March 2020 and the months that followed were a period that none of us will forget anytime soon. Lockdown brought with it a stillness that the city of Manchester hadn’t seen in decades. Our usual busy lifestyles suddenly halted and many of us were left with the question, well what do we do now? For me, keeping busy was at the top of my to do list. While sleeping in late and doing nothing except watching Netflix, drinking tea and relaxing in bubble baths may be my perfect night of self-care, doing it for days on end sends me back into depressive mindsets. Initially my lockdown routine mimicked the action plan of my worst days, do nothing and get upset about how much nothing I had done. I knew I had to invent some new coping mechanisms, lockdown had stolen my usual tool kit and life wasn’t going back to normal anytime soon.
Queue the explosion of long forgotten hobbies back into my life. Everything I loved but had long given up on finding time for I could suddenly do again. Reading, sewing, painting, running, cooking, I even re-started learning French! Keeping busy really helped me back then and is still helping me now. Granted as a third year biology student I currently don’t have the time or energy to expend in such a vast array of activities, however, cooking is a love that I have definitely carried into my third year and I hope I can convince you to try your hand at too.
Cooking is good for the soul
It is corny, but it’s true. Cooking is therapeutic, it soothes a stressed soul.
Cooking can provide us with a much-needed sense of accomplishment and immediate reward. Undertaking rewarding activities in our day to day lives positively affects our mindset. Behavioural activation is a therapeutic intervention that utilises rewarding activities to aid in the treatment of depression. It is a practical treatment that helps patients manage their negativity in everyday life. Setting achievable short and long-term goals increases the patients encounters with reward and helps the patient understand how their behaviour can affect their moods. Cooking can be one of these goals!
Cooking can also be a great creative outlet. Trying new recipes, inventing your own, plating your creation; there are many opportunities to express your creativity when cooking. Research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology shown that “everyday creative activity leads to increased well-being in young adults” (Tamlin et al, 2018). Activities such as cooking and baking are an easy and accessible way to incorporate a creative outlet into a busy lifestyle.
Food can be also be a great way to bond, cooking for one another is a great way to express care and gratitude. While university may not be what we all want it to be right now, altruistic cooking can be a great way to connect with one another – especially for those who are new to our community and didn’t get to experience freshers this year. Altruistic cooking not only brings people together but can also be a really great self-esteem builder, making others feel good in turn makes us feel good. Cooking with flatmates can also be really fun, whether it’s a one off or setting up your own weekly come dine with me shown downs, I really recommend every flat gives it a go!
Managing your time and money
The main misconceptions around cooking is that it costs too much time and money. Students at our university come from a wide range of backgrounds and some will be able to budget more for food than others. I try to stick to a sixty pound a month food budget. I know some students will be able to budget a lot more than this and others less. If money is a worry for you, here are a few things I have found helpful:
- Setting a budget and sticking to it.
- Meal planning – by pre-planning my meals I can plan to re-use the same ingredient in multiple recipes, hence decreasing the cost of my shop and the amount of waste I produce.
- Do not deviate from the shopping list! Try to account for everything in your list before you go shopping, this includes snacks and drinks.
- Buying in bulk at the beginning of the month and utilising the freezer. This is especially good for breads, meats and fishes. For example, one large £3.60 pack of chicken thighs from Asda provides all the chicken I need for the month. Fruit and veg can also be frozen but some do not freeze as well as others, so this is definitely worth a quick google search.
- Utilising waste bones and veg trimmings to make stocks for soup.
- If you do eat animal products, I would recommend eating a vegetarian/vegan diet a few days a week, it is good for the planet and for your bank account. Pulses such as chickpeas and lentils, and vegetables such as broccoli and spinach, are a great cheap protein source. There are many tasty vegetarian/vegan recipes out there! I really recommend you give some of them a try.
- Shop around – some supermarkets are cheaper than others, your closest supermarket isn’t necessarily the most cost-effective option. Also, buying the supermarkets own brand is usually much cheaper and the difference in taste is hardly ever noticeable.
As for finding time to cook at university, it can be hard. I am a third-year biology student who works weekends, my workload can feel very overwhelming at times. However, it is important to strike a work-life balance, and cooking can be a much-needed break from your studies. Meal planning can be a great way to incorporate cooking into a busy schedule – plan to cook your quickest recipes on your busy days and your more labour-intensive recipes on days in which you know you have the time. Personally, I find Sunday nights to be a great time to try out new extravagant recipes. A quick google search of “weeknight dinners” will provide you with a bountiful supply of quick recipes to look through.
My Final Top Tips
- My favourite cuisines to cook and eat are East-Asian, mainly Korean and Japanese. When beginning your journey into cooking, think about your favourite restaurants and the meals you love to eat there. This will provide a good starting point into finding dishes you are actually excited to cook!
- When looking into a specific cuisine, try to source your dishes from a site dedicated to that cuisine rather than a generic food site. This way your recipe will be more authentic and taste much better too!
- You do not need to buy every ingredient – save your cupboards space and bank account money. There are many substitutions that can be made, have a google to see if anything you already have will make do.
- Wash up as you go along. Nothing is worse than a massive pile of pots, help yourself out and clean up as you go.
- Finally, be kind to yourself. You do not have to cook an extravagant meal every day of the week. Sometimes we do not have the time to cook, especially in exam season and that’s okay!