What John Lewis thinks you need for uni


Just after writing my last post, I was dashing through John Lewis and this little leaflet caught my eye:


What John Lewis thinks you need for going to uni


So, it seems John Lewis and I have some similar thoughts. I mean, a kettle is a no brainer to me, although I do notice that there are more and more “young” people who don’t do hot drinks. At least not at home.

But a food processor/smoothie maker/blender? Certainly not all three. And possibly not any. I mean, you might pack them off with a Nutribullet and good intentions, but do you reckon it’ll still be in use three weeks later?

I reckon the sandwich toaster is a much sounder idea. I mean, 3am drunken toasted cheese sandwiches feel like they’re going to be a much more regular occurence than 9am healthy smoothies. Or perhaps that was just my life at that age.

And a corkscrew is on there, but not a bottle opener. Surely just as many wine bottles come with screw caps as beer type bottles come with twist off lids, so why plan for one oddity and not the other? Or does every single corkscrew come with a bottle opener these days?

Other than that, the nation’s favourite and I are pretty much aligned.  What do you think? What’s a uni catering essential in your view?


More to food at uni than PopTarts and Pot Noodles




So, the results are out, places have been accepted, courses have been changed and plans are really taking shape. Which means planning for life without the parental kitchen.

How do you make sure your kids are set up for success, and at least given the skills to consider some sort of cooking and healthier eating?

It depends where they’re starting from of course. If they’ve been your kitchen helper from being small, then probably your only worry is frisking them on the way out the door to discover what kitchen equipment they’re trying to take with them.

If they’ve never, ever cooked, not even toast, then you have two approaches: one, ignore it. If you haven’t taught them anything so far, unlikely to get much to take in the weeks left. Or two, crash course, work through Delia’s Complete How to Cook Book at some pace. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and everything in between. Maybe skip Christmas dinner if that’s in the book.

And if they’re somewhere in between, then send them off with some decent knives, some decent saucepans and possibly a casserole dish or slow cooker. A slow cooker is one of my favourite bits of kit for turning cheap cuts into delicious dinners, and with not a big impact on the electric bill.

If you want some more detailed ideas sorted by what level their current cooking ability and interest is then check out my post “You’re going to uni. Now what?” Or if you want to send them off with a cookbook or two, then I’ve written about alternative student cookbooks, and a personal perspective on the five books I’d dispatch MGG with.


Students are changing their eating habits


Dine well at uni: more of a reality than it used to be

I had an email about some YouGov research just a few days after I wrote about students going off to university. According to this, it would appear that there are more novice or gourmand students than the non cooking types, which is surely good news.

Apparently almost two in five often cook food from scratch, and I don’t think it means a Pot Noodle. Around a fifth like experimenting with food and recipes, so it certainly gives me hope that not only are the students improving their skills before heading off, but it must mean that as parents we are hopefully giving them plenty of skills in advance.

Whether this means there are reducing sales of baked beans or Pot Noodles I don’t know. I’m quite partial to beans on toast myself, and I’ve not been a student in many years! Might mean that local stores might need to rethink their stock though. One former colleague shared a story of a student being upset to find that her local store did not stock capers. That’s a girl that’s been brought up properly in my view!


The Friday Five – Alternative Student Cookbooks



After yesterday’s A level results there’ll be a whole heap of students heading off to cook for themselves. There are of course a whole heap of student cookbooks on the market (213 came up on Amazon) which means there could be a whole heap of duplication of cookbooks on any one floor.

So these five are my choices for great, straightforward approaches to every kind of cooking occasion, that aren’t getting fancy, that are about good simple food, but just a little bit different to what every other student might roll up with! Plus these will last them well beyond graduation.

* Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater– this is the first cookbook I bought myself, and on the basis of it being the only cookbook that offers recipes for both bacon sandwiches and smartie sandwiches, I think it’s perfect student fodder! Quick, easy and tasty, and not expensive, this is a classic book and they will refer back to it often.

* How to Eat by Nigella Lawson – I was reflecting earlier this week that this is the muckiest of my cookbooks, as I use it so often. It gives them a good guide to the basics, some good ideas for whether they’re cooking just for themselves, or mucking in for a whole crowd. There are so many good recipes in here, from things like apple crumble for when they crave some comforting home style food through to Cambodian hot and sour beef salad for more exotic days when there’s a bit of steak on the reduced counter.

* Tamasin’s Kitchen Bible: The One And Only Book For Every Cook– I love this book, and it’s one of those that I dip in and out of regularly. Again, easy to understand chapters cover simple skills like making flapjacks, pancakes and a Victoria sponge (I know we’re talking student budgets, but there are days when only cake will do) through to frugal food (plenty of cous cous, polenta and other grains) and foolproof favourites. It also leaves scope for future development covering things like Christmas and more serious skills. If I only had two books, this and the Nigella would be my desert island choices.

