Best student cookbooks for easy and delicious meals on a budget

·10-min read
 (Evening Standard)
(Evening Standard)

University life is a hungry affair: the walking to and from lectures, socialising with new people and partying until the early hours of the morning, will certainly leave your stomach rumbling and craving satisfying meals.

Amongst all the excitement of making new friends, discovering hobbies and working tirelessly, it’s easy to neglect cooking, thinking it’s either too difficult or time consuming.

In fact, recent research from SEGA and Two Point Studios has revealed that over a quarter (28 per cent) of graduates can’t cook, and 58 per cent of university students claim that limited budget was the single biggest factor which impacted their diet and as a result only 19 per cent thought their meals were healthy.

Despite common misconceptions about cooking, it’s possible to create delicious and nutritious meals in a short amount of time and on a limited budget - our top recommended cookbooks below teach you just that.

From easy meals for one to cooking up a feast for your flatmates, you’ll find comforting recipes as well as creative and bold ones that will turn mealtimes from a chore to the best time of the day.

Top cooking tips

We’ve put together some of our top cooking tips and best brands below to help you on your journey to culinary master.

  • Invest in a good set of pans that include a frying pan, saucepan and oven-proof dish.

  • Stock up on store cupboard essentials, that way you’ll only have to worry about buying fresh ingredients ad-hoc. Sound investments include Tilda’s microwaveable packets of rice, pasta, tins of tomato and pulses (chickpeas, black beans etc). Make sure you have the basics covered: salt, pepper, olive oil and condiments - we love Belazu’s range of pestos that can be added to any dish for an instant burst of flavour.

  • If you’re short on time for food shopping, substitute a takeaway with a grocery box that will deliver ingredients and recipe cards to your door. Try Gastrostudent’s boxes that have over 100 student friendly recipes which take under 10 minutes to cook and can be customised for the number of people living in your flat (the Pepperoni Pizza Naan is a must-try).

  • Grab yourself an all in one kitchen bundle that contains essential gadgets such as a spatula, grater, ladles and plenty more. This 23 piece set is under £25.

  • Consider investing in kitchen appliances that will help you along your culinary journey - an airfryer is perfect for healthy alternatives to fried food, whilst a Nutribullet allows for quick smoothies (great for getting your five-a-day in).

Whether you’re worried you’ll burn your new student home down if you try cooking beans on toast, or you’re already a pro in the kitchen and want to expand your taste buds (after all university is the time to try new things), it’s time to stock up on the below books before heading off on a new adventure.

The Hungry Student Cookbook

University cooking has never been easier thanks to The Hungry Student Cookbook. It provides 120 exceptional and varied meals on an incredibly tight budget. Before you start venturing into the kitchen, browse the introductory pages that provide invaluable advice on how to stock a store cupboard and embrace clever cooking.

You won’t find any cans of soup or baked beans here; this is hearty cooking but in a simple and easy to follow way (the photographs are a BIG help). Our favourite crowd-pleasing dishes are the lasagna, fajitas and toad-in-the-hole.

Don’t miss ‘The Morning After’ section for some tips and recipes on how to battle through that inevitable hangover.

Buy now £9.16, Amazon

The Ultimate Student Cookbook

Those who love a student discount, will no doubt be familiar with StudentBeans - the online website for all things student living. Now you can get your hands on their Ultimate Student Cookbook that offers delicious recipes for every occasion and ability in the kitchen.

As well as bog-standard recipes, you’ll find sections on dinner party hosting, brain food (useful come examtime), and delicious comfort food that’s perfect for those home-sick days - the Chocolate Mousse in a Mug is out of this world.

If you’re craving a takeaway but not sure the pennies can stretch that far, the Nando’s Peri Peri Chicken and Sloppy Giuseppe Pizza is an absolute must try. For a fraction of the price you’ll have a meal better than any takeaway.

Alongside recipes, you’ll find tons of advice about student living, advice on how to budget and save money as well as some top tips from those who have been there, done that and got the stained apron.

Buy now £9.99, Amazon

The Quick Roasting Tin

Is there anything easier than chopping up some ingredients and throwing them in the oven?

The Quick Roasting Tin is one-pot cooking at it’s finest and has over 75 recipes that provide quick weeknight dinners such as Kerala Prawn Curry, delicious lunches like Tenderstem, Black Beans and Avocado Salad and a Chicken, Leek and Chorizo Pie, perfect for batching cooking and freezing.

The variety in the recipes means there’s something for everyone regardless of dietary requirements, and you’ll be impressed with how many ingredients you already have in your store cupboard.

For more one dish cooking try out other cookbooks such as The Green Roasting Tin and The Roasting Tin Around The World.

Buy now £12.35, Amazon

The Avocado Show

Adorers of avocados: if you thought you could only have them for breakfast with eggs or on Mexican night inside your fajitas, think again. The Avocado Show features over 60 recipes ranging from breakfast to bar snacks to desserts. If you’re looking for a quick lunch try the bowls and salad sections that are healthy and delicious.

