is mixed herbs. If you can chuck a teaspoon of this over your pasta or a home-made pizza, you won’t be disappointed.
2. Skip that thoughtlessly bought, over-priced, sugary cereal bar (costing a minimum of £1 a go) from the corner shop on the way to your 9am lecture with these breakfast alternatives:
• Porridge: One kilogram of dried oats costs around £1, and is packed with beta-glucan, fibre, protein and slow releasing carbohydrates. Simply add hot water or milk and you’ll have a big, warm, bowl of bliss. Add some fresh fruit or honey to sweeten, if you’re that way inclined. This will really keep you awake till lunch time and concentration will be on form.
• Eggs: I cannot stress enough how amazing they are. Labelled as nature’s multivitamin and one of the healthiest foods on the planet, these little things are jam packed with anti-oxidants, satiety and brain nutrients like choline. Coming in at around £1 for six, you really are getting your money’s worth. From omelettes to pancakes to quiche, or simply adding a couple of hard boiled eggs to your lunch time salad, these sure are a great source of protein and healthy fats.
3. Plan potential meal ideas at the start of the week and do bulk food prep. This tip will save you tonnes of time (and cash) throughout the week:
• Popcorn kernels: swap calorific crisps/store bought alternatives and make a batch of your own popcorn. Simply add the kernels to a greased pan and sprinkle with your favourite toppings once popped. Jazz it up with some seeds, nuts and a few chocolate buttons for a trial mix to nibble on throughout the day.
• Pasta: opt for whole grain (the brown one). Quite literally the super-hero of every uni kitchen cupboard. Boil enough for a couple of days and store in the fridge. Add it to salads for a quick, filling lunch or try adding some olive oil, cheese and mixed herbs for a super-fast winter warmer.
• Dried beans: Oozing with complex carbs, protein and fibre, soaking a bowl of these overnight and boiling a large batch of them the following day while you’re reading your favourite novel is always a good idea. Drain the beans and keep them refrigerated for a couple of days, again add to salads, soups, pasta sauce or chilli con carne for a filling meat replacement.
• Rice: go wholegrain and use as the perfect addition to most meals. Filling and fibrous, this will prevent the urge to snack on junk food throughout the day, providing a steady release of energy when you need it most.
• Tomato based sauces: A tin of chopped tomatoes, a spoonful of mixed herbs and some chicken (or protein of choice) with fresh vegetables can be made in bulk and used to make enchiladas, added on top of a pizza base with cheese, stirred in to pasta for a pasta bake, or simply eaten with the rice you made earlier.
For those of you with fussier pallets, or some time on your hands, make a list of things you enjoy eating and watch cooking videos on YouTube for some inspiration. Switch any unhealthy ingredients with healthier alternatives (whole grain over white, sweet potato over white potato, fruit instead of sugar, you get the idea) or use less fat or sugars etc. Remember that food is our fuel, and what we eat can impact our mood, performance in class and general wellbeing. And cooking should be fun, host a ‘Come Dine With Me’ themed night with pals, or cook with flat mates on alternate nights, this is a fantastic way to brush up on your skills and share ideas. Rest assured, don’t be afraid to buy a vegetable you can’t pronounce or a fruit that looks like a tropical monster. Chances are you will enjoy it-mixing it up with a bit of seasoning of course! As you can see, it really doesn’t have to cost a mortgage to feed yourself well at uni, you just need to shop smart. And the moral of the story is to take a little time out at the start of the week and plan, my friends.
By Sennah Lyla