Student cooking – a chore, a pain, a fear. In the hope of preventing the student diet of pesto pasta, oven pizza, and ready meals (it’s just a stereotype, not a fact), some parents make the wise decision to send their children off to university with a cookbook. More often than not, they will stumble across the supposed holy grail of student cooking: Nosh for Students by Joy May.
First published in 2014, Nosh for Students was inspired by the poor student diet of the author’s eldest son. Realising she did not want to leave her son to suffer with little knowledge of how to cook, she wrote this cookbook, hoping to teach other students to do so. With six re-editions, the book is arguably one of the most successful student cookbooks.
The welcoming orange tones make this cookbook look like a beacon of hope for a student lost in the task of cooking for themselves. The blurb reads: “Joy helps take the chore out of student cooking, giving students a taste of success and making the experience so much fun.”
“Fun” is questionable – I’d say outdated and uninspired are more appropriate.
A scan of the contents creates immediate concern. Some peculiar flavour combinations – a rice & apple salad, crisps in a tuna pasta bake, a pie with baked beans. I don’t mean to be a pessimist, but the dishes included aren’t exactly reassuring.
A closer look at the recipes fails to provide any more comfort. May is obsessed with pasta and soup. Whilst both classic and staple foods, making an easy meal, students want something more interesting. Attempts at changing things up just fall flat. One recipe shows a chicken sitting on a beer can ready to be cooked – nothing new or exciting in my books.
The photos don’t add much to the strange assortment of recipes. Some may say I’m picking at straws – and yes, I am – but in the essence of MasterChef: presentation is important.
In particular, the image accompanying a recipe for ham and vegetable soup is so off-putting, as if to say: cook this if you dare. The photo for beef stroganoff is even less convincing, conjuring comparisons to sick in a bowl.
The book isn’t a complete failure. The section on date nights is adorable and these dishes are ones someone would want to eat. Cooking for someone is a truly romantic gesture, but not with a NOSH cookbook: using this book is a red flag. I love May’s optimism nonetheless; her heart is in the right place.
I can also get behind the baking section. May includes some true classics: scones, chocolate chip cookies, and brownies. Regardless, there’s still some cause for concern. A recipe for Rice Krispie cakes never should have been included – we’re not in primary school. However, one recipe is even worse: fruit salad. Questionable is not the right word to describe this, completely misjudged is.
I will say that the advice Joy May gives is useful. Planning your meals ahead of time is an invaluable piece of guidance, especially if you’re cooking for yourself for the first time. Including an essential list of cupboard staples and advice on how to tell when ingredients are done fit the book’s aim. It’s just the recipes which let it down.
Continuing to ramble about my strong dislike for this book would provide no advice for a student. Here are some of my recommendations to use instead:
Both the HelloFresh website (which you can access free of charge regardless of whether you have a subscription) and BBC Good Food hold a wealth of recipes. On each site, you can sort by categories of cuisine, ingredients, and diet. My favourite feature of the HelloFresh website is the ability to change the serving amount, which is perfect for meal prepping.
Delia’s How to Cook – Delia Smith
The queen of no-nonsense cooking Delia Smith’s Delia’s How to Cook returns to the very roots of cooking. This cookbook focuses on techniques and skills in the hope of giving you the confidence to try a range of dishes out. Even if you have a solid foundation of the basics, Smith covers some great recipes, all of which can be found on her website.
Tin Can Magic – Jessica Elliott Dennison
Especially with the cost-of-living crisis, it’s sometimes difficult to scrap together the cash needed for all the ingredients a more mainstream cookbook demands. Tin Can Magic provides the solution to this, with filling and delicious meals at your fingertips. Using chopped tomatoes, chickpeas, sweetcorn, and lentils as some of the base canned ingredients, you’re bound to be able to make something from what you already have at home. The great thing about this cookbook is the inclusion of substitutes, allowing you to be flexible with what you have on hand.
Super Easy One Pound Meals – Miguel Barclay
Following his success on Instagram with a video series of the same name, Miguel Barclay’s Super Easy One Pound Meals is ideal for students. The great thing about Barclay’s cookbook is ingredients are never unique to just one recipe, preventing food waste and the need to spend lots of money on something you’ll never use again. Everything is designed to be made with just one pan – so no reason to use the washing-up as an excuse! His YouTube channel and Instagram both have videos of him cooking some of the recipes which feature in the cookbook, which gives you a useful visual guide alongside the written instructions.
A Girl Called Jack – Jack Monroe
Monroe’s cookbook A Girl Called Jack is equally as accessible as Barclay’s. The cookbook uses a handy selection of the few utensils which you actually need and ingredients available in any supermarket. Written from her own experience of food shopping on an extremely tight budget, the cookbook showcases cheap yet filling meals. Some of the recipes include a strange addition of fruit in savoury dishes but overall is a handy guide to cooking for any student. Prep excluded, most of the recipes take around 30 minutes to make, great if you’re on a push for time too.
Food for Thought – Mei Ying Chow
Graduate of King’s College London and YouTuber Mei Ying Chow released her own free cookbook a few years ago. From one student to another, this collection of recipes is like a warm hug, saying “it’s all going to be okay” in the realm of cooking for yourself. Who better to take advice from than a fellow student?
These cookbooks all deserve a place on your shelf, providing advice instrumental in improving your cooking and recipes you’ll actually use. ‘Nosh for Students’ does not deserve its acclaim.