Student food: Time and money-saving tips for cooking at university

Heading to uni? Check out our handy tips for saving time and money when cooking from scratch

27 Jun 2014


Heading to university in September? Concerned you'll fall into the student stereotype of baked beans and pizza every night?

Cook healthy meals for yourself instead with our guide to student cooking.

The main barriers to cooking

Stressed Cook


Students are not necessarily known for their culinary skills. Dinner tends to consist of processed food such as chicken nuggets and pizza for 77%, according to Panasonic.  

But what's stopping students from cooking from scratch? The study found:

  • 50% of students don't cook from scratch because they think it takes too long
  • 40% don't cook from scratch because they think it's too expensive

Here we'll tackle those two issues with a series of tips to save time and money in the kitchen.


1) Tips for cooking from scratch for cheap

Cooking a meal from scratch doesn't have to be expensive. There are many things you can do to make it far cheaper than buying processed, pre-packed food. Check out these tips:


Fresh Food

Have a well-stocked store-cupboard

A well-stocked store-cupboard gives you the basis for curries, Bolognese and other affordable meals and quick fixes for a few start-to-finish, last-minute suppers.

Work towards the below.

  • Tinned food: Tuna, tomatoes, soup, baked beans, coconut milk, olives, sweetcorn, mushy peas, chickpeas
  • Spices: Cumin, coriander, oregano, chilli flakes, salt, black pepper, fresh garlic
  • Grains: Pasta shells or penne, spaghetti, rice, cous cous
  • Sauces/oils: Ketchup, mayonnaise, tomato puree, vegetable stock, olive oil

Meals you can create solely from cupboard ingredients

  • Pasta puttanesca

This Italian classic is impressive, tasty but very cheap. All you need is tinned anchovies, tinned tomatoes, pasta, jarred olives and chilli flakes. Check out this BBC Food recipe

Buy cheaper cuts of meat and a slow cooker

Eating on a budget doesn't mean giving up meat. Swerve pricey cuts such as steaks and chicken breast and opt for cheaper options more suited to slow cooking.

  • Chicken thighs and drumsticks (around £3 per pack) Great in a homemade curry with tinned tomatoes, coconut milk, onion, garlic and spices, or baked in tray with peppers, onion, tomatoes and paprika
  • Minced beef steak (around £4 for a family pack) Much cheaper than buying actual steaks. Good-quality mince is perfect slow-cooked in a Bolognese with tinned tomatoes, garlic, onion and diced carrot
  • Diced beef (around £4 for a large pack) This goes great in a stew. Slow-cooked in a pot with stock, carrots and onion, the meat becomes meltingly tender

Check out our range of slow cookers here.


Savvy shopping and cooking

Living in a house with a few others? Shop together to save cash. Sit down for 10 minutes at the beginning of the week. Plan what you're going to eat each evening and list the ingredients.

Key points for savvy shopping:

Cook with friends: Cook large meals that can be split into portions - stews, Bolognese, lasagne, curry, pasta bake, pies. A family Bolognese costs around £6 to make from scratch - split 4 ways that's £1.50 each. Check out BBC Good Food's spag bol recipe here

Be realistic: You know there will be a couple of nights where you're not all around - buy frozen pizzas, eggs and other quick fixes for nights when you don't eat together

Don't overstock: Make your shopping list and stick to it - avoid falling for BOGOFs and other offers you don't need

Shop around: Use price checkers such as mySupermarket to work out where you'll get the best deal


Do a weekly roast and use up the leftovers the next day

There's nothing like a roast dinner to bring a household together. A good quality chicken is affordable if the cost is split. Get everyone involved peeling veg, whisking Yorkshire pudding batter and making gravy.

Then the next day use up the leftovers for another meal - think chicken curry, chicken casserole, chicken and pesto pasties.

Get more ideas at allrecipes


2) How to save time in the kitchen

With lectures, nights out and essay-writing there will be plenty of demands on your time at university. But that doesn't mean you can't find the time to cook homemade food - check out tips for saving time in the kitchen.


Student Cooking

Buy a good knife for fast chopping and prepping

Instead of having 10 knives of different sizes, invest the money in one good chef's knife and keep it sharp with a portable sharpener such as the AnySharp.

Trying to chop and prep vegetables with a blunt, poor-quality knife can take an absolute age - with a decent, sharp chef's knife you'll dice those onions in seconds.


Buy a decent veg peeler

Even with a sharp chef's knife, peeling vegetables can be a pain. Buy a decent veg peeler and peeling spuds will be smooth and simple.

(Tip: the bigger the gap between blades the better the peeler)


Clean as you go

If you're cooking a Bolognese or a curry, then you're going to make a mess - pans, veg peel, empty tins and spills on surfaces. Save time on washing up post-meal by staying on top of this mess as you cook. Fill a washing-up bowl and clean pans and utensils as you use them, and have a cloth on hand for wiping sides.


Pre-soak your pasta

This may seem a bit of a weird one but if you hate waiting for pasta to cook you can save time by pre-soaking - that's right, pre-soaking it. Check out the details at the Ideas in Food blog.


Prevent your chopping board from wobbling

Find it annoying when you're trying to chop onions and your chopping board keeps slipping around on the work surface? Place a tea towel beneath it and say goodbye to all that.


Make perfect potato wedges with an apple slicer

Homemade potato wedges baked in the oven in hot oil tear strips off those cheap frozen ones - but slicing them up for your whole house can take time.

Do it in a fraction of the time using an apple slicer. See details at Goodness Gracious blog