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The good, the bad and the basic: student cookbooks you need in your life

By Nina Bossicart

Amidst a sea of bad student cookbooks, Nina Bossicart discusses which ones are a waste of time and which are actually worth your money.

So you’ve set off for university and a well-meaning parent or family friend has given you a student cookbook. The title likely includes the words “ultimate” or “best-ever” while the contents of the book are cringy, verging on the patronising, as it tries to sound young and “hip”. 

The trouble with student cookbooks is that they assume every student is in an identical position: has no money, wants to impress their flatmates and misses home cooking. I’ve put together a list of some of the best cookbooks for students and what to look out for to avoid the worst ones. 

The best cookbook if you’re living in halls – The Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer

This book is ideal if you’re lacking in kitchen space, want to avoid a mountain of dishes, and like to share dinner with your flatmates. It’s full of recipes made with simple ingredients that allow you to throw everything together and let the oven do the work. It also includes tips on making dinner with whatever is left in your fridge. 

The best cookbook if you only cook for yourself – Solo: The Joy of Cooking for One by Signe Johansen 

This is the perfect book if you’re tired of eating toasties and baked potatoes because everything else is catered for two or more people. It’s filled with easy recipes, including quick dinners, that will give you plenty of ideas for any meal and make the whole cooking process more than just a chore. 

The best cookbook if you’re vegan and on a budget – Broke Vegan: Over 100 plant-based recipes that don’t cost the earth by Saskia Sidey 

We all know being vegan is more than just a dietary choice, but being vegan on a student budget is hard. This book tackles this with recipes that use supermarket staples. You’ll find everything you need, from 20-minute dinner ideas to tips on batch cooking. 

The best cookbook if you’re only after the essentials – Completely Perfect: 120 Essential Recipes for Every Cook by Felicity Cloake 

Whether you’re just learning to cook or have been cooking for years, this book is ideal for anyone who doesn’t want to filter through dozens of online recipes to figure out which one will work. It compares recipes from the best rated chefs and gives you the tools to create a perfect dish, from mayonnaise to apple crumble and a perfectly poached egg. 

As for the worst student cookbooks, there are probably more out there than anyone could count. What you should be avoiding are books that try to cater to too big an audience. If it’s a book for beginners, does it actually tell you what you need to know? Does it include information on how long you can store food for, what the best way to dice an onion is, or how to tell if your chicken is properly cooked? Avoid books that both try to teach you how much rice equals one portion and how to cook roast chicken.Finally, look at the reviews online. If the student cookbook you’re about to buy has only been reviewed by people who bought it for their son, niece or grandchild, it might not be the best book for you. For instance, one cookbook that ticks all of the above boxes is Nosh for students by Joy May. Despite the high rating, I won’t be adding it to my list anytime soon.


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