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5 Shortcut meals that saved my bank account at university

I have been at university for two years so far and my cooking skills have improved that’s for sure but one thing, I have learnt, the art of finding a cheap meal.

OK for someone like me, who regularly gets called a human dustbin, I spend a large part of my day contemplating food. Is that sad? Possibly. However, my university journey began with an obscene number of takeaways, when you are stressed, the best thing you can do is eat comfort food. Now this felt great to begin with, fine dining from Domino’s and slightly dodgy takeaways with odd tasting meats, and plenty of overpriced cheeseburgers.

I was having a blast, until I logged into my banking app and saw the cavernous chunk, my gluttony had taken out of my student loan. I started to realise my gourmet heaven was becoming slightly irresponsible.

So, I said farewell to my paradise (temporarily) and set out on a cost-cutting food journey until I could create a more sustainable weekly diet. Though there were a lot of cheat days initially, eventually, I managed to refine my diet to meals that enable me to occasionally pork out on processed garbage (a lot of chocolate).

Thanks to my efforts, I have a few aces up my sleeve I’ll share with you.

~ Chilli con carne

Now I know there a lot of ingredients and ingredients accumulate to a hefty sum, especially meat eg: minced beef. If you get canned tomatoes, kidney beans, a packaged chilli mix in addition to this, you are guaranteed to pay around £10. The reason I chose chilli as one of my cost-cutting all-stars, is purely based on the portion sizes you can make. With all the ingredients listed, you will not just have one or two servings, you can save multiple servings for a later date simply by either freezing or refrigerating the chilli con carne (freezing is preferable for the smell of your fridge!). This will save you a few days’ of cooking, in addition to being a very wholesome meal.

~ Pesto pasta

Pesto pasta is frankly a huge cheat when it comes to university food. All that is required for pesto pasta, is pesto paste and spaghetti, in addition to a bit of salt and pepper. If this seems too basic for the culinary critic, vegetables in addition to garlic can be heated up in addition to pesto paste in a saucepan, with half a teaspoon of virgin olive oil. At the end of the day, since pasta is so cheap, in addition to only one other primary ingredient, you can’t go wrong.

~ Pasta bake

– In its simplest form: Cream of mushroom soup, pasta and breadcrumbs provide the cornerstone to an Italian masterpiece. The beauty of this dish is it is extremely versatile, with the meat you have available in your fridge no doubt you will be able to toss together a makeshift winter-warming delight. If not, the beauty of a pasta bake is it packs a lot of calories with or without the addition of meat.

~chicken rice/tuna rice

 Meat CAN be expensive, I can’t disagree with that. Even a small portion of chicken breast form your local superstore can cost you around £3-4, a preposterous price for a single ingredient. Tuna however tends to be a little bit cheaper. Moreover, buying a multi-pack of tuna gives gifts the opportunity to make multiple servings for the price of around £5. The main selling point for this shortcut dish is its cooking time. It is extremely easy to prepare, so when you are are swirling in a maelstrom of coursework, a simple way to pick up either a meal or quick snack is right at your fingertip in 10-15 minutes.

~ Bolognese

Bolognese, like chilli requires several relatively dear separate parts. However, when compounded, Bolognese can save you multiple days of hassle. Where you would be cooking for around half an hour, you can reheat your meal in the space of five minutes. Additionally, Bolognese is always a winner because of its reputation in the world of cooking. Having Bolognese readily available might see you temporarily becoming a celebrity in your dorm. Food is the key to unlocking the hearts of others, get yourself in your roomates good books early on, if you happen to have some Bolognese to spare, only an fool would refuse it.

Do you have any other genius dishes to add to the list? Feel free to add your cash-saving recipes in the comments.

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Can you survive university?

2 years ago, I embarked on the most freeing experience of my life so far, something I will hold close to my heart to keep it warm. A holiday? Adventure? Earning a stack of cash? NO.

If you are reading this, and you are interested in university, you will fall into one of three categories.

Option one: I am going to university soon and panicking. Maybe it’s the early hours of dawn, you’re staring at your phone, you can see the sun shimmering behind your closed curtain knowing you have had no sleep and you can’t get the sense of panic out of your head. You are going to university and thinking: Why did I do this again?

Option two: You are panicking wondering what to do with your future, you are fresh out of college, everyone else is stepping out into the unknown, making brave choices on their future, getting an internship, having a gap year, seeing the world. You have this desire to try something new but you just don’t know what.

