It’s the time of year when many a mother is packing her precious offspring off for what is possibly their first time ever away from home. College days are ahead, and with them, an exiting new adventure. But as many the Mammy of a child who has been through the process, got their degree and actually lived to tell the tale will know, you can’t help but be concerned when they first move away.   How will they cope? (probably not as badly as you think).  Will they  get enough sleep?(absolutely not. Like, would you rather sleep than party?).  How are they going to do their washing?( they are going to bring it home by the bagload , duh…).  And most importantly – are they going to feed themselves properly?(feed themselves yes, but it may not be the chosen diet Mammy  would wish for).

 It may be that your son or daughter has never had to lift a pan in his or her entire life till now. If that’s the case, we blame the parents!  Maybe it’s not as bad as that – they may be ok at doing the ordinary survival foods like a fry,  or beans on toast. But if they are to take in all the working hard (and playing hard!) that heading to college entails, they really do need to improve on that for a balanced diet. A healthy intake of vitamin rich foods  is essential for good concentration, the experts have proved. So here is our survival guide to eating well for college first timers and those wishing to improve on basic cooking skills.


Firstly, college food needs to be simple and affordable on what is the usual tight budget an average student lives on.  It doesn’t have to be all pasta – though this is one of the most convenient and popular forms of energy food an active student will eat. Here is a list of storecupboard items that are affordable and will help to produce substantial filling and flavoursome meals. A great going away present for any student is a hamper of essential items like the ones below.

Pasta – preferably wholegrain for more fibre and energy

Pulses – chickpeas, butterbeans, red kidney beans. Excellent protein source in place of or in addition to meat.  Cans are convenient –  but if you want to save money dried is the way to go. You get more for your buck. Dried pulses need to be soaked and boiled before use,  so it really involves a bit of planning.

Noodles – great for stir fries and cook in minutes.

Rice – brown rice has lots of fibre and nutty taste. Basmati rice is the right one for curries. Long grain for Chilli Con Carne and salads. Wild rice adds a touch of the exotic and can be mixed with any of the others for a different texture and nutty flavour. Best to buy rice in big bulk bags – they can be found in Asian stores at a much cheaper price than small supermarket packs.

Curry paste – a good quality curry paste is a lifesaver for quick dinners. Add some to chopped chicken fillet, cook with stock and add some yogurt to create a pretty authentic tasting curry. As with rice, look in Asian shops for the best brands and better deals.

Soy Sauce – for  stir fries

Tabasco Sauce  – perks up everything from baked beans on toast to soup – to crisps dipped in it when the worst comes to the worst!

An all round culinary oil – we’d recommend Irish rapeseed oil as it’s good for cooking, and also can be used in dressings for salads etc.

An all round vinegar – Irish cider vinegar can be used in dressings and also as vinegar seasoning on chips!

Tinned tuna – great for quick wholesome sandwiches, pasta sauces with chopped tomatoes, topping jacket potatoes with mayo and sweetcorn – and many other uses. Get tinned tuna in sunflower  or olive oil rather than in brine – its a bit more expensive but much tastier.

Canned chopped tomatoes – endless uses in cooking including soups and stews. But a basic level, good quality canned chopped tomatoes cooked with garlic, dried herbs and a drizzle of good oil make a  simple fresh tasting  pasta sauce,  instead of buying  expensive ready made sauce in a jar.

Baked Beans – when all else fails baked beans on toasted wholemeal bread is nutritional and sustaining! Try to buy the low sugar or organic ones if budget allows. 

Pesto sauce – when the budget runs to it,  one of the homemade ones from a farmer’s market or an artisan pesto from our foragers like Wild About  is nice for a special meal. But convenient jars of traditional basil pesto can be found in most supermarkets and make a good storecupboard standby not just for pasta, but for flavouring pork chops and chicken joints before baking in the oven. And for dips with tortilla chips, breadsticks or crackers.

Dried herbs – the most convenient way to buy them for  student use. Dried thyme for seasoning meats and potato cakes (a must for these). Oregano for smartening up a shop bought pizza with some extra toppings like pepperoni, sliced tomatoes, peppers and onions.

Coffee – really good coffee! And a cafetiere to make it in,  because every student will be in need of a caffeine hit almost daily  – to combat a hangover or stay awake when studying. Shop bought coffee is the one thing students spend lots of  money on, and at around €2.00 for a takeaway cup of bog standard  garage or corner shop coffee ,   its expensive and you can melt a tenner in no time.  So save  a fortune by kitting  up with a few bags of good quality ground coffee and the equipment to make it.  As a treat for a  budding real coffee connoisseur, we recommend the Ponaire  range for top quality taste – available in lots of independent food shops and delis around the country.

Herbal tea – Camomile is soothing at bedtime, while a sage based herb tea re-energises those who are feeling a bit run down from burning the candle at both ends!


  • Never go shopping on an empty stomach – you’ll spend money on things you don’t need and will never cook.
  • Buy in bulk where possible – two for one deals on dried goods are brilliant money savers. Buy big bags of rice and pasta as opposed to supermarket sized packs.
  • Cheaper meats include sausages, pork mince and chicken joints instead of breast fillets. Try to use a local butcher who may have deals on bulk buys of meat. Some butchers do a student pack of meats  which will last the week and cost a fraction of the price of nutrition lacking ready meals and takeaways.
  • Make friends with eggs and cheese as quick protein providing meal ingredients. Eggs, vegetables/ potatoes/chickpeas make a nutritious curry. Cheese serves every purpose from the basic cheese on toast to pasta topping and filling toasties or wraps with other ingredients.
  • Keep your recommended storecupboard ingredients topped up – or ask your mum to do this!- and you will only need to buy fresh ingredients to add to them in double quick time. A well stocked storecupboard is the essential tool in  good student food.
  • If your house or room mates are agreeable, pool together to share the cost of buying basic storecupboard items and flavourings for everyone to use. 


Our good friend Peter Ward at Country Choice came up with a fantastic recipe for making home made brown bread when his son took off to college. It’s a recipe his family still uses and one every student will appreciate. Pint Glass Brown Bread is just that –no weighing.  All the ingredients are measured in a pint glass. And lets face it, what student will not come across a random pint glass on his or her travels…

Watch the video  and it won’t be long before even the most basic cooks are mastering this recipe for proper wholesome and filling bread.

Pancake batter is another one that is simple to knock up. Pancakes can be used for savoury or sweet recipes – from trad lemon and sugar to bacon and maple syrup, ham and cheese,ricotta and spinach and any other combo you fancy. 

A simple and quick dinner to put together after a hard day in the lecture theatre – this recipe is inspired by Donegal Rapeseed Oil

Every meat eating student will become friendly with sausages if they aren’t already! Here’s a nice way to make them into a filling dinner  in a dead easy to follow recipe with supermarket ingredients. From O’Flynn’s Gourmet Sausages 

A nursery food favourite made extra special with some delicious Mossfield Organic Cheese. Yummy

A simple but delcious winner from one of our favourite cheese producers, The Little Milk Company

A brilliant all in one meal with some crusty or brown bread (the Pint Glass Bread  is excellent with this) Suitable also for vegetarians  and uses easy to find ingredients.