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10 best student cookbooks for simple, cheap and delicious meals

Being a student doesn’t have to mean instant noodles or beans on toast every night... with these recipes you’ll be able to enjoy the comforts of home at uni

Impress your flatmates with your newfound kitchen skills ( iStock/The Independent )

If you’re getting ready to fly the nest to embrace student life, you’d do well to equip yourself with a cookbook or two to ensure you can recreate some home comforts in your new pad.

And being able to whip up something more than a pan of pesto pasta is always helpful to woo your new flatmates with after a long day at the library.

But with a dizzying array of recipe books aimed at new students, how can you find the right one to stretch your loan the furthest without resorting to beans on toast for the last few weeks of term?

With many young people more clued up on diet, wellness and nutrition than ever before, today’s cookbooks really need to know their stuff; to make the grade, we looked for inspiring, modern and tasty recipes using cheap, widely available ingredients and simple instructions easy for novice cooks to follow. Here are the titles worth a spot on your new bookshelf.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘The Ultimate Student Cookbook’ by Fiona Beckett, published by Absolute Press: £10, Waterstones

For many, this is the original and best student cookbook, based on Fiona Beckett’s 2003 bestseller Beyond Baked Beans which spawned a serialisation in The Guardian and a phenomenally popular Facebook page where students uploaded their own attempts at recipes. This 2009 version incorporates recipes and tips from food-loving students (at the time) Signe Johansen, Guy Millon and James Ramsden who now have their own careers in food, and it still ticks all the boxes. It features all the classics: multiple recipes for bolognese, endless rice dishes (we like the budget-friendly egg fried rice) and non-patronising cooking advice like how to carve a chicken and how to stir fry something. This book requires no former kitchen knowledge and talks you through how and where to shop, truly necessary equipment to invest in and has a useful no-nonsense page on how to avoid poisoning your new pals. Pictures aren’t the prettiest a decade on, but the recipes are timeless and incorporate global flavours with ideas for any occasion which you’ll use beyond your degree. An invaluable education.  

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‘MOB Kitchen’ by Ben Lebus, published by Pavilion Books: £8.49, Amazon

As a student, author Ben Lebus was frustrated by his housemates’ lack of skill and interest in the kitchen and set about inventing restaurant-worthy dishes with the aim of serving four people for less than a tenner. And so, his blog and the MOB Kitchen channel was born. This book sees some of the most popular recipes committed to paper and assumes no kitchen confidence and no store cupboard save seasoning and olive oil – and still the global-inspired recipes are exciting, fresh and brilliantly affordable. We’ve made the Thai pork larb and beer-braised pork belly tacos on repeat and the weekend breakfast staples will cheer up any hungover household. His follow up book, MOB Veggie, which was published last month is an equal treasure trove of caponata parmigiana, bang bang cauliflower and many a quesadilla that will have new chefs marvelling at their prowess. A word of warning, these are best for batch cooking or serving groups rather than individuals.

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‘Cooking on a Bootstrap’ by Jack Monroe, published by Bluebird Books: £4.99, The Book People  

Being thrifty makes sense as a student, but those without emergency access to the bank of mum and dad will be familiar with the very real necessity to penny pinch – and few people know it better than author and campaigner Jack Monroe. This book is a godsend for when times are tight – and when they’re not – but you want something jazzier than more baked beans; her unsnooty approach to frozen, tinned or dried veg and pulses mean you enjoy nutritious delights like smoked mackerel kedgeree or aubergine and lentil vindaloo without feeling deprived, and still have money left over for treats like perfect chocolate chip cookies. This book is an education for those unused to living on a budget and has a wealth of meatless recipes as a simple result of shopping thriftily. 

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‘The Hungry Student Cookbook’ by Charlotte Pike, published by Quercus Books: £7.68, Amazon  

This book starts with a useful chapter entitled “how not to poison your friends” with basic food safety messaging for those finding their feet in the kitchen. IT assumes the scant knowledge and small budget of most teenagers. With this all-rounder kind of book, you’ll find that little equipment is required and once you have a basic store cupboard established you can knock up recipes like spaghetti amatriciana, healthy “fried” chicken and beef in beer using a few fresh ingredients. The meals tend towards the hearty side with plenty of filling pastas, noodles and warming bakes – ideal for hungry students – but you may find them to be quite meat heavy with a particular emphasis on chicken. We very much enjoyed the section on jacket potatoes and suggested fillings. Try The Hungry Student Vegetarian Cookbook by the same author if you’re not a meat-eater, or simply to make your budget go further as tofu and halloumi are probably the priciest ingredients featured; the recipes tend to be more nutritious and interesting in any case. 

