Health Student-made

Spice up your life! How to improve your cooking

Reading Time: 4 minutes

One thing that students often worry about is the thought of cooking for themselves. Often students can resort to the staple food of pesto pasta and oven pizzas – but it doesn’t have to be this way. Here’s some tips on how to make your cooking more interesting and actually enjoy it, hopefully without the fuss or mess.

Have store cupboard essentials

A good assortment of dried and canned foods is the best possible starting point when trying to improve your cooking. Always having staples like pasta, rice and couscous are a shout, as well as tins of chopped tomatoes and pulses like chickpeas or black beans.

Herbs and spices don’t have to be scary – in fact they are your best friend when cooking meals and experimenting with new recipes.

Some my essentials which I always have to hand are:

  • Basil
  • Black pepper
  • Cardamon
  • Chilli powder
  • Curry powder
  • Cumin
  • Garam masala
  • Ginger
  • Oregano
  • Paprika
  • Salt

But don’t take this as gospel! It’s all down to personal preference and what you make regularly. Regardless, the key with herbs and spices is not to go overboard. A teaspoon is usually enough.

Know where to find recipes for new dishes to try

Cooking isn’t always about convenience – you should be able to enjoy it too. Finding new recipes and getting excited about making them keeps it enjoyable for me, especially when the act of cooking gets a bit tiresome. Allow yourself the time to try something new out.

Inspiration for what to cook can grow thin, especially when you don’t know where to start. Here’s some of my recommendations on where to look.

Websites and cookbooks:

  • Hello Fresh – Surprisingly, without a subscription, you can access their huge collection of recipes. These can be categorised by cuisine, ingredients, and diet.
  • BBC Good Food – Similar to Hello Fresh, the BBC Good Food website has some great recipes, from comfort food to cheap eats.
  • Delia Smith’s How to Cook – A cookbook perfect for those wanting a solid foundation on how to cook.
  • Jessica Elliott Dennison’s Tin Can Magic – Canned food is often the cheapest for students, but this doesn’t mean it has to be boring. This cookbook focuses on adding flavour and interest to what you might already have in your cupboard.
  • Freeze: Super-nourishing meals to batch cook, freeze and eat on demand – Batch cooking is a saving grace if you’re on a push for time, and this cookbook provides some recipes to do just the trick.
  • Miguel Barclay’s Super Easy One Pound Meals and Jack Monroe’s A Girl Called Jack both provide some tasty dishes if you’re on a tight budget.
  • King’s College London graduate and YouTuber Mei Ying Chow’s Food for Thought – From one student to another, check out this free e-Book full of recommendations on how to improve your cooking.

TikTok accounts to follow:

  • For vegetarians and vegans on a budget, check out @nicksbrokekitchen and @fitgreenmind.
  • For some good basic dishes, check out @foodandtravelwithhols.
  • For a little bit of a challenge, take a look at @zoetheolive.
  • @nishatcooks has some incredible meals to try, especially her different curry recipes.
  • Elanor from @good_food_mood__ recently started a new series called ‘One Pot One Portion’ which is perfect to avoid on washing up, but also if you’ve got bored of batch cooking or wanted to try something new without the worry of wasting lots of ingredients.
  • @evehlavatovic’s blog is filled with a range of recipes to fit all diets – from gluten free to dairy intolerant, as well as meals to suit every occasion.

Learn the basics before committing to more advanced recipes

Recipes can be filled with jargon which just overcomplicates everything, especially for students who are cooking for the first time for themselves. If you don’t understand something, just do a little bit of research.

Like most skills, practice makes perfect. Don’t be worried about how long something takes to make (unless you’re starving). Take your time. YouTube and TikTok are great resources for learning cooking techniques too.

Having an awareness of what different ingredients look like when they’re cooked and the order of ingredients is fundamental in not only improving your cooking, but also having the confidence to try new recipes out.

And don’t fall victim to not reading the instructions all the way through before starting!

Bulk it out

When you’re feeling a little lazy (it happens more than we care to admit), there’s still ways of keeping your meals interesting. Something I like to do is throw in a range of textures and flavours in all my meals, even if it’s something as simple as pesto pasta or instant noodles.  Keeping frozen vegetables on hand is perfect for this.

Plan, plan, plan

My biggest piece of advice for avoiding food waste and saving money is planning your meals out in advance. Instead of deciding what to make on the day from what you’ve got in the fridge, you’re able to use ingredients for multiple meals and try new dishes out. Make shopping lists and don’t give into those impulses!

If you find yourself with ingredients you don’t know how to use, check out Tesco’s Recipe Finder and SuperCook’s Zero Waste Recipe Generator.

Know when buying something ready-made is worth it

As a student, cost comes first. That is why it is vital to consider the price of individual ingredients versus a jar or tub of something ready-made. Whilst a jar of tikka masala paste makes everything so much easier, buying the ingredients individually can sometimes be cheaper in the long run. It also allows you to pick and choose ingredients and flavour combinations to your heart’s desire, as well as understand how to use spices most effectively.

Something like ready-made pasta sauce is the same. Whilst it’s convenient, it’s often healthier to make a sauce yourself. This can then be used as a base for other dishes too.

Have fun!

Remember, cooking doesn’t have to be a chore. Pick some of your favourite tunes, be a little extra when presenting – it’s the perfect opportunity to destress and switch off.

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