11 essential cooking tips for every student kitchen
Learn these 11 simple but golden rules of the kitchen and you'll be a culinary master in no time!
The 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 less pricey) 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 overnight – it takes a bit of time and patience, plus a few essential tips and tricks from those in the know (us).
11 simple cooking hacks
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 (we're looking at you, bolognese fiends).
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
Credit: John Keogh – Flickr
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 when you're feeling lazy it's a lot easier to throw together meals if you know you have majority of the ingredients already in your cupboards. Luckily, we have a full list of student cupboard essentials that'll 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, and you'll save money in the long run.
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) 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. Now 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 aside from its nutritional value, it offers a bit of variety. 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
It's easy to come to the conclusion that you'll cook better food if you have more assorted sizes and types of pa, but the reality of it is that you can actually live with just one pan… alright, 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 (you can shop for these 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 whatever you're having with what you're cooking in your non-stick beauty (rice or potatoes, for example).
Don't dismiss the microwave
Microwaves get a bad rap. Sure, they've given birth to some unspeakable, unholy foods that you'd never indulge even during your worst hangover. But if you know what you're doing, your microwave can become a trusty ally in producing a top class meal.
Admittedly the microwave is never going to be as good as its more esteemed kitchen neighbours at making quality food, but it does require a lot less effort to use, and leads to a lot less washing up too.
Our list of foods you didn't know you could cook in the microwave is full of hidden gems, ranging from poppadoms to caramel sauce. Yes, you read that correctly. Caramel sauce.
Freeze everything that's freezable
Credit: Yann Rocq – Flickr
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 godsend 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!
Since food doesn't tend to last long enough in a family home before it gets munched, there are probably loads of things that you can freeze that you probably didn't realise you could. 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
When you get to that stage where you can feel confident throwing various ingredients into one big pot and letting them stew till they taste heavenly – that's when you know you've made it as a culinary pro!
We're massive fans of the one-pot dinner – it's super easy, and can be divvied up into different portions and eaten throughout the week. Not only this, but one-potters tend to be cheap to make and involve minimal washing up!
Our list of great soup recipes will get you started, but searching for ‘one-pot recipes‘ online will reveal a whole other world of cheap and tasty dinners. Or, check out our list of amazingly easy pasta recipes – a few of them are one-pot wonders too!
Switch to Quorn
Unless you or someone you live with is a vegetarian, there's a good chance that you'll have never tried Quorn (or another meat substitute) before. Well we have, and we can confirm: it's great.
The most popular Quorn product is probably the mince, which aside from having a much lower fat content and almost as much protein as regular mince, is also much cheaper. What's more, you can keep it in the freezer for many, many moons.
As for the taste? Well, most mince recipes involve a sauce of some kind, and both meat and Quorn end up absorbing the flavour of that anyway. So while the texture is slightly different, you'll struggle to notice any real difference if you're using it in a spag bol, chilli con carne, or whatever else takes your fancy!
If you're not a mince fan, Quorn also does meat-free burgers, chicken, sausages and much more! All low in fat, high in protein, and much better for the environment (and your wallet) than your standard meat products.
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.
However, it's important to remember 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 sometime.
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 to help expand your own repertoire.
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
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Planning your meals ahead 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, because who knows when you're gonna need rescuing?
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!