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Shop Cheap, Eat Well, Be Happy: A Guide to Student Living

Standing on your own two feet can be a surprisingly expensive business. All of a sudden, the things you took for granted in your kitchen at home, i.e. olive oil, vinegar, ketchup, flour, spices, milk, bread, cereal, kitchen roll, washing-up liquid and tin foil, are no longer as easily accessible.

Want to knock up a tasty spag bol? You’ve got to actually go and buy the onion, garlic, tinned tomatoes, stock cubes and mince. This can lead to some poor economising! This is because the idea of spending, say, £15 at the beginning of the week on grub to keep you going seems like a bit of a big hit. So you end up buying cereal, milk and bread! Then you spend £15 that week on lunch alone, not to mention the £20 you spend on takeaways, ready meals and 3am kebabs.

Follow these tips and you’ll be wealthier, healthier, and happier:

·         DON’T try to do one weekly shop; aim to do two or three instead. You never quite know what unexpected event might crop up, so it’s difficult to plan an entire week of meals. It will also mean you’re not taking one big financial hit.

·         DON’T be seduced by supermarket deals, unless: 1) you actually need that volume of food and know it will get eaten, 2) you have a freezer where you can tuck away that extra pack of sausages, and 3) it’s a product that won’t go off in a hurry.

·         DO stock up on tinned goods, especially when they’re on offer. They are infinitely useful! For example, even with the barest fridge, a delicious, quick and frugal lunch can be knocked up with a tin of chickpeas and a tin of tomatoes. Throw in a chopped onion or a pinch of smoked paprika, and you’ll have something really rather special.

·         DON’T automatically go for brand names. Supermarkets’ own-brand products are, more often than not, just as good, and half the price. Sainsbury’s Dijon mustard, for example, is a quid less than Maille, and just as excellent.

·         DO track down your local ethnic supermarket. You will save big bucks if you buy things like spices, rice, noodles and soy sauce at these places and the quality will always be better.

·         DO make a list before shopping. This will help you avoid the tempting but dangerous tactic of relying on impulse buys.

·         DO buy in season! Produce will be tastier, more local (and therefore greener) and, above all, CHEAPER! 

·         DO be ambitious; but don’t be over-ambitious. Most uni kitchens are pretty poorly equipped, so try to operate within the limits that you face. There’s nothing worse than the panic that sets in when you realise you have invited five people round for soufflé and there are no ruddy ramekins.

·         DON’T expect to eat meat every night. Meat (or, at least, meat that is edible) is relatively expensive. Learn some top notch veggie dishes and you won’t miss it.

·         DO buy a bike. Sounds like an odd suggestion, but you will save money in the long run by biking home for lunch, instead of forking out £4 for a sarnie and a can of coke.

·         DO eat leftovers. It’s so easy to let the little bowl of leftover chilli con carne get lost at the back of the fridge, only to be rediscovered a month later, stenchy and mouldy. What a jacket potato you missed out on!

·         Above all, DO enjoy cooking. Your mates will love you.

Hopefully with these tips (and a bit of common sense thrown in), cooking at university can be elevated from the clichéd aphorism of baked beans on toast, to something that is nourishing, simple and delicious. It’s not rocket science. All you need is a few good ingredients, thoughtfully shopped for and intelligently cooked, and your kitchen will become a sanctuary of peace, happiness and nutrition. Good luck!

Written by James Ramsden

James co-wrote The Ultimate Student Cookbook (Absolute Press, July 2009) and writes The Larder Lout cookery blog. For more tips and recipes for students, visit the Beyond Baked Beans page on Facebook, or go to www.beyondbakedbeans.com