Cooking for one on a budget

The bigger the supermarket, the cheaper the basics ingredients are

You’ve got no money, little time, and before you sits a big bowl of naked, overcooked pasta. Going away to college can be quite the shock to the system. It can get pretty tempting to just walk down to Apache Pizza and get the student deal three days a week and plug the gaps with bricks of instant noodles. The biggest obstacle to eating well is, well, a lack of cash. Pints will always be the priority, and with Dublin’s prices, there isn’t money for much else. Although the cheapest way to eat is by cooking from scratch – using basic ingredients like rice, beans and minced meat – that takes a long time, and also is, quite frankly, tiring. 

It is easy to fall into the trap of buying a considerable amount of your groceries from a corner shop.”

The first aspect of saving money is with regard to ingredients. It is easy to fall into the trap of buying a considerable amount of your groceries from a corner shop, but these places are infinitely more expensive, especially in the city centre. The bigger the supermarket, the cheaper the basics ingredients are. Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl’s value ranges vary slightly in price but the issue at Tesco is that you are more likely to be tempted to buy some sneaky ready meals or loads of snacks. Foreign delis are a godsend for more uncommon ingredients like fresh tofu or gram flour, but are expensive if you’re buying foods that are more difficult to import. 

Tinned food is generally the cheapest and keeps the best, so it is good to always have a few tins on hand. A quick and hearty meal is refried beans: fry some black beans with some salt and smoked paprika, and it will be ready in under 10 minutes. Flavour lost during preservation can be easily remedied with herbs, spices and fresh vegetables. It’s best to mix fresh and tinned ingredients. Cheap meat is generally bad meat, but some exceptions are mince and chicken. You can get whole chickens for €5 as dinner for a week, granted you play your cards right.

“The leftover carcass can be used for making soup base if you’re feeling even more adventurous!”

Rotisserie chicken comes prepared and pre-glazed, with nothing more to do than to follow the cooking instructions on the packet – perfectly convenient for student cooking. Plain whole chickens are easy enough as well: cover the outside in butter or oil and season the outside and the cavity with salt and pepper. To make the chicken more tender, mix butter with finely chopped herbs such as rosemary and massage this herb butter into the chicken under the skin at its neck. Then roast, according to instructions, and let it sit for 10 minutes before slicing. Enjoy a portion of your roast chicken with mash and roast veg. Any fleshy leftovers can be sliced or shredded: the easiest method to shred is using two forks: one fork to hold the meat down and then another to pull chunks off. Pre-cooked chicken can be used in any number of dishes, such as chicken noodle soup, a deli sandwich, an enchilada or leftover chicken curry.  The leftover carcass can be used for making soup base if you’re feeling even more adventurous!

That being considered, not everyone is going to want to spend the same amount of money on food. You’ve got to take a hard look at the money you have coming in or saved, and see what proportion of it you’re comfortable spending on food. As a reference, on a vegan diet while bulk cooking often, I spent around €20 a week on groceries, not including the odd takeaway. If you haven’t lived by yourself before, look at your expenses for the first couple of weeks, not including all of the new crockery and other bits from Dunnes, and then adjust to a point where you are comfortable. 

The sad truth is that it is not feasible to get all the fancy equipment that your parents may have, but they could actually save you money in the long run. Immersion blenders cost roughly €20 and are a godsend. They make soups, smoothies and gravies for curries a lot easier. Make yourself soup five times, and it will already have paid for itself. A coffee machine and a thermos end up being cheaper than a year’s worth of takeaway coffee. If your flatmates are amenable, you could split the cost of a toastie maker with them. 

“The leftover carcass can be used for making soup base if you’re feeling even more adventurous!”

All this cooking is going to be even harder if you’re short on time. But you can dedicate a couple afternoons a week to grocery shopping and bulk cooking, which will save you time later in the week by simply reheating. Frozen food like oven chips, chicken goujons or Quorn pieces can be a good complement to this, so you don’t have to eat same-y food every day. Frozen pastry is a good hack too. You can put anything in it, wrap it rustically and call it a galette! Some good fillings are feta or tofu, mushrooms, onions and sweet potato. 

Most importantly, the stuff you cook has to taste good: it needs flavour! A good source of this is aromatic alliums like onions and garlic, or herbs and spices like rosemary and sumac. 

Spices release most flavour if they are “bloomed” or “toasted”, that is, put into medium-hot oil or into a hot pan without oil until they are aromatic. Ground spices are susceptible to burning, so make them into a paste with water or stock and then bloom them until the liquid evaporates. Similarly, the veg will be most flavoursome if slowly cooked in oil. A good way to make sure you don’t underseason your food is to follow recipes. Once you’re comfortable with them, then you can freestyle to your own tastes. The best budget cooking blog I’ve found is – Jack Monroe is amazing at making quick, cheap and tasty food, and they have lots of vegan recipes too. But the best source of recipes are your families and friends. Recreating a meal that someone else has made can be so nostalgic – think dinner parties, potlucks, and your grandma. 

 dad’s sausage and bean casserole. It takes about 25 minutes. 


Sausages, vegetarian or meat

Onion, chopped

Tin of chopped tomatoes

Tin of baked beans 

Tin of beans – butter beans are my favourite

Some chunky chopped veg – I usually use a courgette, but any harder vegetables like carrots are good too

One or two handfuls of spinach, frozen or fresh



If you’re using vegetarian sausages, put them in the oven to bake. 

If you’re using meat sausages, cut them into chunks and fry them for a couple of minutes. 

Add some chopped onion to the pan and wait until it browns.

Then add the tomatoes, baked beans and the chunky veg and let simmer for 15 minutes. 

And then add the spinach and cumin, give it a couple more minutes and you’re done.  

Find yourself a couple more staple recipes to have at your disposal and you’re sorted! Remember to give yourself time to shop for groceries and cook, so you can get it over and done with all at once. Try not to get a nutrient deficiency too.

Connie Roughan

Connie Roughan is the Unions Correspondent for Trinity News and a Senior Fresh BESS student.