20 Top Student Recipes
Cooking as a student can be challenging.
Unless you’ve really lucked out in your choice of accommodation, you’re not likely to have a great kitchen to work with. If you have an oven at all, it probably won’t heat steadily all the way through, your hob will be temperamental, and the assortment of pots, pans and baking trays won’t be great either. In terms of utensils, there’s a good chance that you and each of your flatmates will have come equipped with a corkscrew and a tin-opener, but no one will have thought to bring a sieve or a wooden spoon. A recurring feature of student cooking is getting halfway through a recipe to read the words “pulse in your food processor for five minutes” and trying to figure out if there’s any way that you can achieve the same effect with a blunt bread knife and a chopping board so pitted that it looks like the surface of the Moon.
And that’s before you get on to any assumptions cookery book writers make about availability and cost of ingredients. As a student, you’re unlikely to have a car to get to the nearest big supermarket, and so it may well be the case that if it’s an ingredient that isn’t sold in your local Tesco Metro, you aren’t going to be able to get hold of it. There’s also the budget cookbook phenomenon where everything is priced as if you could buy only the amount required, e.g. 2 mint leaves (1p), ¼ pepper (20p) – but unless you’re the first student in history to have a herb garden or your local corner shop is implausibly forgiving, you’re going to have to spend rather more for the ingredients you need.
We’ve assembled some straightforward recipes that are forgiving of substitutions, easy to cook with cheap pans on unreliable hobs, and that don’t require you to buy truffle oil, saffron or a Kenwood Magimix. Here’s what we’ve found.
Buying lunch can eat into a student budget very quickly – even a supermarket meal deal every day will start to add up, and you’ll be tired of soggy bread and insufficient fillings by the end of term.
1. Tuna salad
The key components of a typical tuna salad – some combination of lettuce, tuna, eggs and potatoes – are cheap, filling, healthy, and useful for other things if you only end up using half a packet. You might also like variations with sundried tomatoes or butterbeans. If you make a big batch on a Sunday, it’ll keep for 3 to 5 days in the fridge, by which point you’ll want to eat something different anyway. Here’s a simple recipe, though using tinned tuna will make it even cheaper and simpler.
2. Avocado toast
Avocado toast is an incredibly straightforward lunch, but it feels luxurious all the same. If you have the capacity to mash an avocado where you’re eating lunch, then you only really need two ingredients: an avocado and some pre-toasted bread. Make it more sophisticated by adding a little olive oil, some chopped spring onion, some chili flakes, black pepper and coarse sea salt, plus lemon juice to keep your avocado from going brown if you need to mash it in advance. Avocados aren’t cheap, of course, but you’ll probably only need one.
3. Jacket potato
If you’re eating lunch at home or otherwise have access to a microwave, a jacket potato is the ultimate comforting and filling lunch food. What you put in it is up to you: butter, cheese, tuna, cottage cheese, beans, egg mayonnaise, coronation chicken and leftover chilli are all reasonably cheap options that won’t take forever to prepare. If you feel like a bit of variety, baked sweet potatoes are also delicious.
It might not be exciting, but tinned soup is one of the cheapest, easiest lunches you can possibly make, and some homemade soups, while not as easy, can be as cheap – Jack Monroe’s recipes are a good example. If you’re stuck with soup from a tin, there are cheap and easy ways to make it a bit more exciting, such as adding croutons, a sprinkling of black pepper, or a swirl of creme fraiche.
Making a tart sounds very fancy, but if you buy a sheet of ready-roll puff pastry, you can top it with just about anything, stick it in the oven for 25 minutes, and have yourself a delicious tart. Toppings could include cheese, tomato and pesto, chicken and pesto, mediterranean vegetables, or caramelised onion. Choose your toppings wisely and you’ll have something where you can eat one half hot in the evening and the other half cold for lunch.
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6. Pasta bakes that you don’t have to bake
Pasta bakes are great: cheap, filling and you can make a meal for several flatmates without too much stress. But if you’re just cooking for yourself and you’re in a hurry, you might not want to wait while something bubbles away for 45 minutes in the oven. Recipes where pasta bakes are adapted for stovetop cooking can be great for saving time and washing up. Here’s a 15-minute stovetop lasagna or you might enjoy this stovetop version of a tuna pasta bake.
7. Adapted mac and cheese
Mac and cheese is a student staple – you can make it in one pot in about ten minutes, and it still tastes good with discount cheddar. But while classic mac and cheese is great comfort food, eventually you will want to eat something for dinner that has a vegetable in it. Try adding cauliflower, avocado, butternut squash, mushrooms or leeks to your mac and cheese for a healthier alternative without much extra effort.
