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Food and Cooking Hacks for University

For some people, university will be the first time that they will be cooking and shopping for themselves and it can be difficult to get used to. Here are some of my tips to help you not overdose on baked beans before the holidays.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

University life is so busy that sometimes eating properly is the last thing on your mind. However, cooking can be fun, cheap and quick if you know the right recipes and have some key ingredients. Here are a few of my tips for eating well at uni.

Things to Always Have in Stock

There are a lot of food items that will last a long time and that can stay in the cupboard until you need them. Plus, if you have nothing else in the house, there's always something you can make out of this stuff. Here's my list of key ingredients to always have in the cupboard:

  • Oats (a large bag lasts for ages and will make numerous bowls of porridge)!
  • Chopped tomatoes (for bolognese or chilli)
  • Baked beans (beans on toast is a great fall-back if you have nothing else)
  • A few different herbs and spices (I recommend basil and mixed herbs)
  • Long-life milk (just in case your regular milk suddenly goes sour or you run out and need your porridge fix before a lecture)
  • Sugar
  • Cocoa (for the cold winter days)
  • Tea bags/coffee
  • Small bag of flour (if you having a baking craving, or to make a white sauce)
  • Pasta (what student doesn't eat pasta)?
  • Granola bars

How to Shop to Save Money and Time

In my first year, I used to cycle to Aldi to do my food shopping because it was cheap, but I could only carry so much, and ended up nipping to the far more expensive shop on campus a lot of the time for meal ingredients. So, for the first time this year, I did an online shop and it was so much easier! Most supermarkets will have a minimum spend to get free delivery, but even if it's high, it's worth spending that much. Spending £40 on a shop is worth it in the long run because the food will last you for ages if you choose the right stuff. If you make a rough meal plan before you order, you should only need to nip out for things like milk, and the rest of the food should last you a good three weeks, if not a month. Some people do a joint order with their flat-mates to make it to the minimum spend which works well too. Do a bit of research to see which supermarkets offer the best rate for where you live and go for ones with a fairly low minimum spend for free delivery.

It's freezing!

I feel like one of the reasons people often get put off cooking a full meal is that it takes a long time (believe me, this puts me off sometimes too). However, a little preparation beforehand can really speed things up, and the freezer is your best friend when it comes to this. Here's some advice to help speed up your cooking as well as make your food last longer (I renamed this section after I wrote it because I realised all my tips involve freezing stuff!)

  • Chop all your onions and freeze them when you buy them. It's hard to buy for just one person, and you often end up with too much of something. Last year I threw out a lot of bad onions because I'd bought a pack of three and only used one. To avoid this, chop up all your onions after you've bought them, shove them in a freezer bag and freeze them. This will make them last a heck of a lot longer, just remember how many you used so that you know how much to put in your bolognese. The alternative to this is to buy pre-chopped onion from the frozen foods aisle. Hack #1: if, like me, onions really sting your eyes while chopping them, I recommend wearing swimming goggles; you'll look like an idiot, but it's worth it!
  • Do the same thing with peppers. I recommend using green peppers for cooking because they don't taste so nice raw as red or yellow ones. Those ones can be used for salad or packed lunches. Peppers go off quite quickly so chopping and freezing the ones you intend to cook with is great for saving them.
  • Freeze your bread. This is also a good one for food saving because, unless you're addicted to carbs, no one's going to get through a whole loaf of bread single-handed before it goes mouldy. I recommend buying some sandwich bags and putting about four slices in each one. This way, you don't have to find space for a full loaf in the freezer and you can just get out what you need.
  • In general, buy food that you can freeze. I practically live off frozen peas as my main vegetable. They last for ages and are quick to defrost (hack #2: put a portion of peas into a mug and pour over hot water until they are just covered, stand for two minutes then drain and heat in the microwave. Quick and easy veg!). When you do your online shop, freeze the food that you don't plan on eating for a while. It's helpful to have some things on standby for when you want a fairly quick and simple meal, like small frozen pies or potato wedges (don't eat these regularly as they're not the healthiest option but they're there if needed)! Meat freezes well, just make sure you take it out the morning you plan on cooking it so that it can defrost naturally. The alternative and more eco-friendly option is to use vegetarian mince that you can often buy frozen and is equally as tasty!
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