Off to uni? Looking forward to cutting those apron strings and eating whatever you want, whenever you want? Excited for that diet of McDonald’s fries, toast, KFC and the occasional cheeky Nando’s?
Now, we don’t want to burst your bubble, or sound old and boring, but we don’t want you to go off into the big wide world all by yourself for the first time thinking this kind of diet is sustainable. Maybe you could get by for Freshers’ Week living off this sort of fare, but not for much longer, unless you like the idea of being permanently skint and developing rickets.
Your parents have probably drilled into you how to make a bolognese, how to cook chicken so it won’t make you ill and where to buy fresh fruit from, but going to uni is meant to be about standing on your own two feet, and you should be free to follow your own path.
With this in mind, we’ve compiled a list of straightforward but super-tasty meals that are perfect for students; easy, healthy, impressive and delicious, all at the same time.
A home-cooked meal is also excellent for bonding with new flatmates over. Make sure to emphasise how easy your creations were to make and suggest you all take it in turns to cook. It’ll be like living Come Dine With Me every night, and what could be better than that?
If your ‘rents have shown you how to make a bolognese and a white sauce before you head off to uni, you can make a lasagne – just layer them up with pasta sheets and cheese, and that’s it.
But for something a bit less homely and a bit more trendy, it’s really easy to turn these staples into a Mexican lasagne – a lovely, hearty, spicy meal that’s ideal for feeding a crowd of hungry uni mates.
With a bit of chilli powder, you can quickly turn your bolognese into a chilli. Then, instead of layering it up with pasta sheets, use tortilla wraps. Mrs Ellwood (not your food tech teacher) has a great recipe, talking you through how to do this to impress your new flatmates.
Curried shepherd's pie
Shepherd’s pie is another comfort food classic and a cracking recipe to have in your repertoire. With a few clever tweaks – like in this recipe from Easy Peasy Foodie – you can easily bring this traditional dish into 2018.
The recipe uses spices often featured in Indian cooking in the mince mixture, and it’s topped with mashed sweet potato to add extra flavour and a little twist to this age-old classic. Lamb mince can be quite costly when you’re on a student budget, so go for pork or turkey instead, or even Quorn to leave you more cash to spend in the bar later on.
Cheeky homemade Nando's
Who doesn’t love a cheeky Nando’s?! Hot peri peri chicken, garlic bread, rice, peri-salted chips…so so good. But not the cheapest, unfortunately.
Instead of spending your time waiting for your wing roulette – the chicken version of Revels, yes? – to arrive and gathering up your own cutlery and napkins (the only downside of the Nando’s experience), use it to make your own version at home.
Every Nook and Cranny has a hot (in every sense of the word) recipe for peri-peri sauce that makes the perfect marinade for chicken – just coat your meat in it and leave it for an hour or so to soak up all that flavour.
And rather than going for the ultimate carb-fest of chips, mash and garlic bread to go with your chicken, serve it in a wholemeal pitta with a little mayo and these Nando’s-style peas from What Lauren Lovess. Your flatmates will love you and your mum will be pleased you’re eating your greens.
Salt and pepper chicken
One thing no-one ever tells you about becoming a student: you will now spend your life wading through an avalanche of takeaway menus. Every time you return to your digs, you will struggle to open the door due to the volume of pizza coupons and curry menus that will have been delivered in the 20 minutes you’ve been out.
Healthier Sloppy Joe burgers
Sure, a Sloppy Joe burger at a diner-style eatery is a great treat, but when you factor in the cost of fries, a milkshake and maybe a dessert too, it’s not necessarily the most student loan-friendly meal.
Remember that bolognese recipe that’s been drummed into you? It can form the basis of a homemade Sloppy Joe burger too, like in this recipe from Slimming Eats.
Cook up a big pan of the smoky mince mixture, buy a packet of bread rolls and let everyone make up their own burgers. Get in some gherkins and jalapenos, and grate some cheese too so your flatmates can pimp their Sloppy Joes, however they like.
Bought fresh fruit like your mum told you to with the best intentions, but it’s gone bad? Don’t panic – this is exactly the kind of situation that banana bread was invented for.
A slice of this before heading to lectures would make a fairly decent breakfast, as it’s nice and filling and full of fibre. Have a slice after a night out to soak up all that booze and ward off a hangover, or grab some for a snack when you’ve not had time to cook something more substantial. I Am a Food Blog has a lovely, simple recipe to follow.
Gluten-free popcorn rocky road
Rocky road is another great grab-and-go snack, and it doesn’t even need any baking, so it’s perfect for making between lectures and leaving to set for when you get back to your digs at the end of the day.
The beauty of rocky road is that you can put whatever you like in there; popcorn, cereal, dried fruit, sweets, marshmallows, broken-up bits of biscuits and chocolate bars – pretty much anything.
This recipe for gluten-free popcorn rocky road by From the Larder is a good starting point, and you can adapt it however you like, because that’s what uni’s all about: freedom and finding your own way, in life and in rocky road.