Cooking can be a genuine saving grace for your mental health. It requires precision, time-management, organisation and is very methodical by nature. These traits are ultimately good for your brain and the food that you make is good for your body, your ability to work well and ability to socialise. It is very normal to feel like you can’t cook well or to not feel interested in cooking, especially with takeaways and ready meals are so readily available and advertised to us. I’m here to tell you that cooking can be therapeutic, money-saving and fun.
I believe the food you have at university doesn’t have to be all “beans on toast” and “pot noodles” (not that I’m disregarding the delights of beans, toast and noodles) but can actually be full of flavour, easy to make and budgeted. Whilst being at university I have discovered that despite living in one of the biggest cities in the UK, the food does not cost as much as people would expect it to, as long as you’re shopping in the right places (please see below)! Manchester continues to surprise its students and residents with its cost of living.
However, since the cost of living has and is continuing to increase nationwide, I feel it is more than necessary to emphasise budgeting and cooking at home.
Budgeting is perhaps the most important part of being a student. Whilst there are an innumerable amount of deals and money-saving promotions targeted towards students, it’s also quite frightening how quickly money can be spent, especially if you’re a social person. When it comes to alcohol it can be very expensive and the decisions we make whist under the influence can be expensive too! As a second-year student, a successful way of budgeting, that works for me, is looking at how much money I have each month and deducting any monthly subscription payments from that total (phone bills and Netflix, for example) and then dividing the remaining money into the amount of weeks within that month. For example, if you have £300 a month, your phone bill costs £40 and your Netflix subscription is £10 then you will have £250 left for the duration of the month and approximately £60 a week to spend. I would then make sure to do a weekly food shop and stick to a budget of between £20 and £30 each week (although it goes without saying that some weeks might be more expensive than others because you’ve ran out of washing detergent or dishwasher tablets). This method ensures I always have the remainder of my money for social activities, luxuries and any hidden costs, meaning I can enjoy university life as much as possible.
Cooking and budgeting with your flatmates/housemates:
Splitting meals and going halves when buying food with a flatmate/housemate or even as an entire flat/house can save a lot of money and can save a lot of food waste too. If this seems like too big of a commitment, especially if you’re in first year or don’t know your housemates very well, I would just recommend sharing necessities like milk, bread, sugar and butter to your own level of comfort.
My biggest food tip:
Always ensure your herbs, spices, sauces and condiments selection is stocked up and ready for cooking action. This can transform your food from a 5/10 to a 10/10 when used correctly. For example, if your spag bol is tasting bland, add some Italian herbs, paprika, all-purpose seasoning, Worcester sauce and a spoonful of marmite to strengthen and bind the flavours together; making it taste tomatoey and meaty at the same time, even if you’re using a vegetarian/vegan alternative.
Other food and cooking tips:
- Shop at LIDL and ALDI for the best budgeting results and ASDA or TESCO (as long as you have a Clubcard) for those annoying monthly shops you have to do to get the things LIDL and ALDI don’t sell
- Buy frozen fruit and vegetables but buy fresh salad- frozen fruit and veg is a great money-saver but it’s a lot better to have fresh tomatoes in your pasta bakes instead of tinned ones and much better to have fresh garlic in your sauces than garlic granules from a jar
- Don’t buy herb plants unless you know you will water them and actually use the herbs
- If food wasn’t bought frozen but is then freezable, it is only freezable for 3 months before it needs to be used or chucked out
- If you are trying to make more eco-friendly moves at university then know that it is more than possible: create an eco-brick and reuse your plastic bags (as long as they aren’t being used to store meat, fish or dairy). Eco-bricks tend to be 2 litre bottles (such as an empty Pepsi Max bottle) that you then fill with thin plastics such as the netting that comes with multipacks of onions and the bags that your vegetables come in
- Make very large amounts of food when cooking meals such as pasta dishes, curries and anything that can be refrigerated and reheated afterwards so you can feed yourself and potentially your flatmates/housemates for a few days for the best budgeting results
- Take your leftovers into university, you are bound to get hungry doing work and whilst the food you can buy from the cafés is nice, it is expensive too and is an easy way to ruin your budgeting for the week
- Don’t buy meat- not only is it good for the environment and better for your health but it also very expensive and meat alternatives are a cheaper, less harmful and tasty alternative
- Keep fruit in the fridge so it doesn’t go off too quickly
- Always abide by sell-by-dates when it comes to meat, fish and dairy