Cooking has to be one of the biggest challenges that uni presents. You’ve flown the nest and left the comfort of your family home behind, but it’s now on you to figure out what to buy from the supermarket every week and, harder still, what to do with it.
Unless you’ve been brought up by Gordon Ramsay or Jamie Oliver, it’s not going to be the easiest of transitions. Having said that, it doesn’t have to be a disaster. To help you get by, here’s the cooking advice I wish I had before starting uni.
When it comes to taking food to university, there are a few things to consider, but first and foremost is the question of what to actually take. I took food that I could keep in my cupboard, as this was easier to store and it would last for a long time.
Tinned foods are good to take, as they tend to have a long shelf life and are usually easy to make, especially when you’ve just moved into your new home and are taking time to adjust. Things like pasta, rice, couscous and cereal are also good for the same reasons. Plus, they’ll last a long time and help keep you fed when money is tight.
Grab a bunch of herbs and spices from the cupboard at home too. Stocking up on all of these in one go can get expensive, so if you can bring some with you it will get you off to a good start.
Once you’re at uni, I’d recommend filling up your fridge and freezer early. This means you can claim your own shelf and drawer before other people’s food takes over. Keeping your food organised like this also makes it easier to see what you’ve got before you go shopping, hopefully stopping you from doubling up on food you already have. If you do end up buying too much, remember that you can freeze a lot of food products, so they don’t need to go to waste.
Most food can be frozen until you need to defrost it for meals, which helps to keep food fresh. Once food has been defrosted, it’s usually best to cook and eat it within a few days, and it shouldn’t be frozen more than once. Getting into the routine of freezing food for later can help when budgeting, as it means you can buy some food in bulk and defrost it over time.
I went out and bought frozen food such as chicken and fish, as they were the easiest types of food to buy and cook for just myself in the first initial week or so.
In your first few weeks of uni, you’ll have to work out what shops are nearby and which ones are best for you. Most supermarkets will cater for everyone, but some will suit certain diets and cuisines better.
By that I mean that Tesco Extra normally has a great selection of international items, while Iceland doesn’t (though it is good for stocking up on frozen goods). Finding the best shop for you will be a matter or heading out to explore.
Mealtimes are often the busiest time in the kitchen, so having simple meals to make in the first week or so is a good idea. Once you and your flatmates have organised times for meals, whether it be cooking together or cooking at different times, the kitchen will be much less crowded.
Cooking with others in your flat means you can get into the routine of buying food together on a regular basis. We’d go at least once a week to get everything we needed and would either pay separately or split the costs, depending on what we were getting.
You can go shopping with one or two others, or as a big group, putting money in together to spend on a communal shop. I stuck with one flatmate, as we were closer and tended to cook together.
Doing this just made buying food easier, as we could share what we’d gotten and save some money. We’d also get a mix of healthy food including fruit, vegetables and meat that both of us were able to eat. Cooking together helped our dynamic and allowed us to learn more about each other.
Cooking with your flatmates is a great way to bond with them too. Making meals allowed us to work together, communicate and help each other out while trying to get to grips with cooking. It also gave us the opportunity to talk about other things, such as university and any problems we were having. And that’s invaluable.