(This post is in collaboration with Aldi. I did not receive payment for it but did receive vouchers, which I am giving away at the bottom of the page.)
Early last week, a list of ‘Waitrose student essentials’ started doing the rounds on social media, widely mocked by comedians, Twitter pundits and pretty much anyone who had ever been a student and fed themselves.
Armed with a tenner and a mission, I took myself off to Aldi to see what I could find, for a more realistic Freshers Week experience…and here’s what I found!
Here’s my list of recommendations, and some cheeky recipe ideas for inspiration!
Something quick and mindless, like vegetable rice, 25p. A meal that can be made by boiling a kettle, because lets face it, sometimes there are better things to do than stand around rustling up dinner. You’re going to need something to carbocharge you through the nights of dissertation deadlines, and/or line your stomach before heading out on the sesh.
Packet couscous, 35p. You won’t regret it. And if you want to turn it into something impressive for a campus paramour, just plonk it in a bowl of salad leaves, decorate with a chicken leg baked in some simple spices, a few sultanas, and a simple lemon and oil dressing. I’ve definitely been seduced by less.
A herb plant, 54p. Plants look nice, and plants you can spruce your dinner up with are the best kind of all. Basil is pretty hard to kill; just give it a glass of water here and there and enjoy endless pestos, simple pasta sauces, and pesto made from the dregs of a bag of salad and a bit of cheese.
Baked beans, 23p. An absolute favourite in my household, to be eaten cold from the tin, on toast with cheese, in a toastie, or to pad out a chilli, add some protein to a soup, or bulk up a stew or casserole. And baked beans taste like childhood, so if you’re missing home, they’re a good, comforting place to start.
Bran flakes, 83p. I’m a mother, what can I say? Bran flakes are a pretty decent cereal, as far as cereals go, and a nourished brain is one that’s going to work harder for you when you need it. Also excellent at, well, flushing out late night kebabs and pornstar martinis, when you need to get back to your best self and fast. If the thought of eating them plain sends you cold, make a kind of granola by smashing them up, covering them in yoghurt, and whatever tinned or fresh fruit takes your fancy.
Rice pudding, 20p. I eat this stuff for breakfast with tinned fruit when I need something energising and on the go. You may have been brought up to think that this is a dessert food, but it makes for an awesome quick and simple start to the day. Of course, you can have it for dessert too; there are no hard and fast rules here.
Fresh fruit, 67p and 69p. Pick yourself up some bananas, apples, flat peaches, easy peel oranges or kiwi fruits and pop them in a fruitbowl somewhere you can reach for them. Fruit has a reputation for being expensive, but it’s cheaper than a bag of crisps and better for you, too.
Tea, £1.25 for 160 teabags. This is Britain, welcome, we are fuelled by tea and irony here. You can only buy one of these in Aldi, but if you watch enough of Dave or E4, you’ll soon pick up the other. Tea is an absolute dealbreaker; offer a cup to new acquaintances and they quickly become friends. If they don’t, don’t sweat it, you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life anyway.
Tinned soup, 35p. Have it on its own or use it as the base for a risotto (see that golden vegetable rice above for a cheats version), or a pasta sauce. This mushroom one makes an excellent creamy, garlicky linguine style dish, just with value spaghetti instead.
Spaghetti. 20p a packet, and a simple staple supper. Top it with pesto, soup, a can of tomatoes, a quick puttanesca with a tin of sardines and a pinch of chilli; the possibilities are endless. Spaghetti on its own with butter, marmite and cheese is the food of the gods, and you can even make it in a microwave.
Tinned fruit, 33p. Have it for breakfast, have it for pudding, have it as a snack, have it in an Instagrammable smoothie, just have it in the cupboard, because it’s handy, cheap, and full of surprises. I use it as the base for a chickpea curry, a red lentil curry, endless tagines, chopped into couscous, and eaten with a spoon in front of the telly.
Vitamin C, 79p. Absolutely vital. For keeping healthy, for feeling like a better version of you, for not getting scurvy when by week three you’re already living on vodka and regret; just pop one of these every day and feel it melt away hangovers, brighten your skin, and generally be a good all-rounder. It won’t do your homework for you, but it will do pretty much everything else.
Ginger and garlic, 44p & 66p. Building blocks for most great savoury dishes, you can mince them together in a paste and freeze it, breaking off a chunk to cook with when you fancy. Ginger on its own is good for stomachaches and adding a bit of heat to your dinner. Garlic is an antioxidant and just makes everything taste better. Powdered versions work almost as well, but sometimes, fresh really is best.
Chopped tomatoes, 29p. If you have a tin of tomatoes in, you’re halfway to a meal. Soups, stews, curry bases, gazpacho, salsa, whizz them up for a Bloody Mary base, or dump them onto a pile of toast with a good amount of black pepper.
Chickpeas, 33p. Chickpeas are endlessly versatile. Make your own hummus, roast them, toss them into a soup, mash them into falafel, cook them in spices, make them into a channa daal. Low fat, high in fibre and protein, and really simple to make into a meal.
Pasta sauce, 30p. Making your own pasta sauce is a noble thing, and one that I advocate, but sometimes you just want a simpler life. This is pretty punchy and doesn’t taste like a ‘jar sauce’ to me. Use it on its own, for a pasta bake, to make a tomato soup with, as a pizza sauce, to dunk nachos in, or as the base for a stew or casserole.
Easy noodles, 22p. See above for easy meals you’ll want when you’re broke, hungover or in a hurry. Add mixed veg and leftover meat/tofu to it with a dollop of peanut butter and a dash of soy sauce for a quick and completely inauthentic ‘special chow mein’.
Salad, 41p. Yes, yes, my motherly face is out again, but you gotta eat your greens. And if you forget to, you can whizz this up into a Salad Bag Pesto and eat it with pasta instead, which is infinitely preferable.
Vinegar, 29p. Adds a dash of acidity to cooking, essential in sauces, soups, stews, on chips, and for cleaning windows and stubborn stains. You don’t need all the fancy varieties; vinegar is vinegar, and this one males an ace salad dressing. Simply mix together double the amount of oil to vinegar, add a pinch of salt, and off you go.
This whole list of 20 ingredients came to UNDER TEN POUNDS in total and I have 12 x £10 Aldi vouchers to give away – along with 10 signed copies of Cooking On A Bootstrap – so you can get your own!
To enter, simply subscribe to the blog with your email address and share this post on Twitter, with the hashtag #FreshersOnABootstrap, and names will be drawn on Friday and winners notified by email or social media.