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A Students Food Survival Guide – Those First Steps

You could be a mom and dad who has a fledgling, about to fly the nest and go out in the tough college or uni world. Or perhaps you are that fledgling, taking your first nervous steps to have to fend for yourself. Whichever one – it’s a wrench, no longer will there be those cupboards or fridges that seem to always be stocked with food, as if by magic.

Contrary to some opinions, life does not revolve around Ubereats, Just Eats, DoorDash, or any other takeaway options – if it does, a student will soon fast-track into an endless saga of increasing overdrafts and texts from their bank. So let’s get logical and plan out all those ‘can’t live without’ items that last and that can make the simplest of meals taste good or are a great staple to have in your cupboard/fridge. Of course, mistakes will be made, but that is part of growing up and fending for yourself.

Fending for yourself…where to start?

Of course, it does depend on the size of your accommodation, whether the halls of residence, a quad kitchen, a room off campus, or a shared flat/house with another 4-6 people (to keep the rent down!). Limited cupboard space means limited space to stock food, and we all know that buying in bulk, to begin with – a term’s worth or half a term even is so much cheaper.

If you do share with a few others, it’s worth having a kitty, so that a couple of you can go off and top up on communal necessities, such as rice, pasta etc. Find out if your uni/college has discount cards or special arrangements with a cash & carry or similar and get a membership card to be able to enjoy any benefits. My youngest son was at university for four long years (or so my bank account tells me!), and he found there were lots of small supermarkets and markets around, that gave quite surprising discounts to students. It’s certainly worth a try in your first few months.

Stocking up your college fridge

Hopefully, you will either have your own transport or a lift from mom and dad to take you to your chosen college or university before term starts. A great opportunity to write out your ‘sensible’ lists of things to take. If you do buy in bulk the obvious items, try to have a few plastic containers, especially those with airtight tops, to ‘decant’ smaller quantities into your everyday cupboards, and leave the rest, sealed or at least covered up in your larger cupboards. Really does save a mess!

If you happen to have a birthday or Christmas falling at a sensible time, it might be worth asking relatives to buy you useful things, whether food or some starter equipment for your kitchen. Not the most exciting gesture, but trust me, you will be grateful at some point!

The ‘List’…

This is by no means comprehensive and we are bound to miss something out, but at least it gives you a good starting point. Sometimes the obvious items, are not always, well, obvious, as they are somewhat taken for granted when you live at home. It’s easy to think that a jar of coffee is a god-given right!

Grains and Cereals

Always a good fix for breakfast, or supper top-up. Think oats, oatmeal, and supermarket brands of cornflakes, bran, etc. When it comes to breakfast, try to buy ready-to-bake bread, or long-life bread products such as bagels.

Peanut butter and honey – good for topping toast, but can also be made into great satay sauces, curry sauce, etc. Frozen waffles are not a bad bet either.

Polenta is good when you can’t get fresh potatoes!

Oats can be used in many other ways, along with other versatile items such as toast and eggs. Lots of ways to use them. Also handy is plain yogurt – you can use this in ‘sweet’ and savory dishes.

Rice and pasta just go without saying!

Spices, Seasonings, and Sauces

You just have to have these, as they can make using up leftovers much more palatable, and make a simple dish taste so good! You should use a light oil for any cooking such as sunflower (vegetable oil would be a second choice), as these mix better with seasonings.

Good spices to stock are curry powder, chili powder or flakes, mixed herbs, sage, rosemary – and not forgetting garlic powder or paste. When you have a few pennies left in your pocket, do try to get some fresh herbs, they liven up a salad really well.

Salt and pepper – of course!

Having tomato ketchup in the cupboard is not a sin, but in order to make the simplest meal a bit zestier, go for Worcestershire Sauce, Tabasco or Sriracha. Some mayo and some vinegar also help.

Canned Goods

You really can’t live without canned goods! They last, of course, and when all else fails, you can always open a can for something quick to eat.

I would say canned tomatoes and beans all day long. As well as the ubiquitous baked beans, get some cans of mixed beans (no sauce), chickpeas, lentils, etc. All of these can be made into simple and tasty veggie curries/chillis.

Whilst we talk about canned goods, coconut milk is another great addition, if your budget will stretch.

Frozen Food

Hopefully, you will have at least a small fridge freezer, but I  know how difficult this is unless you are sharing a house, rather than living on campus or in a tiny bedsit. Packs of frozen veggies are another good fallback when there may be very little else!

Life’s Little Luxuries!

I haven’t met a student yet who would bother to make their own gravy properly! Some stock cubes, bouillon, and gravy granules added to soups, curries, chillis, etc., are a must.

Some other tips

I hope you don’t find this too overwhelming – the list looks huge, so get mum and dad to take you your first week at uni, so they can fill up their boot with your goods! With dry and canned goods, you can get them over a period of time before you go and take advantage of relatives and friends donating to your fund!

Above all, just have a great time at uni, enjoy, work hard and eat well!



Author picture
Bev Perkins

An experienced chef, recipe developer, food writer and qualified nutritionist, Bev’s career has encompassed over 40 years. Educated in London and Paris, and with an unquenchable thirst for travelling, Bev’s passion for cooking evolved with a deep desire to learn about every cuisine in the globe, so whilst resident in Paris she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu (formerly L’Ecole Culinaire de Paris) and spent two years learning her art. She furthered her experience working in restaurants in all corners of the world from bistros to Michelin-Starred establishments and finally with her own catering company providing food to both corporate and individual clients. An experienced writer and editor, Bev is never happier than with a pen in one hand and cookery book in the other!

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