Students Eating at University
What students need to know in advance
As students you have just taken your A levels and are relying on acceptable grades to allow you to go to University. If that pressure wasn’t enough you are also realising that once at university, your levels of confidence and independence as students are paramount to your success. If you are lucky enough to be able to afford catered accommodation, the transition from home to uni is made a little easier. But if you have to feed yourself, eating the right things and being frugal with any allowance you might have will play a major part in your survival.
Whilst eating at fast food restaurants like McDonalds or KFC for example, (as nice as they both may be) sounds attractive, the amount of nutrition for students contained in these meals will be insufficient to give you the right amount of energy and mental capacity you will need on a daily basis. And as for the cost, your allowance is going to dwindle fast.
And what about your independence? This is your opportunity to show exactly what you can do on your own. No help from Mum or Dad. And as a nation we have come a long way from having the mind-set that any form of cooking was just something females do. Indeed, cooking can be quite inventive and often cool! And as for confidence, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, you will find it much easier than you think.
Your aim should be to tempt yourself with foods you really enjoy. But don’t purchase them, try to create them yourself. “And when am I going to find the time to do that” I hear you saying. Believe it or not, most items can be created quite quickly if you are organised. Time management is the key. It’s a bit like driving – think ahead.
In order for you to get to grips with what catering for yourself will mean, I have broken down into areas the information that I feel would be most beneficial to students, together with a few thrown in tips along the way.
Before you start spending any money on all those gratifying nibbles, you need to make sure that your food allowance is going to last. Having worked out the amount you have to spend per term, break this down into a weekly amount. This becomes your weekly students budget.
Remember that this budget is for all your food and drinks and should also be taken into account if you intend to eat out.
Think very carefully about where you are going to buy your food items and how often. You may well have a corner shop nearby. This would be handy for emergencies but will inevitably be more expensive. This is where thinking ahead comes in handy. Taking into consideration the budget you have, create a menu for yourself in advance (sample menus template below) and buy everything for that menu by visiting a larger food store where you will get more value for your money.
Where a supermarket is in close proximity to a uni, you will find that they offer specially discounted offers for students. Take advantage of them as they will save you a lot of money. This can include equipment as well as food items.
Take advantage of promotions and special offers. For example, you may not need two tins of baked beans but if the cost per can is made cheaper by the offer, buy the two and incorporate the second one into next weeks menu. And only go shopping once a week. Repeat visits will waste time you haven’t got and only result in impulse buying. You don’t want to be tempted to buy things you don’t really need.
Another way to make your shop a little less expensive is to join forces with someone else. There is a certain amount of truth about the fact that two or more people can eat cheaper per person than just buying for one. Agree on the things you like and develop your weekly menus for the two of you. Then take it in turns to do the shopping and split the cost – this will in turn save you more time.
Make sure you sign up for any loyalty schemes in whatever shops you regularly use and make sure you receive their newsletters online where applicable. Whilst the points systems are not as good as they used to be, you may be pleasantly surprised with what returns you get over time, including notifications about forthcoming promotions and one-day giveaways.
The chances are that knowing you will be catering for yourself, you will have discussions with your family well in advance about what equipment you will need. DO NOT GET CARRIED AWAY. This can become very expensive and unless you are following a cookery degree, you are not fully equipping a kitchen; therefore you will only require a few items. Below is a starter list that you may wish to follow. If there is anything else that you find you need you can get it as you require it.
Cup & Saucer / Mug
Knife, Fork, Dessert Spoon, Tea Spoon
2 Saucepans (1pt & 2pt)
2 Sharp Preparation Knives (4inch & 8inch)
Producing a weekly menu is not brain surgery but it is the best way to make sure that you are eating properly and that you preserve your food budget and don’t run out of cash. However It is a waste of time continually working out menus on a weekly basis. This would be like re-inventing the wheel. My advice would be to create a menu for the first four weeks, making sure as little individual items as possible are repeated. This can then become your monthly menu cycle. When you get to the end, it starts all over again.
From my experience with my daughters, storage space is a luxury you are unlikely to have at Uni. You are only likely to be given one shelf in a refrigerator, one shelf in a freezer and possibly a small cupboard to house everything else, including your cooking equipment. Therefore buying lots of different composite food items at the same time in advance would be a mistake. This is something that will build little by little over time. There are a few items which would be prudent to have readily available most of the time (see below) but they will not exhaust your available space.
Butter (or substitute)
Try where possible to incorporate and buy some food items which are unlikely to go out of date. Canned and long life goods are a prime example. These can then be stored in your cupboard without the worry of them becoming inedible. Remember, you have no spare cash for waste. Without teaching you to “suck eggs”, remember to refrigerate all items that require such conditions, including any open ambient products that do not contain some form of preservative.
When you do your first shop, include a roll of wrapfast. Any open food which you store in your refrigerator should be wrapped. This helps to prevent the food from becoming cross contaminated with something else. You want to end up eating wholesome food, full of goodness, not inadvertently making yourself ill.
Preparation and Safety
This can be fun and even more so if done with a friend. Remember a task shared is a task halved.
If this is your first time cooking or you have little experience, the best way to create meals for you to enjoy is by following a recipe. Don’t run out and buy cookery books as this can become expensive. There are lots of ways that you can get the information you want, either from your family, suggestion leaflets where you shop or online. Ultimately you will find a wealth of recipe information on this site, just click student meals These recipes will tell you what ingredients you need and the method to follow in order to get the best results.
However, it would be negligent of me if I did not offer a few safety tips before you begin.
When you prepare food to cook yourself, this will at some stage require you to use a sharp knife. Good quality sharp knives are a must but remember they can be lethal if not used or treated with respect. Always hold knives with your hand and fingers entirely wrapped around the handle and nowhere near the blade. And take your time. Don’t try to be a masterchef until you have had plenty of practice. Being cocky in front of your peers could quite easily end in disaster.
Always cut items on a non-slip chopping board, again always gripping food items with your fingers kept away from the blade of the knife.
Caution should also be used when handling cookware. At some stage these items will be very hot and if handled wrongly can result in serious burns. Always handle these items with oven gloves or a thick dry cloth.
If you are the one doing the cooking or even your fellow students you are cooking with, never leave your workspace entirely unattended. People need to know when something is hot or dangerous and you need to be able to tell them.
You remember me talking about cross contamination a little earlier. The other way that this can occur is from preparation equipment if not cleansed properly after use. Remember too your work surface. It is vital to keep this sanitised during and after use. It could also be that your kitchen area is also your lounge area so it is a good idea to keep it as clean and tidy as possible.
Be bold and check out some of the student recipes. You will be amazed by the results and without doubt have more money left in your pocket. So it’s a Win Win!
I wish you every success at Uni and please feel free to share this page. Remember that it has been written from my experiences as a student and a father.
I welcome your thoughts and ideas.