One of the more difficult sides of moving away from home and into university accommodation (whether that be halls, student housing, or anything else) is figuring out what food to make for yourself three times a day, every day, seven days a week, for the next three (or more) years.
As someone who spent their entire first year in university halls trying to use what little cooking skills I already had into making meals for myself, for some reason, I believe this makes me more than qualified to write a blog post on some easy cooking ideas that students (or anyone) can use to ensure they aren't just relying on takeaways every night (because that can get real expensive real quick).
I didn't really cook anything from scratch whilst at university because I didn't know how (and still don't, in all honesty), but I was still at least able to make relatively healthy meals that were filling and got me through each day.
One thing I will recommend before I get into the actual post itself is to make a list on your phone (or on paper) of the meals you are planning on making at least a week in advance (I did mine two weeks in advance, but I guess it's whatever's easiest for you). By doing this, it can help you to make a shopping list and you can either do one big shop for the week or just go and get the food as and when you need it. Doing this also stopped me from either deciding I really couldn't be bothered to cook and giving into a takeaway; OR settling for the same food all the time and not really getting that much variety in my life.
Pasta is a very simple and easy dish and is one I relied on quite a lot during my time at university. I have a few pasta dishes up my sleeve, so am going to give you a few ideas that can start you on your way to becoming a pasta connoisseur:
Dish #1 ~ Pasta, Pesto, Sausages and Peas Pasta and pesto is one of my favourite dishes EVER and is dead quick and easy to make. If you don't like sausages and/or peas, or would rather replace the pesto with tomato sauce (as in the pasta sauce, not ketchup), then you can easily make changes to this dish to suit your culinary desires. All you have to do is pour boiling water into a saucepan, put the pasta and peas in for twenty minutes, put the sausages in (I used veggie sausages as I hate touching raw meat, but you can do whatever suits you) for twenty minutes. I used two sausages, but you can put in whatever amount you feel like (it is your dinner after all). Then, once everything is cooked, drain the water from the pasta and peas, cut up the sausages and put them in the saucepan, put in some pesto (I always use a third of a jar as I like my pasta to have lots of sauce on it, but you can put in whatever amount of pesto you want - go wild if you want and put in the entire jar!) and hey pesto! (I really hope you can see what I did there), you have yourself a very tasty, easy meal, with minimal washing up. What could be better?
Another way I like to cook this dish is by swapping out the sausages for either prawns or a chicken kiev. I discovered how nice pasta, pesto, chicken kiev and peas tastes by accident when I had some pesto left and needed to use it up before heading home for the holidays and only had a chicken kiev left so put this together and the garlic from the kiev and pesto worked so well together.
It is also worth noting that you can even have this dish with a few slices of garlic bread (because who doesn't love a bit of garlic bread with their dinner?).
Dish #2 ~ pasta, baked beans and cheese
I know your first thought upon reading that would be 'ew, that's disgusting', but don't knock it 'til you try it. This is a dish I ate all through secondary school for school dinners and I LOVED it. You literally just have to boil the pasta for twenty minutes, put the beans in a saucepan and cook for five minutes (but given how shit university halls cookers and hobs are, that may well take a little longer. We only had one hob ring that properly worked in our flat and I once left some baked beans on one of the others for ten minutes on full heat and they were still stone cold). Then, once everything is cooked, you put the pasta and the beans into a dish and grate some cheese on top. It may sound disgusting, but it's honestly really nice. And even if you don't like the sound of this, I really recommend you keep a couple of cans of baked beans in your cupboard as there will be plenty of times where you will need some of these.
Dish #1 ~ jacket potato, baked beans and cheese
Clearly having carbs with backed beans and cheese is a firm favourite of mine. Jacket potatoes are so simple to make and even though they typically take quite a long time to cook, I relied heavily on McCain's frozen jacket potatoes that you can cook in either the microwave or oven for a shorter amount of time compared to fresh potatoes. All you have to do is put it in the oven for the required amount of time (make sure you stab it if it's a fresh potato as otherwise it will explode and we can do without the mess), put the baked beans in a saucepan to cook when the jacket potato is nearly finished cooking, put the jacket potato on a plate with the beans on top and then grate some cheese on the top.
