IF YOU'VE never had to cook for yourself before, the prospect of preparing all your own meals can seem daunting, but it can also be fun and give you the satisfaction of realising you can survive.

Sooner or later you will realise that take-aways are a drain on your finances, especially when set against the cost of books, accommodation and socialising.

This is when you will unpack the saucepan, plates and cutlery and start working out what else you can cook besides beans-on- toast. In fact, beans- on-toast is a good start as it provides protein, fat (if you use margarine or butter) and carbohydrate.

You might then notice that others in your communal kitchen have tried out interesting toppings for baked potatoes, such as tuna and sweet corn, or cheese and coleslaw. Or they've boiled up some pasta, made a tomato sauce out of frying an onion and adding a can of tomatoes and some dried herbs and served it up with grated cheese.

Healthy eating doesn't mean you have to concoct fancy menus or spend a fortune on rare and out-of-season ingredients. As long as you've got a few essentials such as rice, pasta, tomatoes, onions, lentils and seasoning, you can get by.

If you don't eat properly, you'll soon start to notice it. A few years ago a student in London ended up with scurvy because he tried to survive on porridge alone. You need a good balance of vitamins and minerals not just for your physical well-being, but to keep your brain ticking too.

Try to eat as much fresh food as possible. Local greengrocers or markets will be cheaper than supermarkets as they will be selling whatever is in season.

This time of year you'll find an abundance of affordable home-produced winter vegetables such as carrots, potatoes and parsnips. Try making a wholesome soup by chopping up the vegtables, frying in a little oil and then adding a pint of stock and seasoning and simmering for 40 minutes - or until the vegetables are tender.

After a few weeks, you may feel competent enough to cook for friends. Again, you don't need to spend a fortune. A large vegetable curry or chilli will fill up hungry tums.

If you decide you cannot cope with self-catering then check out the refectories and snack bars on campus. Most of them are subsidised and offer a healthy range of dishes. It'll cost more, but is a small price to pay if your sanity is at stake.