Learning to cook (and having fun doing it!)
While learning to cook from scratch may seem a bit unnerving or time-consuming if you’re just starting out, cooking can be great fun as you can get really creative with it! So if you want to cut back on the Pot Noodles and discounted Dominos pizza, here are a couple of tips I’ve picked up:
Eating healthily doesn’t have to be expensive nor does it require you to buy the most exotic of ingredients. It just requires a bit of forward-planning. In fact you’ll be surprised by the amount of money you can save through buying simple ingredients as opposed to ready-meals! In a given week, choose several recipes that you’ll like to make, make a note of all the ingredients you need and turn this into shopping list. This is a great way to prevent you overbuying on food midweek and to reduce your food waste. Although make sure to check any items you currently have though so you don’t end up with duplicates!
During shopping buying things such as loose vegetables and home-branded items is great if you’re on a tighter budget. Plus choosing ingredients with a longer shelf-life (such as onions, carrots or courgettes) or buying frozen berries/vegetables are another great way to bring down the price. For instance despite my love of spinach, I was having to throw packets away due to its short lifespan. Therefore now I’ve swapped to buying frozen spinach instead of fresh, so I can still continue eating it without having to worry too much over waste!
Before jumping straight in and unleashing your inner chef, so you can get a feel of what you need to prepare beforehand, the tasks you’ll need to accomplish and the order to complete them in. For example, does the recipe require you to pre-heat the oven first? How long does each ingredient require cooking for? Must you leave something to stand for a short amount of time? This will give a better overview of what is involved, saving you decision-making time while you’re cooking. Plus it’s much easier to make mistakes such as overcooking if you’re having to keep on improvising on the fly (and no wants soggy broccoli, yuck!).
To save extra time, try to group simpler tasks together, such as boiling the kettle while you fry onions, or preparing meat/vegetables while you cook pasta.
As you keep practicing cooking regularly, you’ll continue to improve on your skills and will start to pick up tricks to make preparation faster.
This can save you an awful lot of time later! Preparing particular ingredients early (such as the night before or at the start of the week) will allow you to cut down on preparation time and jump straight into cooking. As an example, when I make a roasted vegetable risotto, it’s the roasting itself that takes the longest time. Therefore if I know I’m going to be in a hurry later, I’ll sometimes either roast them the night before and put them in the fridge for the following day, or roast them on a Sunday and freeze portions for later in the week. This allows me to my overall cooking time!
Batch cooking is also a brilliant way to prepare meals like chillies, stews or bolognaise well in advance. Cooking for several meals instead of one allows you to save money by buying larger food packs. Plus it allows you to make the most of the time when you’re able to cook, so you can have access to a quick, tasty and healthy midweek meal if you’ve got a busy schedule, tired, have an exam or don’t feel like cooking!
Still got some of last night’s dinner or spare ingredients leftover and not sure what to do with them? Try to see if you can use them to make a simple dish! For instance, cooked too much chicken? Why not make a chicken pasta pot for lunch or Mexican fajitas for dinner? Got some left over vegetables or beans? Why not make a protein-packed salad, sandwich filling or soup? Got some leftover fresh fruit? Why not chop them over your breakfast cereal or blend into a smoothie for an extra boost of energy? You don’t have to come up with anything original nor fancy, just something that’s tasty and that you’ll enjoy making!
If you’re struggling for some ideas, cook books such as NOSHforStudents or websites such as BBC GoodFood are great sources for inspiration. Particularly BBC GoodFood as you’re able to use keywords to search through a vast collection of meals by ingredient, occasion, cooking time or cuisine.
Plus university societies are also great places to meet and ask people for ideas, particularly cultural or food-based societies. For instance to learn more about how to make healthy vegan meals, last term I had attended a cooking class ran by the Warwick society, Climate Reality, where we made a Sweet Potato Dhal with an Apple and Berry crumble for dessert. So if you see a food event or cooking activity being held soon, why not go along or tempt a friend?
I hope this gives you some ideas to play with when you’re next in kitchen. Please don’t feel bad if you do happen to make a couple of mistakes though. Your meal doesn’t have to be perfect nor 5-star quality, just something that’s you’ll enjoy making and eating!