Dish #2 - jacket potato, cheese and chilli sauce
This was my other go-to option when it came to making jacket potatoes. You literally just do the same as above, which is to put the jacket potato in the oven (or microwave) for the required time. Then, five minutes before it should finish cooking, put some slices of cheese on top of the jacket potato and put it back in the oven for five minutes to melt the cheese. Then take it out of the oven, put it on a plate, and put some chilli sauce on top. My go-to and all-time FAVOURITE chilli sauce is sriracha, but obviously, you can use whichever chilli sauce you like the most (or don't use any chilli sauce at all if you don't like spice).
Obviously, jacket potatoes are incredibly versatile and you can pretty much put a jacket potato with anything. A few months ago I had a sweet jacket potato with chicken fajita and it was honestly one of the tastiest things to ever enter my mouth. I even at one point had a jacket potato with chilli con carne and cheese and it was DIVINE! Literally just shove one in the oven and pair it with whatever you fancy.
Dish #1 ~ rice, fish cakes and peas
When I first started making this dish, I always made it with Ben's pre-cooked rice that you just put in the microwave for a couple of minutes. However, it does work out cheaper if you just buy a packet of uncooked rice and cook it yourself (even though it takes a lot longer and is a lot harder to cook - I HATE cooking rice!). In terms of boiling rice, you should boil the water in a saucepan, wash the rice (NOT with soap, just with water), put the rice in the boiling water and stir it every so often until the rice has absorbed all the water. You should put the fish cakes in at the same time as the rice, as both should only take about twenty minutes. You can also put the peas in with the rice if you so wish, or cook them separately - it's up to you. Then, put it all in a bowl and I like to serve this with Sriracha sauce.
Dish #2 ~ rice and chilli con carne
I won't lie, I only ate this in my first month or two at university and it was only because my Mum had pre-made some chilli con carne for me to freeze and heat up whenever I wanted. In all honesty, I have absolutely no idea how to make a chilli con carne, but I guess as long as you cook the minced beef enough so you don't get food poisoning and don't make it so spicy that you can't eat it then you should be alright. But for ease, here is a recipe that seems relatively straightforward and easy to follow.
Is cooking frozen foods really proper cooking? I mean, I would say yes, but I'm no expert (or chef), so I have absolutely no idea what the proper answer should be. However, I have always said that two foods you should always have in your house are chicken nuggets and fish fingers because you can pretty much pair them with anything and they literally take no preparation, only take around twenty minutes in the oven at two hundred degrees Celsius (standard time, pretty much, for any oven food, btw).
I'm not going to tell you exactly how to go about cooking frozen foods as I'm sure you're more than capable of figuring out how to cook them for yourself. Some of my favourites to cook involved pizza, chips, hash browns, basically anything that contained a lot of carbs and probably wasn't that good for you. I would particularly stick with these if I'd had a long day at university and couldn't be bothered to stand around for ages cooking something, or if I just generally couldn't be bothered.
I also had a ready meal about once a week. I know many people aren't a fan of ready meals because they don't have much nutritional value, are too high in sugar, or for whatever reason, they don't like them. But for me, I would have a ready meal so I could eat a meal that was similar to what I would eat at home (obviously, my home-cooked meals were more often than not cooked from scratch), so I could have a bit of home comfort in my food without having to go through the process of having to make it. This definitely helped with the homesickness and also meant I had a little less pressure on me to cook a 'proper' meal every day of the week.
Hopefully, this post has helped give you some inspiration for some food recipes at university. I know how easy it is to just give in and order a takeaway (I lived opposite a McDonalds for my first year of university and it was torture). But the cost of takeaways eventually add up and become even more expensive than just cooking from scratch. Plus, they're super unhealthy and whilst it's okay to have them every once in a while, they shouldn't be a regular feature in your diet.
As a recent graduate from university, I am very keen to create more blog posts on university life. I have already written a fair few over the last few years, but if there is anything, in particular, you would like me to cover that I haven't already, please feel free to leave a comment down below and I will try my best to cover it.
I really hope you enjoyed this post and I hope even more that you have an amazing time at university and that you make the most of it.
Love Beth xx