John Lewis have supplied us with some top tips on starting uni from ex-students turned bloggers and vloggers. Here, YouTube chef Katie Pix tells us the best meals for surviving on a student budget. Katie graduated from Warwick University in 2012 with a first class degree in Theatre, Performance and Cultural Policy Studies.
What’s the one thing you know now, that you wished someone would have told you before starting university?
That it’s ok to take time to settle in.
During Freshers’ week, I was homesick, I missed my friends, I felt completely swamped by my new surroundings and circumstances and – frankly – I didn’t much enjoy the experience at all. Moreover, I thought that I was the only one having teething problems, and this made me feel like I was failing at the university experience and that, maybe, I shouldn’t even be there at all.
Fast forward a few weeks and I’m settled in, I have a bunch of wonderful friends to make every day feel brilliant, even after back-to-back lectures, and university is everything and more than I’d hoped it would be.
Looking back, if somebody had told me it’s ok to have problems settling in to this completely new lifestyle, I would’ve felt a lot calmer about the whole situation. So, if you’re having problems acclimatising to university life, just remember, it’s completely ok and normal to not take to it like a duck to water. I certainly didn’t but once I’d gained my bearings, it was the best time of my life.
What should I pack and bring to university with me?
I’m biased, but you’ve probably guessed that my ‘must have’ items almost all centre on food. My number one choice is the biggest saucepan you can muster – one big enough to cook up a metric ton of food in one go. There are two reasons why this is the best bit of kit you can take with you.
Firstly, you can batch cook up your meals, refrigerating or storing portions for the next few days, making your weekly shop much cheaper and helping you to avoid endless microwave noodle dishes.
Secondly, and most importantly, food is by far the best way to make friends. Cook up a massive batch of chilli and get everyone together for a dinner party sat on cushions on the floor and eating from their laps. Food brings people together and there’s nothing more enjoyable than hanging out with brilliant people sharing great grub.
Failing all of that, take your cuddly toy with you (my ‘Kitty’ was my most indispensable companion, and I’m not even ashamed to say she still has a place on my bed today).
What’s your advice for getting through exam season?
It’s not revolutionary, but the key to getting through exam season is structure. Make a timetable, structure it in two hour blocks and have little breaks in between. 2 hours on, 30 minutes down time and you’re ready to go again. Most importantly, remember to reward yourself with good food, be it a lovely cake you’ve had cooling during the last revision stint or even a handful of Haribo. Learning consumes enormous amounts of energy so feeding yourself is a priority – why shouldn’t you make that priority a real treat?
Why should you get involved in your students’ union?
Your students' union is an amazing opportunity to make a difference to your own university experience. As a student, you are best placed to know what works about your experience and what needs to improve – your union is the best way to affect these changes. It’s also a great place to meet like-minded people, broaden your horizons and try new things like debating and campaigning. We’re lucky enough to live in a democracy and your union is one of the purest forms of the democratic ideal – get stuck in and make your voice heard!
What are your top tips for making friends at University?
My top tip is (within reason, of course) always say ‘yes’. If you don’t like football but get invited to go for a kick about, say yes. If someone is going shopping, join them, even if you don’t need to pick up anything. Try as many new activities as you can with as many new people as possible. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy what you’re doing, there’s every chance that you’ll meet somebody you like doing it with.
What’s the one thing you didn’t do at uni that you now wish you did?
I somehow managed to get through my university life without joining a single sports society. I used to go and watch my friends play and I loved how engaged everybody was – for the life of me I can’t tell you why I didn’t get more involved. All the people I know who were in those clubs had great extended networks of friends to go and hang out with. Luckily, I had my close group of friends who I love with all my heart, but not everybody will be as lucky as I was and just fall in with the perfect group like that. So join a sports club, work up a sweat and, just as importantly, enjoy the (very) social side to university sport.
What are the most exciting recipes to cook on a student budget?
It’s tough to name specific dishes as everybody is different. My top tip is: get a cracking spice rack and fill it with things you’ve never even heard of before – get Sumac, Ras el Hanout and Baharat in there alongside classics like paprika, cayenne, oregano and rosemary. Spices and herbs are a cheap way of pumping new flavours into dishes. For example, if you saw that pack of lamb mince in the reduced section and are going to knock up a shepherd’s pie for the 100th time (not that there’s anything wrong with shepherd’s pie!), why not try making some crispy middle eastern lamb tacos with some yoghurt and quick pickled onions (just slice them finely, squeeze over lemon juice and sprinkle on salt, leave to sit for five minutes) using those warming middle eastern flavours held in your handy spice arsenal. Be adventurous and crank up the flavour.
What are the quickest meals to make that don’t involve a microwave?
Italian food is a winner when it comes to super quick food that doesn’t skimp on flavour. In the time it take for your spaghetti to cook, you can make spaghetti carbonara, aglio olio e peperoncino, sage butter and even a super quick tomato sauce using a handful of fresh basil and some squished up fresh baby tomatoes. Failing that, up your omelette game – it’s the perfect vehicle for loads of flavours and is ready in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
Does pineapple belong on pizza?
There are two ways of looking at it. On the one hand, purists will say a resounding ‘NO!’, and they’ve got a point – pizza has been around for centuries and many take the view that simplicity is the key. The other point of view (to which I subscribe) is that it’s your food, put whatever the heck you want on it! Life’s too short to adhere to the myriad rules that have popped up around food – it’s all about enjoyment, so have fun with it and have a fruity pizza if you like. Haters gonna hate, but you’ll have a mouthful of delicious Hawaiian pizza, so who cares?
You can follow Katie Pix on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram and check out her student kitchen survival guide from John Lewis here.