Starting life as a student is a big shift for many, kicking off that long-awaited transition into adulthood. But with independence, student loans and new best mates also comes the not-so-glam, grown-up luggage of cooking, cleaning and budgeting – which is why, in many student households, the jacket potato reigns supreme. Needing minimal hands-on time, costing pennies and creating barely a whisper of washing up, it’s an old faithful that is called upon all too regularly.
While we love a baked spud as much as the next person and nailed the perfect version during our own student days (rub the skin with olive oil and salt, and unwrap the foil for the last 20 minutes to really crisp up that jacket), we also learned firsthand that you can’t live on carbs and Heinz alone.
The good news is that there really is no need to. Even the most fresh-faced of culinary novices can go from zero to hero in the kitchen with the right guide and a decent recipe.
Whether you’re short on knowledge, cash or inclination, there are some great student cookbooks out there that you’d do well to add to your reading list – and dare we say will get a lot more use than the books your tutors have requested you pick up.
How we tested
We trialed the recipes in the books below for practicality, simplicity and satisfying results – and of course, a budget-friendly approach. Not only will they teach you recipes that you’ll come back to time and again, but also how to shop, what to stock up on and why the kitchen isn’t actually that intimidating after all.
The best student cookbooks for 2021 are:
- Best overall – The Hungry Student Cookbook by Charlotte Pike, published by Quercus: £7.99, Blackwells.co.uk
- Best for complete novices – Delia’s How to Cook by Delia Smith, published by BBC Books: £25.25, Onbuy.com
- Best for storecupboard cooking – Tin Can Magic by Jessica Elliott Dennison, published by Hardie Grant: £10.79, Blackwells.co.uk
- Best for takeaway alternatives – The Curry Guy Easy by Dan Toombs, published by Quadrille: £8.57, Agreatread.co.uk
- Best for speedy meals – The Quick Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer, published by Square Peg: £15.88, Abebooks.co.uk
- Best for foodie students – Elly Pear’s Let’s Eat by Elly Curshen, published by Thorsons: £5.26, Blackwells.co.uk
- Best for small budgets – Super Easy One-pound Meals by Miguel Barclay, published by Headline Home: £10.66, Booksplea.se
- Best for short shopping lists – 5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver, published by Michael Joseph: £15.80, Agreatread.co.uk
- Best for vegan meals – Bosh! by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, published by HQ: £7.99, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for minimal washing up –Just One Pan by Jane Lovett, published by Headline Home: £16.33, Booksplea.se
‘The Hungry Student Cookbook’ by Charlotte Pike, published by Quercus
A catalogue of classic and clever meals made with everyday ingredients and basic kitchen gear, this cookery handbook is ideal for any novice cook who’s flying the nest. It kicks off with an inventory of equipment – perfect for using as a moving-out shopping list – and goes on to give advice on ovens, storecupboard ingredients, budgeting and storing food.
Comforting old-faithful meals like spag bol, toad in the hole and chicken fajitas will help curb any whisperings of homesickness, and sit alongside potential newcomers to the teatime rotation, like empanadas, pad Thai, salmon filo pie and lamb tagine. With sections on sarnies and toast toppings, breakfasts and jacket potatoes, this book goes way beyond just dinnertime, and the methods are clear and simple enough for total beginners to follow confidently.
‘Delia’s How to Cook’ by Delia Smith, published by BBC Books
Best: For complete novices
Think you have some hefty textbooks to cart to uni? Chances are none are as substantial as this comprehensive cookery bible. Its 700 pages cover all the basics – and we mean the very basics – of cookery. The only thing it can’t help you with in your new culinary endeavours is locating the kitchen.
Boiling eggs, cooking pasta and baking a basic sponge are all covered here in real detail and come followed by recipes that put the new skill to work. Because now you’ve nailed the fried egg, you should really take a crack at a corned beef hash to put it on.
With sections on what to stock your store cupboard with, how to buy veg and handy gadgets to use, this book doesn’t just promise recipes, either. It’s a great reference guide for totally new cooks who’ll be finding themselves in a shared kitchen with a new frying pan and a blank expression this September.
‘Tin Can Magic’ by Jessica Elliott Dennison, published by Hardie Grant
Best: For storecupboard cooking
There are a few ways you can play the moving-into-uni food shop. Weaving down supermarket aisles, packed with parents filling up trollies for their bewildered-looking teens, can be overwhelming, but this is your chance to set yourself up for cookery greatness.
Head to the aisles of tinned veg, fruit and pulses and stock up those store cupboard staples – then whip out the clever, uber-practical Tin Can Magic when you get home and need to refuel. Tins of lentils, tomatoes, beans, sweetcorn and coconut milk are among the steel-encased hero ingredients in this book, and get transformed into the likes of squash and fenugreek curry, roasted pepper, tomato and lentil soup and cauli, sweet potato and chickpea traybake.
Its recipes are imaginative but simple to make, and offer ideas for substitute ingredients, depending on what fresh food you have in.
‘The Curry Guy Easy’ by Dan Toombs, published by Quadrille
Best: For takeaway alternatives
Takeaways feature heavily in most students’ meal rotations but are always a bit of a drain on funds. If you have some great takeaway recipes up your sleeve though, there’s no need to spend next week’s bus pass budget at the local curry house.
Dan Toombs – aka The Curry Guy – has put together more than 100 recipes inspired by British-style Indian takeaways, which are simple to cook, use easy-to-find ingredients and often take less than half an hour to whip up. From the classics like tikka masala, jalfrezi and vindaloo to new favourites such as mango chicken curry and super speedy suppers like chilli paneer stir-fry, these dishes will have you making firm friends out of your new housemates in no time.
