How To: A Student’s Guide to Cooking on the Cheap

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How To: A Student’s Guide to Cooking on the Cheap

The biggest culture shock I got when first leaving home as a bright eyed, optimistic fresher wasn’t having to do my own washing, nor the sudden emancipation from my parents, no. It was the price of ham. Like, proper quality ham that isn’t formed into suspiciously neat rectangles or circles (or the hallmark of quality – rectangles with circular edges). Ham is expensive! And it doesn’t end there! Proper cheese that isn’t marketed as ‘cheddar-style’ cheese, fruit juice that isn’t from concentrate, and worst of all fresh meat – chicken breasts are how much? BUT WHERE’S THE REST OF THE CHICKEN? Luxuries like these don’t come cheap, and it’s no wonder so many students turn to things that can be put on toast – eating is an expensive habit.

I’m now in the 43rd year of my PhD, and living the student life for so long has taught me a few things about working to a tight budget. In this How To series, I hope to share some of this earned wisdom with you because budget living isn’t glamorous – but it doesn’t have to be ugly either. This week is my guide to cooking on the cheap.

There are two words you need to know when it comes to cooking on the cheap: batch cooking. This is your mantra to eating cheap. Cooking meals en masse to feed you over the next few weeks is a game changer – not only is it wallet-friendly, but the convenience of fishing a homemade meal out of the freezer when you can’t be bothered to get dressed/are hungover is pretty great.

Before leaping face first in to batch cooking though, a rigorous mental preparation is required. Much like attaining nirvana in Buddhism or a first in a last-minute essay, batch cooking requires a certain stillness of mind – your inner chef’s chi if you will. First, you must find a batch cook friendly recipe. Bolognese, chili, curry, and soups are good batch cook fodder – they’re low maintenance, can be portioned up, and freeze with the greatest of ease. If you’re a vegetarian or a vegetarian sympathizer then meals like these will cost you next to nothing. Tray bake dishes like lasagna and moussaka are also options for an intermediate batch cooker, but keep it simple to start with.

The second step to successful batch cooking is the acquisition of appropriate goods at an affordable locale. So you know, go shopping. Lidl and Aldi are like bloody cathedrals to the batch cookist, so get yourself down to your local chapter and put some time in. You could also try a smaller parish churches like butchers and market stalls if that’s your thing. Try shopping at these places towards the end of the working day for good deals.

Having achieved these steps, you are now ready for kitchen preparation. Ensure you are well equipped with the right cooking apparatus. A big old pan is a requirement, as is the freezer space and Tupperware to store the fruits of your labour. With these steps in hand, you have achieved the correct state of mind to begin batch cooking. From here you need only to go forth and cook. Best get going then.