The definitive guide to easy student meals

Leaving home for university is exciting but it’s bound to feel daunting, too. You’re not just learning how to balance coursework with a lively social life; it’s also time to learn how to food shop and fend for yourself in the kitchen. Whether you’re an absolute beginner or already a whizz in the kitchen, our tips and recipes will help you make easy and delicious student meals without blowing your budget. 

  1. Get a head start

    Make the most of the summer holidays before term begins to practice some simple recipes at home. You could start by asking your parents to show you how to cook your favourite meals and then take on cooking dinner once a week as a warm-up. Not only will your family have the night off, but you’ll also arrive at university knowing how to cook the food you love, so home won’t feel quite so far away.

    Why not have a look at our favourite family recipes for some inspiration.

  2. Learn the basics

    Moving beyond your favourite dishes, mastering a few key recipes can set you up with a brilliant springboard for hundreds of meals while you’re away. The more you cook them, the more confident you’ll become at adding your own flavours and twists.

    Why not try these ideas as a starting point…

    Omelette: A basic omelette makes a fantastic budget breakfast, lunch or dinner when you’re in a hurry. Once you’ve mastered cooking and folding the eggs, the world is your oyster when it comes to flavours and fillings. Try cheese, ham, mushrooms, spinach, peppers, chorizo, shredded chicken, herbs and spices – anything goes! Serve with salad for a light lunch, or with crusty bread or potatoes for a heartier meal.

    Roast chicken: This is a great dish for sharing with your new housemates. What’s more, a whole chicken is better value than individual pieces and the leftovers are perfect for turning into fast midweek meals. Chuck into salads, shred over tacos, stir into pasta, or simply stuff in a sandwich. Here's a classic roast chicken recipe to try.

    Meat ragu: Don’t be put off by the fancy title, learning how to cook a rich, meaty ragu will set you up for some of your favourite meals. With minced beef and chopped tomatoes, you’ve got the start of a bolognese or lasagne; add some spice and beans for a chilli con carne, or try lamb for a shepherd’s pie. Vegetarian? No problem, try a delicious mushroom ragu instead.

    Simple batter: It may sound too good to be true, but a classic batter of flour, eggs and milk can form the basis of many wonderful dishes. This same basic batter can be used for delicious pancakes for breakfast, brunch or dessert, for fluffy Yorkshire puddings to take your roast to the next level, or for a hearty toad-in-the-hole.

  3. Safe storage

    Now you’ve made all this tasty food, make sure you know how to store it safely so you can enjoy meals and leftovers throughout the week. Even products fresh from the supermarket need to be stored correctly to maximise their lifespan, and to ensure you’re not throwing away items you’ve spent money on. 

    Top fridge-packing tips: Store meat on the bottom shelf. It’s the coldest place in the fridge and packaged raw meat should live here. Yogurts should also live on the bottom shelf for the same reason. 

    Eggs should be kept in their egg box and are most at home on the middle shelf. If you have a handy middle drawer, store cooked meats here. Otherwise place them on the bottom shelf too.

    Butter and cheese don’t need to be super cold, so are best on middle-top shelves. Condiments tend to be packed with natural preservatives so can live in the door or on the top shelf.

    Fruit and vegetables are happiest in the fridge drawers, where the atmosphere is a little more humid.

    Before term starts, stock up on a few reusable food containers with airtight seals. Get a few different sizes so that you can store batch-cooked meals, pack up individual portions or keep small leftovers ready to use.

  4. Meal planning

    Student life can be pretty hectic, but if you can get into the habit of planning your weekly meals, you’ll not only save money on your food shop – you’ll also save yourself time during the week. Look at what you’ve already got in the cupboards and fridge first to avoid overflowing packets of dried pasta that you’ve forgotten you have. Having a meal plan gives you a basic foundation to build on – chicken in the fridge could become a curry, a stir-fry or a tasty tray bake with just a few extra ingredients, some of which you probably already have on hand.

    Also, try our handy Meal Planner tool to help you choose and save recipes for the week.

  5. Store cupboard essentials

    Before we leave home, it’s easy to take the fully stocked cupboards for granted. Setting up your own kitchen, it’s a great idea to keep some essentials on hand so that you can rustle up a quick meal, or add flavour with a pinch of this or a spoonful of that.

    Here are our recommended ingredients to get you started:

    Cooking essentials: Olive oil (for cooking and dressings), plain flour (baking, batters and thickening), bicarbonate of soda (for baking and even cleaning), sugar, salt and pepper

    Cheap carbs: Pasta, rice and couscous (for fast meals, sides and bulkier salads – allow roughly 75g per portion), oats (for porridge, muesli, homemade granola and flapjacks to power you through those all-nighters)

    Tinned veg and pulses: Chopped tomatoes, sweetcorn, beans, lentils and chickpeas (these can be whizzed into homemade houmous as well)

    Dried herbs and spices: Mixed herbs, dried chilli, cumin (for easy Middle Eastern flavour) and paprika (for a smoky hit)

    Sauces and liquids: Stock cubes, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce (for a splash of instant flavour), coconut milk (for Asian soups and curries), sweet chilli sauce (for spicy dipping and drizzling), gravy granules (when only a roast will do…)

    Jars: Pesto (for an immediate pasta sauce), mustard (for a hit with meats and fish), curry paste (for curry in a hurry), peanut butter (for snacking and sandwiches)

    Fresh staples: Onions, potatoes, garlic, ginger (all keep well at room temperature)

    Protein: Tinned tuna (ready to be added to pasta, salads, sandwiches or jacket potatoes), eggs, nuts and seeds (to add crunch to breakfast, salads, stir-fries and bakes)

  6. Share the cooking

    Cooking for one can sometimes be pricey, so sharing the cooking with your hall- or house-mates can not only help your money go further, but it’s also a fun way to get to know people and try some new recipes, too. Try making a rota so you don’t end up cooking every day, or plan a group dinner once or twice a week where you share the cooking (and the washing up…) together. This could be a speedy midweek meal, Friday night curry feast or weekend roast to get everyone together.

  7. Learn as you go

    Learning to cook will be a bit of a rollercoaster at times – there may be some burnt bits and ruined pans along the way – but it should be an enjoyable journey, too. Whether you’re starting from scratch or expanding your existing skills, university can be a great place to experiment in the kitchen with dishes and ingredients you love. From sharing homemade nachos on the sofa with your housemates to beating the morning hangover with a hearty breakfast, every recipe you cook will help your kitchen confidence grow.

    For more tips and ideas, check out our how to videos or easy student dinner recipes to help start your culinary adventure…