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‘The Dirty Dishes’ by Isaac Carew, published by Pan Macmillan: £14, WH Smith

First and foremost, this isn’t technically a student cookbook. But, this book by ex-Connaught alumni Isaac Carew is full of very doable dishes packed with flavour and using widely available ingredients – so earns its place on many a student bookshelf; and not just for the dirty tomato and vodka soup recipe. There isn’t such an eye on budget of course, but ignore the monkfish red curry, scallops and lentils and duck wraps and focus instead on chilli, butternut squash cannelloni and harissa chicken legs and you’ll see 90 per cent of the recipes are easily accessible with chapters focusing on pasta, vegan dishes, lots of egg based meals and a smattering of show-off suggestions. As a bonus, everything is quick to prepare and largely healthy with a few dirty burgers in the mix for good measure. We want to make almost everything in this book starting with Angela Hartnett’s comforting yet stylish white onion soup. 

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‘Student Eats: Fast, Cheap and Healthy’ by Rachel Phipps, published by Ebury Press: £11.84, Amazon 

An inventive title from recent graduate Rachel Phipps, this book was created in response to her fear of having to live off packet sauces in her East London student flat. Instead, she has a long list of light and bright breakfasts, lunches, solo dinners and food for entertaining that are affordable and approachable featuring store-cupboard ingredients like tinned beans, pasta and pulses alongside occasional pricier items like smoked salmon (in her US-inspired breakfast casserole), prawns (frozen) or steak (shared between two). Recipes are clear and simple and encompass Middle Eastern, Mexican and American flavours with plenty of rainbow veg thrown in to the standard student comfort food. Though budget-friendly, there is the option of spending more on food if you’re able to, but the final “Meal Maths” chapter which suggests a few recipe combinations to make your shop stretch further will be welcomed. 

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‘Super Easy One Pound Meals’ by Miguel Barclay, published by Headline Home: £16.99, Waterstones 

The follow up to his runaway success debut One Pound Meals (also worth buying), Miguel Barclay has endeavoured to make Super Easy even quicker, cheaper and – crucially – involving less washing up. Where possible the recipes use one pan or tray, to the extent of cooking eggs, noodles, potatoes and whatnot in the same dish as the curry itself, for example – a boon for all students short on kitchenware, surely. He also has one eye on waste, meaning that many recipes use the same hero ingredient to avoid you throwing away a block of feta having used only half for his roast squash carpaccio; instead, smugly use the rest up in a sundried tomato and feta yorkie and his black beans and stuffed padron peppers. Recipes are inventive, very cheap and very nutritious with plenty of veggie and plant-based options, though vegans will revel in his Vegan One Pound Meals featuring the brilliant Indian crumpets, sticky aubergine bao and tempting carrot and red onion bhaji burger. 

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‘The 7-Day Basket’ by Ian Haste, published by Headline Home: £7.99, The Book People  

Assuming you boast a well-stocked store cupboard, Ian Haste’s The 7-Day Basket offers ten different baskets for seven days of recipes. Weekly themes include winter warmers, veggie or spicy and we’re pleased to report that sticking to your assigned shopping basket per week doesn’t mean you’ll be eating variations on a theme every night. Some weeks feel outside of a typical student’s budget – one requires seven different meat or fish! – but most should be able to stretch to a bit of braising steak, a chicken breast and small piece of cod in a week, at least at the beginning of term. Again, not a student cookbook per se, but we all should be conscious of shopping cleverly and avoiding waste while eating deliciously and nutritiously, and recipes like lentil and mushroom bolognese, Maldivian chicken curry and yakisoba pork noodles make valuable additions to any young person’s cooking repertoire. Perhaps keep the griddled tuna niçoise and lamb rack for after graduation though. Veggies are best to look elsewhere too, we think. 

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The verdict: Student cookbooks

We’ve opted for Fiona Beckett’s timeless The Ultimate Student Cookbook as our top pick because the wealth of knowledge, skills taught and money-saving savvy tips can’t be bettered. However, competition was stiff in the recipe stakes and with a new emphasis on food waste and meatless eating, you may find the MOB Kitchen book more up your street for low-budget cooking that still looks and tastes amazing. For truly skint students (and others) we’ll always recommend Cooking on a Bootstrap.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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