Whilst living with non-vegans during my time at university, I realised the majority of students live off chicken dippers and oven pizzas. Although becoming a lot more mainstream with Quorn ‘chicken’ nuggets and Linda McCartney sausages, it’s a little more difficult for vegans to find easy fast-food that you can just stick in the oven for a meal. I’m lucky I learnt to cook before coming to university so rarely buy things like that, but I still need to make really quick, easy meals everyday as I don’t have the luxury of being able to spend more than 30 minutes in the kitchen like I do back home. Instead, I found the best thing to do is pack your kitchen with the right stuff so you can always have a meal ready to make in 15 minutes and you don’t even need to be a good cook. Aside from the basics bread, plant milk and vegan butter, here is what every vegan student should have in their kitchen:
- Frozen Veg
This will cut your cooking time a lot as you don’t have to spend ages cutting them up and most frozen veg is usually cooked within 5 minutes of adding it to your dish. It is also cheaper and, contrary to what most people think, the nutritional benefits are pretty much the same as when you cook with fresh veg, so it’s a win-win-win situation. Of course, you should still keep some fresh veg to eat raw for maximum nutritional benefits.
If you’re anything like me, you like to snack when you’re bored, studying or watching TV. To save yourself from eating a whole packet of Oreos or Doritos, a healthier choice is just to have a pot of houmous in the fridge and some cut up veg. You can buy salad sticks pre-cut up if you’re just that lazy, or just cut up lots of carrots, peppers and cucumber and keep them in your fridge to snack on.
- Pasta Sauces
Pasta is my favourite food, I could live on it for breakfast, lunch, dinner. I love experimenting making different sauces out of lots of different veg at home, but at university, I don’t have the time and usually just stick to plain old tomato sauce. There are lots of options you can do to save time with pasta making. First, you could make a bulk of pasta sauce at the end of the week and freeze it for the week ahead. Second, you can buy pre-made pasta sauce which means you only have to heat it up for about 4 minutes and, depending on how long your pasta takes to cook, you can have dinner in less than 10 minutes. The third option is you can stock up on chopped tomatoes or passata and make your own pasta sauce from scratch which brings your dinner time up to about 15 minutes (that’s what I do).
- Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes
Every student, vegan or not, has to have potatoes in their kitchen. It is such a versatile carb and so easy to cook. You can make any meal whether it’s an accompaniment like mash or chips, or the main meal like a potato curry. They’re also low maintenance because, most of the time, you just have to chop them up and put them in a pot or the oven, then you can go about whatever else you have to do. If you’re health conscious, sweet potatoes are just as easy, if not easier to use. They cook a little quicker than white potatoes but if you’re making fries, they are softer. I normally make mash by putting a sweet potato in the microwave for 4-5 minutes, peeling it and mashing it up with a fork – so easy.
- Stir-in Sauces
Something that’s been a life-saver at university for me has been Blue Dragon’s stir in sauces. They’re so delicious and easy to use, and they take about 4 minutes to cook. They also label whether they’re vegetarian or vegan on them! You can experiment with adding things in but they’re just as good on their own. My favourite is the sweet and sour sauce which I add about a tbsp of peanut butter to and it’s my favourite stir fry ever (try it, you won’t regret it). It’s good to just have sachets of sauces in your cupboard, you just have to add them to noodles or rice and you have a meal. Most supermarkets do their own brand sauces if you want a cheaper option, but Blue Dragon’s are about 70p a sachet.
Having rice in your kitchen is definitely an essential. Microwave rice takes less than 2 minutes to make and you have a carb ready, plus you can get them really cheap for 30-40p and that’ll make enough for two meals. Or you can buy a massive bulk of rice and cook it yourself, it takes longer but it’s low maintenance so you can just leave it on the hob and stir it occasionally, it’s also much better for the environment. I suggest having a few sachets of microwave rice just for those days you really just don’t want to cook but you do want a nutritious meal.