*Jamie’s Ministry of Food: Anyone Can Learn to Cook in 24 Hours – if they’ve not done a lot of cooking at home then I would say this was a good starting point, and also it’s a good book for cooking with your mates. Or learning to cook together with them. This will be decent grub, crowd pleasing dishes that pretty much anyone should be able to turn out and make taste good. Written in Jamie’s own inimitable style, I would think this is pretty popular amongst the student crowd already!

* Delia’s Frugal Food – I had a really hard time choosing between this one, and One is Fun. The latter has some great recipes that I am still scaling up years later, and saw me through many a flatshare. The problem is it’s just a sad title, makes you sound like a bit of a billy no mates. Frugal Food is great at giving  ideas on how to shop effectively, what joints of meat would help stretch your budget and how to be creative with leftovers. Which sounds perfect for students, and most of us post the austerity budget!

So, this is not to say don’t buy them a student cookbook but just think about offering some variety across their floor in their accommodation! Given that Nosh 4 Students is the best selling student cookbook on Amazon, I bet there’ll be a few of those being packed off in boxes from homes around the country!


You’re going to uni. Now what? A foodie perspective



A’level results are out and so a whole new batch of students will be heading off into the world, ready to fend for themselves and cook their own dinners. So, what kind of foodie student are you dispatching to uni and what do they need to see them on their way? Depends on where they already are on their food journey. Here’s a few suggestions:

The non cooking student

Oh dear, they’ve got through at least 18 years with no cooking skill at all. Maybe best put them into halls of residence that provide everything. Otherwise suggest either you need to give them a very rapid crash course in basic cooking at home, or a copy of Delia’s How to Cook. And get down to IKEA and buy them one of those kitchen starter sets.

The novice student

So, they’ve done a bit of cooking and know how to turn the cooker on. They may have cooked you dinner. They may know one type of pasta from another. They at least know what pasta is. They could be very popular though, as being able to cook could make them a lot of friends on their floor! Here’s a few thoughts for them:

* Provide them with their favourite recipes from home. You could cook them with them a few times, write them out, put them in a Word document on their laptop, make videos and post on YouTube…any way you can think of to give them a taste of home.

* If you’ve got recipes that need specific mixes of herbs or spices then you could package them up for them, as herbs and spices might not be top of their spending list. Craving for mum’s cooking is what set the idea for Spicentice in motion. Or add a few of the Spicentice packs into their packing.

* They’ll need some kitchen stuff. I would suggest they will need a large saucepan (one that you could get a steamer in as well) for doing pasta, which they may do a lot of, and you could give them a non-stick frying pan for fry ups, omelettes, even stir frys. A small non stick pan for scrambled eggs or beans. And then I would add a decent casserole dish in. I’ve had a Le Creuset one for over 20 years, and it’s truly the best for one pot cooking. Throw in a chopping board, a few decent knives and something like the Joseph Joseph stacking set, and they can cook up a huge variety of dishes.

* Give them a great store cupboard to start off with. Let’s face it, with this lot, there are a great combo of meals that they could produce. I would pack them off with: several kinds of pasta, including fettucine or pappardelle and fusilli or penne; two olive oils, one extra virgin, one ordinary and a more bland oil like groundnut; pesto, tomato puree, olive paste, anything to add extra flavour to just about anything else, likewise soy sauce and a reasonable balsamic; tinned standbys like chickpeas, tuna, salmon, tomatoes; rice for risotto and biryanas, bulgar wheat for pilaf  and cous cous. That should keep them going until their first trip home!

* Freezer bags or boxes, so that nothing goes to waste.

The Gourmand Student

Oh, this one you’re going to have to frisk before they leave!

* Check out what bits of your kit they’ve been using regularly in your kitchen, and buy them their own. Face into it, if you’ve got decent knives, good pans or exciting kit, then they’ll be off before you can wave them goodbye.

* Stock them with the goodies they might have got used to like Frescobaldi Laudemio Extra Virgin Olive Oil or a chunk of black truffle. You could also just give them the same products I listed for the Novice Student but at the best available level.

* They’ll be the king or queen of seasonal cooking, so perhaps sign them up for an allotment. That way they can have fresh, seasonal fruit and veg, and grow varieties that even Waitrose don’t stock. Try Landshare to see what’s available near the uni, or register for a plot. Sign them up to the Heritage Seed Library or check out Sarah Raven and pack them off with a year’s worth of unusual seeds.

* Give them a list of all the local food markets and farmer’s markets, as they’ll be their natural food hunting ground. Get them a trolley to lug home their precious food treasures in.

My favourite tip is to pack them off with a large cake, or a whole lot of cupcakes. Things perfect for sharing with your new neighbours. Tea and cake, perfect for every kind of student. Unless the novice can’t boil water!

Tomorrow, going to cover alternatives to the student cookbooks that would still set them up to have a great repertoire without going into debt.

Leaving home shot by Leafar on Flickr


Off to university