9 essential cooking tips for every student kitchen
Learn these 9 simple but golden rules of the kitchen and you'll be a culinary master in no time!
Credit: Orchard CookeryThe thought of suddenly having to fend for yourself and your own diet can be daunting for some students, but the sooner you get the hang of things and feel confident in the kitchen, the more enjoyable (and cheaper) it will be.
It's crazy how much healthier and happier you can feel once getting the hang of a few basic dishes you can rustle up yourself that you enjoy eating. Once you've mastered that bit, you can start saving a bucketload, and showing off your skills to your friends by inviting them over for dinner parties!
Becoming a pro in the kitchen doesn't happen over night – it takes a bit of time and patience, plus a few essential tips and tricks from those in the know!
9 basic cooking tips
Master the art of seasoning
Don't be afraid of opting for the supermarket downshift and going for ‘basics' when doing your weekly shop.
A 15p can of beans or a 12p pack of noodles might not look so appetising on the shelf, but master the art of using spices and seasoning in your cooking and you're laughing!
While salt and pepper will always be your besties, it's worth working out which sorts of spices and herbs you actually like as well, as they can completely change how you cook (and eat!).
For example, a touch of chilli powder, Cajun pepper or paprika will bring a nice kick to pretty much anything you think needs it, whereas dried oregano and basil are a fav for any Italian pasta dishes (bolognese fiends we're looking at you).
Look into some nice combo spice shakers at your local supermarket too – garlic salt or even chilli, garlic and herb mixes work wonders at turning a boring dish into something super tasty.
Stock up on basics
The more you get into your cooking (and we're expecting you probably will since you're fending for yourself in the kitchen now!) the more you'll notice that a lot of recipes use the same base ingredients.
It's therefore a good idea to stock up on these, as it's a lot easier to throw together meals when you're feeling lazy if you know you have majority of the ingredients already in your cupboards. Luckily, we have a full list of student cupboard essentials that will steer you in the right direction!
This might seem like a bit of an expense to shell out on at first, but as these are all store cupboard essentials we're talking about, they last for years.
Learn a fail-proof base sauce
Learn how to make a simple but bangin' tomato sauce and you're sorted! Not only are these great for pastas, but you'll also use a base like this for stuff like Spanish-style stews, casseroles, enchiladas, Bolognese and chilli con carne.
Everyone has their own way of making a sauce like this (normally inspired by family recipes passed down) and their own favourite flavours and spices to add, but once you have it nailed you can simply add whatever meat and/or veg and serve it up with whatever you fancy and you have a meal you can eat almost every night of the week – couscous, rice, pasta, potatoes, you name it.
This is such a great one to learn, as it offers a bit of variety and nutrition as you can switch up the ingredients you add to the sauce depending on what you feel like, and it's cheap to boot!
Another great thing is that tomato sauce-based meals also keep really well in the fridge and taste great for days afterwards (even when frozen – see point 5 below).
Buy one good pan
Credit: Jessica Spengler
It's easy to come to the conclusion that the more assorted sizes and types of pans you have crammed into your cupboard the better, but the reality of it is that you can actually live with one pan… OK, maybe two pans is more realistic, but you need one good one and one cheap one.
We'd recommend getting a fairly decent quality non-stick frying pan that has a bit of depth to it and a lid (one example would be this one pictured above – you can shop for similar ones here).
Aside from soups, you can cook pretty much anything in a pan like this, and you'll learn to love how adaptable it is to different uses. Non-sticks are also WAY more easy to clean.
The second pan we'd recommend getting is a cheap, deeper pan for aforementioned soup-cooking plus any accompaniments you're having with whatever you're cooking in your non-stick beauty (rice or potatoes, for example).
Freeze everything that's freezable
One of the biggest kitchen controversies you're likely to encounter as a student (aside from that phantom snack stealer every student house seems to have) is the battle over freezer space. This is because freezers are like a god-send for students living on a budget, as you can make your food last months longer.
A trick to avoid squabbles is to opt for freezer bags instead of boxes, as they take up way less room. You can even go as far as scooping single portions of soups, sauces or whatever else into individual bags that you can then defrost as and when you need them. Genius!
There are also loads of things you can freeze that you probably didn't realise, since food doesn't tend to last long enough in a family home before it gets munched. We have a guide to give you some info on what you can and can't freeze – have a read here!
Become a one-pot wonder(wo)man
Ok, so getting to that stage where you can feel confident throwing various ingredients into one big pot and letting them stew till they taste heavenly is when you know you've made it as a culinary pro!
We're massive fans of the one-pot dinner, cause it's so easy and can be divvied up into different portions and eaten throughout the week. Not only this, but one-potters tend to be super cheap to make and most important of all – involve minimal washing up!
Check out our list of great soup recipes to get you started, but searching for ‘one-pot recipes‘ online will reveal a whole other world of cheap and tasty dinners.
Learn from others
Cooking with friends and flatmates is a really good way to improve your skills in the kitchen. Sure, you might not necessarily agree with how they do things, but just seeing how other people cook and prep food is great practice and will broaden your culinary knowledge.
It's important to remember, however, that your way isn't always necessarily the right way in the kitchen. Be aware that people can get quite defensive when their kitchen techniques are questioned, so try to be open-minded – you never know, it might be nice to try a new onion-chopping method out anyway, right?
Taking turns at cooking for each other in your student house is also good fun, and you can always ask for recipes of the dishes you like so your recipe back catalogue grows.
Shop in groups
This one is definitely a matter of personal choice, since some people prefer to shop alone so they don't get distracted by other people's purchases (totally understandable).
The benefit of shopping with someone else, however, is that a lot of supermarkets run buy one get free offers (BOGOF), or multibuys that can generally work out much cheaper, so it can be a great money-saver if you have someone to go in with.
However, beware that sometimes supermarkets do the sneaky and make it seem like you're getting a good deal, when you're not actually saving any money – make sure you read this guide so you know what to look out for, and always do the maths before parting with your cash!
Plan your meals
Planning your meals ahead a bit will save you an arm and a leg, and is also way better for your health. We all know how easy it is to come home exhausted from uni and resort to a cheeky takeaway.
Deciding on your meals for the week means you'll only buy exactly what you need from the supermarket one day a week. Same goes for lunches – make sure you have enough of everything to last you the week, or life will get in the way and you'll find yourself in KFC at lunch to save time.
Don't forget to factor in a few snackables too, as well as hangover-friendly saviours, as who knows when you're gonna need rescued.
Once you've mastered the above, you'll be on your way to becoming a confident cook! Next step is to invite the fam over and show off your newly-acquired skills!
Got any important kitchen tips you think are missing from this list? Give us a shout in the comments below!