You may be the world's next Jamie Oliver and love whipping up the tastiest and most complex dishes to impress your family and friends; you may be one of those people whose most exotic meal is beans on toast. Having come from a vast range of backgrounds, students can come under both these categories and from anywhere in between. However, regardless of your experience and technique in the kitchen, when you're at university you won't have a bottomless bucket of money and you will need to cook and eat to your budget!
The majority of your student loan will vanish in a second after you've paid your rent (unless you have very generous parents or relatives who will pay it for you) and then what are you left with? Maybe your parents send you money to keep you going. Maybe you have savings. Maybe you choose to get a job. Whatever your situation, you will have the money to afford food but you won't be able to go all out fine dining every day of the week. And even if you've got pockets full of cash, most students are of the opinion that there are better things to spend your money on than food.
But it's not as bleak as it sounds - you will be able to afford food at university (and no, you won't have to live off beans on toast). The basic cupboard items are not expensive and - if you stock up at the beginning of term - you shouldn't need to spend on these too often. So when you go on your first shop ensure that you get plenty of the basics that will last a long time: dried pasta, rice, potatoes (these will last weeks if you keep them in the fridge!), cereal and snacks (crisps, chocolate bars etc.). The main things you will need to be buying on a weekly basis will be the fresh stuff including fruit and veg, milk and meat - this shouldn't add up to too much (depending on your appetite, obviously!). Use these basic items and work with what you've got. Be inventive! For example, cream cheese can work as a great pasta sauce - just add some chicken and veg and you've got a good meal in ten minutes!
Cooking for one is expensive. Instead, shop and cook like you're feeding a family - it works out much cheaper! If you're a meat eater then opt for chicken and sausages that can be separated into portions which you can then defrost as and when you need them. If you're making a pasta dish, make more than one helping. When you've taken what you want for now, separate the rest up into containers that can be stored in the fridge or freezer for another day.
One of the easiest ways to save money on food is by not eating out. If you know you're going to be on campus all day, go prepared! They hoist up the prices of sandwiches, drinks and snacks on campus because they know that hungry students will pay. Instead, make something the night before. There are plenty of options - just think of your packed lunch box when you were a child! If you're not a sandwich lover then consider a chicken salad or taking leftover pasta from the night before. Just as long as you choose something you like and enjoy, you won't regret taking your own food. And you'll get the added bonus of skipping the canteen queues and actually being able to enjoy your well-deserved lunch break!
Being a university student is one of the best experiences you will have (so enjoy it!) but don't throw your money away - the well-known stereotype that students are broke is mostly true. As long as you are sensible with your money and know what you need to buy and when, you will be able to afford food at university. And with a little bit of practice, you will be able to work with what you've got and make some really good meals!