‘The Quick Roasting Tin’ by Rukmini Iyer, published by Square Peg
Best: For speedy meals
Chances are you’re starting out in the kitchen with minimal equipment. And even if you do have all the kit, you’re likely to find it sitting next to the sink in a teetering pile of washing up when you come to use it.
Luckily, everything in this book is made using just one kitchen staple – the roasting tin – and you can use any size, shape or incarnation of it that you can find. This means your own washing-up pile is kept to a minimum and, just in case you weren’t already sold, nothing here takes longer than 30 minutes to make, either. All the more time for studying, right?
Recipes range from make-ahead lunches like broccoli, cheese and ham quiche, to weeknight dinners such as crispy leek and mushroom pasta bake, and meals for sharing, like rosemary and garlic roasted lamb with artichokes and olives.
‘Elly Pear’s Let’s Eat’ by Elly Curshen, published by Thorsons
Best: For foodie students
Elly Curshen is the queen of modern, simple cookery – she understands how flavours work just as well as she knows how to keep fuss, waste and shopping trips to a minimum. She starts this book by giving you a low down on what you fill your cupboards with, then jumps straight into recipes to batch and freeze – because life’s too short to cook dinner from scratch every night, right?
To save you getting bored of the same old meals, though, Elly shows you how to bring your frozen goods back to life in different ways – aubergine meat-free meatballs, for instance, are served in a wrap, falafel-style; smothered in tomato sauce on pasta, and squashed into a burger patty.
There are also recipes for what Elly calls “building blocks” – think 10-minute flatbreads, roasted squash and poached salmon – and ideas for how to use them, as well as meals for when you want to cook for mates.
‘Super Easy One-pound Meals’ by Miguel Barclay, published by Headline Home
Best: For small budgets
The whole of Miguel Barclay's One Pound Meals series is worth checking out for cash-strapped students, and this iteration is especially great.
The premise here is that all the recipes cost just £1 per portion – yep, really – by using ingredients that are super affordable and lend themselves to several different meals, minimising the chances of leftovers and off-cuts being wasted.
Not only are these dishes easy on the wallet, but they’re kept happily straightforward too, limiting both stress and washing up. And they all serve one – which makes cooking just for yourself a whole lot easier.
We love the smoky chorizo BBQ beans for a satisfying 10-minute brunch, while the oven does all the hard work in creating the sticky soy and honey-glazed aubergine. The insanely simple spaghetti with lemon and pea pesto is a go-to weeknight winner, too.
‘5 Ingredients’ by Jamie Oliver, published by Michael Joseph
Best: For short shopping lists
There’s nothing like a long, convoluted list of ingredients to put you off cooking and make you reach for those instant noodles, right?
In this nifty book, the name of Mr O’s game is keeping things simple, with just five ingredients per recipe. With some clever buys – think pre-cooked grain pouches, jarred pesto and curry pastes – these low maintenance meals add up to more than the sum of their parts.
Not only will this recipe collection help you save time on the weekly shop, breezing through the supermarket with a happily short list, but also in the kitchen, as most dishes can be on the table in less than 30 minutes and, if they do take longer to cook, hands-on time is a very approachable 10 minutes or so.
Quick Asian fishcakes, chicken pot pie, lemon and courgette linguine, and spicy beef and cauli rice will all be much more satisfying than beans on toast, without taking an awful lot more effort to make.
‘Bosh!’ by Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, published by HQ
Best: For vegan meals
If it’s approachable plant-based recipes you’re after, Henry Firth and Ian Theasby have penned the book for you. Packed with meals to suit an ever-hungry novice cook, the original book from the now-huge Bosh! brand has everything from mains to breakfasts, sharing plates to desserts. And lest we forget to mention the cocktails.
Proving that vegan food can be cheap, easy and exciting all at the same time, the recipes include risottos, curries and intriguing dairy-free riffs on the classic mac ’n’ cheese. A southwest Bosh! bowl has all the whispers of a burrito (sans tortilla) while the creamy seaside pie swaps out fish for mushrooms, and the watermelon jagerbomb punch is definitely a recipe to keep in your back pocket for parties.
‘Just One Pan’ by Jane Lovett, published by Headline Home
Best: For minimal washing up
Showing you how to get your oven and a pan to do the heavy lifting in the kitchen for you, this book is all about getting maximum flavour with minimum fuss – as well as saving yourself time on the post-feed cleanup operation.
The “pan” in question here might be a baking dish, tray, tin, pot or frying pan, meaning the recipes aren’t confined to the oven or the hob, and range from spicy lamb flatbreads to an all-in-one full English, baked in the oven and a surprisingly simple smoked haddock and saffron tart.
These happily achievable recipes won’t just come in handy for dinnertime, but for serving up at parties, nibbling on with a study group, satisfying morning-after cravings and generally making you a popular housemate.
The verdict: Student cookbooks
For its mix of the classic family meals you’ll miss when you’re away from home, new recipes for sharing with friends, and practical, student-specific advice, The Hungry Student Cookbook is a great shout for fresh-faced teens leaving home.
Complete newcomers to the kitchen will appreciate Delia’s How To Cook – it’s a reference guide you’ll come back to again and again. Meanwhile, if you tend to allocate your student budget to activities outside of the kitchen, Super Easy One Pound Meals is sure to help you eke out the last of your funds.
For the latest budget-friendly kitchen appliance discounts, try the links below:
Spicing things up with a meat-free meal? Check out our round-up of the best vegetarian cookbooks
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