Option three: you are an early bird, you have all the time in the world, yet you want decisions on your future sorted out early. You have started a deep-dive into planning your future, stepping out of your former-selves footsteps, dreaming of something bigger and better.

I want you to help yourself, so give yourself a moment to take a deep breath and read on, because I have a solution I think could help you.

University, I believe cannot be described in merely a few words. When I think of the word university now, I see the friends I’ve made, the goals I have surpassed and the laughs I’ve shared on the couch, in my accommodation in balls of tears, laughing. Most of all, I think of how far I’ve come. As a shy timid teenager, who struggled to hold conversations, who could not get out of his own head and stop thinking for once, I would never of dreamed of becoming who I am today.

I asked myself many questions before going to university which I think may be troubling you so let me answer them for you.

What if I don’t make friends straight away and I am on my own?

MOST OF YOU WON’T. I joined university during lockdown, when COVID struck. I was alone in my accommodation for a few days, wondering whether I should go home, talking to my parents. Even a few hours by yourself without finding friends all alone in a huge, new building can be mentally draining. Some of you may find friends straight away, and to those of you who do I am very happy for you. For those of you who don’t, don’t despair. I was saved by simply saying hello to my flatmates. A simple hello is all it takes to meet a friend for life. When I started talking to my flatmate, we spent the night talking about Star Wars. You may not even have to say hello, they may do that for you. If your conversation isn’t what you expected straight away. Don’t worry you have months to try.

My first piece of advice, get to know your flatmates, whether it’s through playing a video game together, sharing a snack or simply saying hi, you are doing yourself justice.

What if I am too scared to talk to people?

You are right to be scared. It is human nature to fear new things, especially in such a busy new environment. The solution to this may shock you but YOU DON’T HAVE TO. Instead of talking, simply show up, whether it is online to a chatroom, a university club, a coffee meet-up. Simply turning up to a new activity will give you something else to talk about with other people, now you all have something in common. There are lots of different university clubs to try and your university will have plenty of meet-up events at the start of the year. If you have a hobby, there will be a club for it at university, so rest easy. If you haven’t found a hobby yet, a quick search of facebook groups (your university name, then the name of the activity) will give you a truckload of options. They will run lots of sessions at the start of the year, so try showing up to one.

I don’t know what I want to do for my career, how will university help?

That’s a brilliant question, I chose my degree despite NOT knowing what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I am still making that journey. I changed my degree because I realised it wasn’t what I wanted to go on doing. The difference between then and now is then I had very few job ideas, now I am full of ideas, with goals I am excited to achieve in the future. Despite the fact I have not chosen a solid career path, I have many career paths I would like to pursue, and I am working towards fulfilling my goals one step at a time.

It cost so much money to go to university, is it really worth it?

It is a FACT that University is a costly experience, where overwhelming student loans cannot simply be ignored. But let me reassure you, for all the drawbacks, there are more positives. University is simply what you make of it, I see it as an all-purpose life tool. For some it provides a launch-pad for their career interests, some for the social lives and some for both.

 I chose a university for a specialised course in marine biology, only to realise I did not enjoy marine biology. What I did realise is that I have a growing passion for genetics. WHAT IS THE POINT? you are asking?  Though you may choose one path and it may not go as you planned, it is important to realize that choosing a course may not be your career for the rest of your life, really it is just the start line. what I found empowering is picking a start line and taking a step forward. University gave me the steppingstones to take these nerve-wracking steps I have never been able to take before, for my career prospects, confidence, friendship groups, physical health and much more- namely learning how to not burn pasta! (still a work in progress for the record)

What if I go to university and don’t like it?

There are aspects of university that are not fun , there is no glossing over that. The workload and social life balance is the toughest I find. There are times that are tougher than others mentally, physically and emotionally. Naturally, a few people may realize that this isn’t what they want to do. THAT IS OKAY.

 University will give you an idea of what you do and do NOT want from life.

My most valuable advice for when you are not enjoying university is THIS: go home, spend time with your loved ones, family or friends to refresh yourself. Going home and taking a breather is the best thing you can do to clear your head. But know this, just attending university takes courage, so remember to look back on how far your journey at university has taken you, whether you have been there a week, month or year.

What should I take from spending ten minutes reading this?

I’ll keep it short, University will OPEN your mindset, whether in small ways or the bigger picture, you will become a stronger person than you were before without even realizing.