The Student Digestive: Insider tips for cheap student eats

Perk up mundane meals with Deborah Ryan’s budget-friendly cooking tips for students

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a new student moving to college will never be in possession of enough freezer space.’

Welcome to college and to your new impoverished lifestyle as a student! You will soon learn that as students can’t afford much else, college cooking is all about cheap eats.

There will be days after lectures when the shop is too far away, and Netflix is whispering in your ear, calling you to binge-watch. These are the days you need to have a snack supply in the cupboard – nuts, seeds and not forgetting, the emergency crisps.

Stock some late-night toast accompaniments. Be warned that if you buy Nutella and you live in a house with students, you can be sure your supply will dwindle rapidly, as those student savages will descend on it like they would a €2 drinks deal. Actually, this might apply to any sort of food – you have so stay on-guard kids. With a few cheap ingredients, you can create budget-friendly meals that are easy to prepare and cook.


Try and get a good supply of food, condiments and utensils in that first shop when you move to college (that’s when your parents overcompensate for leaving you to fend for yourself by buying you enough food to feed the entire campus).

When shopping for one, buy fresh ingredients in small increments. Get enough fruit and vegetables to do two or three days, if you know you’ll be cooking on those days. When buying meat, freeze what you won’t use in the next two days in smaller portions and have them as back-up for dinner another time.

Aim to cook twice a week. If you’re only cooking for one, it’s easier to make a bigger batch of food and stick it in the fridge for the next day or else pop it in the freezer for a rainy day where there is no chance of you leaving the house to buy food. Cooking for one can be quite difficult, especially when a lot of food is sold in multiples. Try and do a big shop a few times a month to get the basics and then top up when you need to.

If it’s your first time properly away from home, make an evening of it. Get some of your favourite food, maybe some wine or cans, and share a dinner with your new roommates – college students love to bond over a good meal.

Ingredients list:

1. Extra virgin olive oil: Buy a decent enough bottle of extra virgin olive oil. Aldi has one for €3.79 that does the job.

2. Cupboard carbs: Pasta/rice/lentils/noodles etc. These cost under €1 each and are always handy to pull out for a meal. Don't buy too much bread – buy half a loaf and keep it in the freezer for toast in the mornings.

3. Cheap cans (of food): Tins of tomatoes, cannellini beans, chickpeas, coconut milk etc. These are good things to have in the cupboard. They can be used for sauces, stews and curries and will keep indefinitely.

4. Free range eggs: Always keep eggs on hand – you can make scrambled eggs in five minutes and be proud that you actually cooked today. Add a fried egg to dishes that need something extra.

5. Garlic: I store garlic bulbs in a little jar or ramekin and keep them on a shelf. I usually grate cloves of garlic on a small grater for convenience, before adding them to dishes, unless I use them whole in sauces.

6. Ginger: I don't go through a lot of fresh ginger usually, so when I get home from shopping, I peel the ginger, chop it up and stick in the freezer in a plastic bag. I'll take some out whenever I need it. It's great in curries, soups and in tea for protecting against student flu.

7. Fresh fruit and vegetables: Try switching the fruits and vegetables you buy every week. The 'Super 6' in Aldi or Lidl is handy for this. I usually roast or stir-fry vegetables and mix it up every week, so I don't get sick of the same foods.

8. Spices: chilli flakes, cumin, paprika etc: They're inexpensive, they perk up your food and they keep for ages. Referencing the last point, trying to get through a whole head of broccoli for one person can be quite monotonous, but adding spices will change the flavour and make it a little more interesting.

9. Avocado: Yes, the classic millennial food of choice: mash it, put a poached or fried egg on top with some toast and you've made yourself a meal for under €2.

10. Seasoning: salt, pepper, soy sauce: If you can, pick up some flaky sea salt and a pepper grinder. Soy sauce goes particularly well with vegetables but go easy on it. Stock pots are handy to have in the cupboard as well, especially when cooking grains and soups. These can be quite salty – look for the higher quality ones and use them sparingly.


Student accommodation will often be equipped with plates, cutlery, pots and pans. Make sure you have multiple pieces of cutlery – you don’t want to wash a fork every time you need one. We didn’t own a spoon in my house last year until someone “borrowed” one from the college canteen in March. Don’t do that.

Sometimes you will need to top up on the utensils you need to hand but make sure you have the following: you’ll need a saucepan, a frying pan, two chopping boards (ideally you keep one for raw meat and then the other one for everything else. Make sure they get a good clean regularly).

Get a tin opener and a wine bottle opener (the latter will save a lot of drunken mistakes – obviously I’m not speaking from experience!).

Get a metal spatula, a peeler and a grater. Buy a chopping knife, a small sharp knife and a bread knife. Even if there are some already in your student accommodation, they’re most likely to be as sharp as an overworked spoon.

Get a load of plastic containers and use them for storing leftovers and bringing lunches to college. Ikea stocks a 17-pack of tupperware for €4.50 that does the job.

Buy a wooden spoon for €2, so you don’t scratch your shiny new pots (or old ones you had to bring from home, thanks mam). Saying that, try and grab as much as you can from home to save you buying extra stuff.

Acquire a nice mug for your coffee in the morning, or well, the afternoon, and you will save on that first coffee of the day as you rush to the lecture hall.

To inform this overview a bit beyond just my own opinion, I asked some fellow students how they’ve learnt to ready their kitchens, and I will leave you with my favourite example:

“Right so my usual shite is some milk, orange juice and some brown bread. Ham and cheese is always needed, might switch the ham up some weeks for tuna or chicken. I get a bit of fruit and some salad leaves to try counteracting the booze, and I always have a stock of rice and pasta in the press.”

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