8. Spaghetti bolognese
Spaghetti bolognese is another student classic for good reason – it’s really hard to mess it up, it’s filling, and it’s delicious. It can also be adapted endlessly: if you don’t eat beef, lamb mince works just as well, or if you’re a vegetarian, you can try a version with lentils in place of the mince. Substituting butternut squash spaghetti also nets you another one of your five-a-day.
9. Sausage and bean stew
A bean stew can help to redeem even very cheap sausages, and tinned beans are among the cheapest things you can buy. This is another hearty one-pot classic that will need to bubble away on the hub for a while, but which won’t mind if the temperature fluctuates a bit. Here’s one of the simplest recipes, but you can add more ingredients – chopped peppers, kale, fresh herbs – depending on your budget and patience.
If one of your housemates owns a wok, then making a stir-fry is perhaps the easiest healthy dinner you can make. Start with the stir-fry meal deals that the supermarket nearest to your university will undoubtedly stock, and work your way up to the range of more exciting stir-fries you can cook with a bit more time and money for ingredients.
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11. Roast chicken
A roast chicken looks like you’ve put a lot of effort in, but actually it’s the trimmings that take more work – to roast a chicken, you mostly just need to put in a pre-heated oven and forget about it for an hour or two. This recipe covers everything you need, but even then you can skip the bay leaves and rosemary and still end up with a delicious meal with minimal work.
12. Dauphinoise potatoes
When you eat dauphinoise potatoes in a restaurant, they seem sophisticated and probably very hard to make at home. But that’s misleading, as this recipe demonstrates. Yes, you’ll need a sharp knife and some patience, plus they’ll be in the oven for a while, but it’s worth it for how impressed your guests are going to be. Making something that looks really difficult also lets you off the hook for the rest of the meal; you can serve them up with something easy like baked salmon and green beans.
A risotto looks difficult, but actually it’s a one-pot meal that doesn’t involve anything particularly technical, just a lot of stirring. Jamie Oliver provides a basic risotto recipe (you can leave the celery out) to which you can add whatever additional ingredients you fancy, such as goat’s cheese, chicken, mushrooms or vegetables. And if you really don’t feel up to all that stirring but you’re fine with a bit more washing up, you can always make a baked risotto instead.
Want to feed a big group of friends, but not make it too formal? Making a large batch of pancakes is cheap and easy, and depending on what you do about fillings, you might not even have to wash up more than one pan. Just scale up a basic recipe for English pancakes to the amount that you need. If you end up with excess batter, it’ll keep in the fridge for a couple of days, so you can use it to make more pancakes later in the week.
Getting all of the ingredients together for fajitas works out expensive if you’re only cooking for yourself, but if you’re cooking for a crowd then you won’t end up with lots of wasted ends of ingredients where you only needed half. Fajitas are a good option, too, if your friends have difficult dietary requirements – you can serve up meaty, vegetarian and vegan fillings and let them decide which they prefer. Here’s Jamie Oliver’s recipe for chicken fajitas with all the extras.
For those times when getting through a long day in the library needs a little help.
16. Fairy cakes
There’s a reason that fairy cakes are the go-to bake with small children: they’re really hard to get wrong. Even if your oven heats unreliably or unevenly so that they don’t rise as much as they should, they’ll probably still turn out fluffy and delicious, and you can bung on some icing to cover any other flaws.
17. Rocky Road
The best treats are the ones you don’t have to bake, and rocky road combines cheap ingredients with being effortless to prepare. Here’s a classic recipe, but you can vary it with whatever you fancy, such as replacing the digestive with Oreos, Maltesers or Jaffa Cakes, or adding popcorn.
18. No-bake bars
If you like the idea of a tray “bake” that doesn’t involve any baking, but you don’t feel like rocky road, there are plenty of other options along similar lines: take something tasty, set it in chocolate, make it tastier. This Mars bar slice is just one example (and you can substitute a cheaper own-bars instead of using real Mars bars), but there are plenty of others.You could try variations based on any popular chocolate bar.
19. Mug cakes
If you have neither a hob nor an oven, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy baked treats all the same. From a classic chocolate cake, to a blueberry muffin cake, to an apple pie cake, you’ll be amazed at what you can make in a mug. And once you’ve assembled all the ingredients, mug cakes usually only take a couple of minutes in the microwave before they’re ready.
They take a bit more effort, but a big batch of gooey brownies is always worth it. BBC Good Food offers recipes ranging from the really basic to more elaborate options such as salted caramel brownies and Black Forest brownies. Or there are blondies if you prefer. Brownies can be a bit more time-consuming but they’re also hard to get wrong, and what’s more, they’re relatively forgiving if your oven temperature isn’t reliable, unlike a sponge cake that might collapse if you don’t bake it consistently. The only danger is that if you make them once, your friends will never stop asking you to make them again.
Images: tuna salad; soup; mac and cheese; stew; dauphinoise potatoes; pancakes; Rocky Road; mug cake; ingredients; baking ingredients