Another versatile ingredient and definitely the vegan stereotype that you should be happy to live up to. Tofu is great once you know how to cook it, plus it’s great protein to add to your meals. You can fry it and use it as the main meal, chop it up small and add it to stir-fries, break it into small pieces and make tofu scramble, or blend it and add it to certain desserts (I haven’t done the last one so I’m not too sure how great it is). You can bake it, fry it and deep fry it, you can even eat it raw if you’re level 1000 vegan. You might think that you have to spend hours pressing it so it’s not really time saving, but you can just start pressing it in the morning and leave it for a few hours. However, the brand Tofoo makes extra firm tofu that doesn’t need pressing, this is what I use, all it needs is a few squeezes of water out of it and it’s good to go.
- Beans and Legumes
You can get canned beans or dried beans. Canned beans are way more convenient, especially for fast cooking, but dried beans are cheaper and you just need to soak them overnight or for a few hours before you cook them. They can pretty much be added to any dish for extra protein, or you can blend them and make your own bean burgers, protein balls or anything else you want. Depending on the bean, you can make room for them in any meal. They are full of nutrients and are delicious, they also absorb flavour well so you should always have some in your kitchen. Normally I’ll use pinto beans for chillis, black beans for tacos and burritos, and chickpeas for curries or salads. Also, the water from canned chickpeas can be whisked and used to make vegan meringues (look up: aquafaba!)
Wraps are great because you can literally fill them with anything and no two wrap-based dinners have to be the same (unless it’s really good then you end up having it everyday). They’re healthier than having a sandwich, plus you can really pile a lot of stuff in there, and they only take about 30 seconds to heat up in the microwave. You can make quesadillas, burritos, tacos and enchiladas, and if you have wraps leftover, you can cut them into pieces, bake them for a few minutes and make a healthier alternative to nachos!
- Dried Red Lentils
I’m glad I come from an Indian household because my mum cooks with these all the time to make dahl and they have become very useful in my time at university. They are the easiest lentils to cook with, in my opinion, and have a ton of nutrients. As well as making dahl, you can add them to soups, stews, curries or anything to thicken it and add extra protein (because you know everyone is very concerned about our lack of protein). They’re also delicious and absorb flavour well, and there is no need to soak them in water overnight.
Just to add more nutrients and to make your food more interesting, little things like nuts, seeds and dried fruit are always handy to have in your kitchen. If you’re a porridge lover like me, or you like nice cream, smoothies, cereal and toast, it’s good to always have extra things to add to make your food even tastier. Chia seeds are one of my favourite things to add to anything, they can be expensive but try not to buy branded ones that are £10 a pot and aren’t any different to the cheaper ones that are about £4. You can also soak them overnight and make chia pudding as they absorb liquid really well. I normally add seeds onto my avocado toast, salads or mix them in with my oats.
As long as you have some spices, you can make any vegetable taste good. My recommended ones to always keep in your cupboard are: all spice, curry powder, garam masala and paprika. I also keep ground coriander, cumin, turmeric, chilli powder, garlic powder and cinnamon, but maybe branch out and try a few other spices in your meals and experiment. It’s easier to buy the spices in bulk bags and get a few cheap jars to fill them rather than buying the little pots of them that are like £2 each and don’t last very long. Also, salt and pepper is a must, although I’ve been getting away without pepper for a few months because someone stole my pepper shaker. Salt is needed because a little bit will bring out all the flavours in your meal, so if you’re worried about sodium levels, you don’t need more than a pinch.
- The Frozen Foods
You’d be lying if you said you didn’t check out the veggie frozen section of the supermarket all the time to see if they have new vegan products. You might be lucky and have a ton of cool vegan foods like nuggets, sausage rolls, pizza, pies and roasts, or you might only have a few vegan sausages. Whatever you have, it’s good to stock up for those lazy days you really just can’t be bothered. You should always get some frozen chips or waffles just because you should always have chips in the freezer. My hometown has way more vegan foods than my university town, so I love going home and going food shopping with my mum to look at all the vegan food I never get at uni. If you live near a Holland and Barrett, you will know they have such a good range of vegan mock meats and cheeses, it’s great to go there once in a while and get some processed foods for those cba days.
So these are my essentials I think every vegan should have if they want to survive as a student. Not including the basic things like pasta, noodles and bread. If you have all these, dinnertime at university will be easy, you’ll never have to have the same meal everyday (unless you want to) and you don’t really need to know how to cook to make any of these meals. I hope this helps any struggling vegans who live off tesco falafel wraps and oven chips every day.