With some more time on your hands, treat your housemates to some of the most Instagrammable meals such as The Avocado Burger (the avocado replaces the bread bun) and The Toasty Taco that takes avo on toast to a new level thanks to the impressive avocado rose that you will learn how to make.

Buy now £10.85, Amazon

5 Ingredients - Quick & Easy Food

If you’re cooking for one, it can be a faff to try out recipes with dozens of niche ingredients that you’ll only use once. Minimise your food waste with Jamie Oliver’s 5 Ingredients cookbook, one of the most straightforward cookbooks out there.

All the meals use only five ingredients, take less than 30 minutes to cook and are packed with nutrition and flavour. For a quick weeknight dinner try the Zingy Lemon Courgette Linguine or the Honeyed Sticky Pork and Carrot Stir Fry. All ingredients are accessible and can be found in any supermarket. The focus on fruit and vegetables means you won’t decimate your student loan on the weekly shop.

Buy now £15.99, Amazon

Comfort MOB

Mob is more than a social media cooking channel: it’s a movement. Comfort mob pulls these videos together to create a guide to pure gourmet joy.

With old-school recipes like fish and chips and toad in the hole, you’ll be transported instantly to childhood dinners (with added sophistication).

The recipes are affordable and achievable for all levels and in a matter of minutes you can rustle up the likes of Grilled Halloumi and Peach Burger - a light summery take on a comfort food classic. Is pasta your kryptonite? Learn how to make your own pasta and sauces to go with it like Ben’s Dad’s Puttanesca.

Buy now £13.99, Amazon

Freeze: Super-nourishing meals to batch cook, freeze and eat on demand

If you find cooking to be a chore, especially after a hard day in the lecture hall, master the art of batch cooking with Freeze. Offering plenty of delicious and nutritious recipes that are also super speedy, this cookbook will teach you everything there is to know about convenient cooking.

It’s also great for those starting off in their culinary journey thanks to endless tricks and tips as well as suggestions on how to alter ingredients based on dietary requirements. We love the Easy Midweek Meals chapter that includes Wild Mushroom Risotto, Keralan Vegetable Curry and the most heart-warming Thai Sweet Potato Curry. There are also chapters on essential sides and condiments - so replace that shop bought pasta sauce with a homemade one that takes minutes to make and contains no nasties.

With smart meal-prep solutions, you’ll be able to show off your packed lunch that’s more than a measly sandwich (much to the envy of your friends).

Buy now £11.99, Amazon

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love

Intuitive cooking can be hard. You’ll likely spend more time in front of your kitchen cupboards or fridge staring at a tin of tomatoes or a half eaten block of cheese, and wonder how to transform it into a nutritious and tasty meal. If there was ever a cookbook to help with this age old problem, it’s Shelf Love.

These evocative Ottolenghi recipes are exactly what you would expect from the creative chef, but this time they offer us greater flexibility to use what we have to hand to edit and alter these dishes. Each recipe features a ‘make it your own’ box which allows you to substitute various ingredients or simplify the process if you’re short on time.

We made the Creamy Dreamy Hummus with a can of chickpeas and leftover peppers from the fridge and followed it up with a tomato salad to use up other veggies we already had.

Buy now £16.99, Amazon

Mind Food: Plant-based recipes for positive mental health

Eating healthily isn’t just good for your body, but your mind too, which is why this revolutionary cookbook “helps you reimagine the way you think about mental health in parallel with food”. Sharing her mental health journey, author Lauren Lovatt presents a host of plant-based recipes that are creative, informative and most importantly: delicious.

We’re big fans of the seasonal ingredient pages that help us align our mind and body to what we eat. The recipes encourage you cook with freshly-grown produce and we were blown away by the Pumpkin Arancini - packed with healthy fats and vegetables. Her creative approach to holistic eating is nothing like we’ve seen before and we love the number of superfoods we’re getting thanks to these great meal ideas.

Buy now £14.05, Amazon

Chinese Takeaway Cookbook: From Chop Suey to Sweet 'n' Sour, Over 70 Recipes to Re-create Your Favourites

Saving your pennies doesn’t mean compromising on your favourite takeouts. This book features 70 of the best loved dishes in Chinese cuisisne.

The food is super simple to make and inspired by Kwoklyn’s family’s Cantonese restaurant which he grew up working in. What’s more, most recipes in this book take 20 minutes or less so it should take you less time to whip up these dishes than waiting for a takeaway delivery to arrive.

Of course our absolute favourite dish was the easy (and relatively healthy) sweet and sour chicken that can be served on a bed of rice or with noodles. You can watch us make it at home here.

Buy now £15.00, Amazon

Made in India: 130 Simple, Fresh and Flavourful Recipes from One Indian Family

With the subheading of “Cooked In Britain”, you can be sure that this cookbook finds the perfect balance between authentic Indian food and the British palate.

Alongside the expected curries there are also chapters on side dishes, puddings and scrummy street food such as feta samosas and chilli paneer.

Featuring sections such as First-Timer Recipes and Kid-Friendly cooking this is the perfect cookbook for the novice Indian cook who wants to get their whole family involved in meal prep. All in all there are 130 recipes that will look as vibrant as the book itself does.

Buy now £14.40, Amazon