Penny pincher: Cooking up tasty treats on the cheap

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The Independent Online

The days when students survived on beans on toast are long gone. Nowadays you're more likely to be saving the pennies with a jar of pesto and a jumbo-size packet of pasta. Or working your way through the various flavours of three-minute noodles. But there are ways to cook with equipment other than a kettle and a sieve - and save money at the same time.

According to Barclays Bank, the average UK student has spending money of between £30 and £60 a week after accommodation. This is taking into account a full student loan as well as extra money which students might get from working or from generous parents. You don't need us to spell it out for you, but in case you do - that's not much. Particularly if you plan to feed yourself and have a social life.

A number of universities suggest allocating around £35 a week for food. If you want to spend a pub-less, full-fridge first term then go ahead and follow this advice. But believe us when we tell you that you can eat well on substantially less than this. With an SAS level of planning and a highly developed shopping list, some dedicated students maintain that you can eat on as little as £10 a week, although £20 is a lot more realistic. The key to sticking to this amount, however, is all about planning. You'll need to decide more or less exactly which meals you'll be eating. And if you don't plan on shopping more than once a week then you'll also want to schedule meals to use up perishable ingredients first - yes it does get that boring. The general rule is - plan meals, list ingredients, buy only these and eat everything you buy. "I was spending about £35 a week on food in my first term", says Nottingham University student Anna Reed. "Although to be honest, a lot of that was takeaways. Now I make a list and try to stick to it, and it's brought the figure down to about £25 a week - which is not bad."

Once you've resigned yourself to the nerdy practice of making a list and sticking to it there's the small task of deciding what you're going to eat. The obvious candidates for cheap, quick food are pasta, sliced bread, tinned tomatoes, tuna, and beans. But you can also save a lot of money with some basic home-cooking. Making your own bolognaise sauce, for example, can be as simple as adding a stock cube and a sprinkle of dried herbs. Or buy a tub of condensed Thai curry paste which can make at least 30 portions for the same price of a two-portion supermarket version.

Ethnic stores are also great places to stock up on store cupboard essentials. You can buy Asian ingredients like dried black beans, soy sauce and oyster sauce in big cheap bottles from Chinese supermarkets, and Indian supermarkets house all manner of excellent value curry powders and rice. Don't forget your local market either. Most vegetables are a third cheaper than the supermarkets and larger food markets can sell you single-person potions of cheese and eggs in quantities less than six. Essentially, you can't save money and time, but as a student, you have plenty of the latter. So take advantage of your ability to spend a morning sourcing food from the cheapest places. You might even find you like it.