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Freshers' survival: eight student cooking and food mistakes

Microwave fires, cardboard-tasting pasta, dodgy local takeaways that will eat your loan up… feeding yourself at university can dish up danger, blandness and calorific stodge, all rolled into one.

We've teamed up with The Student Food Project to run through eight of the biggest culinary mistakes students make at university, from grabbing food on-the-go to wasting what you can't finish.

How many are you guilty of? 

Mistake #1: Using complicated recipes

Let’s be real: you probably don't have the time, nor the money to prepare and cook fancy meals. Luckily, there are loads of easy, nutritious and cheap student recipes online. 

We personally love one-pot recipes and dinners that can be done on just one baking tray. Not only are they incredibly easy, but there's less washing-up to do too!

Mistake #2: Getting the basics wrong

If you've always relied on mum and dad’s cooking skills at home, start simply with some basic kitchen skills. 

Cooking pasta properly (wait for the water to boil first), using a knife safely (never cut towards you), boiling an egg and preparing rice might sound simple, but you'd be surprised how many people get them wrong. Make sure you have these mastered as they make a big difference.

Watch now: How to cook rice properly

Mistake #3: Throwing away leftovers

Once you're full from dinner, don't scrape your plate and chuck out whatever's left. You can store most leftover food in the fridge for a day or two (perhaps more), and in the freezer for even longer. Keep and clean out the plastic containers you get with takeaways to store leftovers.

It's cheaper to cook in larger portions, so think ahead for the week and make extra to keep for another day. If you do attempt a new recipe that requires specific ingredients and it turns out fantastic, cook it again soon after to use up those odd ingredients you've bought specially – they’ll only sit gathering dust or go to waste if you don't.

Mistake #4: Not using the freezer

The freezer doesn't have to be just for leftovers. Buying frozen ingredients is often cheaper than getting them fresh, and you can keep them for much longer. You can freeze a lot of things, including cheese, fruit, sauces, milk and herbs. If you’re not sure if something is suitable for freezing, check the packet. Just make sure you’ve defrosted it properly before using it.

And an extra tip for keeping the peace in your flat: check with your flatmates if you plan to use up a lot of freezer space (or least save them a plate of whatever you're cooking to keep them happy).

Mistake #5: Buying super-fancy kitchen equipment

When shopping for kitchen utensils in the run-up to moving to university, don't go crazy and buy lots of niche or unusual gadgets that you probably won't use. Remember: you won't have a huge amount of storage space to keep everything either. That's another reason to try to coordinate with your housemates on what to bring to university, to save you having six colanders taking up precious cupboard space.

Start with basic equipment for your first term. Once you get an idea of your routine (and your skills in the kitchen), you can always pick up something more advanced in the Black Friday or Boxing Day sales.

Mistake #6: Meal deals 

Grabbing a meal deal from the supermarket or buying food from campus shops might seem convenient. But pretty soon this is going to start cutting into your student loan. Added together over a week or month, they're not as cheap as they might seem.

Take 10 minutes in the morning to make a quick packed lunch and you're all set! It doesn't have to be a boring ham sandwich either – think pasta, salads or sandwiches with exciting bread or filling.

Mistake #7: Cooking by yourself

Obviously you're not going to be able to do this all the time, but cooking in groups is a great way to make your meals cheaper. It's also a fun way to get to know your housemates and learn some new recipes. You might be lucky to live with a culinary maestro or an international student who could introduce you to new cuisines you've never tried.

We suggest keeping one evening per week to get together, cook and eat as a group – maybe even combine it into a movie or board game night. Having a laid-back staple like this in your week can give you a sense of comfort and stability amid the craziness of uni life.

Mistake #8: Forgetting about food hygiene

Finally, don't forget about cleanliness, safety and hygiene when you’re cooking. If you don't wash cooking equipment properly, store food safely and prevent cross-contamination, you could end up getting much more than freshers' flu!

Make sure you're extra careful when handling raw meat. Use a separate chopping board and knife, and remember to wash your hands afterwards – especially if you've been handling chillies (ouch!).

The Uni Guide provides guest spots to external contributors. This guest post is from The Student Food Project.

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