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18th April 2024

Cooking a week of TikTok recipes on a student budget

Cooking inspiration can be hard to come by as a busy student, which is why I tried out a week’s worth of TikTok recipes to see if exciting meals could be achieved on a student budget
Cooking a week of TikTok recipes on a student budget
Credit: Katie Smith @ Unsplash

As a student, it’s hard to know what to cook. In between lectures, essays, socialising, and going to the pub, cooking can often fall to the bottom of our to-do list. Beyond the cheffing itself, it’s hard to be creative with meals when you have 15 other things on your plate, and I’d bet the majority of students have reached for pasta and a jar of pesto at some point during their degrees.

Enter TikTok (or Reels if you’re uncool like me). Virtual recipes are all the rage at the moment and can be the perfect place to go if you’re lacking culinary inspiration – you can see the meal you’re going to get before you’ve even made it. However, many food influencers like to use multitudes of often expensive ingredients you just wouldn’t find in your average student cupboard. To try to find a happy medium, I decided to cook a week’s worth of TikTok recipes, making concessions for my bank account, my busy schedule, and my modest ingredient collection. 

Carrot cake baked oats


Carrot cake baked oat “cake” 🥕 It’s safe to say I have been [utterly] obsessed with this breakfast as of late. The perfect b’fast for winter AND summer – customised your way to suit your preferences. Ingredients: 2 med ripe bananas, mashed 2 cup rolled oats ~30g vanilla plant protein powder OR 1/4 cup wholemeal plain flour* 1/2 tsp cinnamon 1 flat tsp baking powder 1 medium carrot, grated 1/4 cup pecans/walnuts, crushed 2 heaped tbsp honey/maple/alt 2 cups milk of choice *an alternative if you’re not the biggest fan of protein powder To serve/ topping: 1 pot (~160g) vanilla yoPRO/ Chobani fit/ plain greek mixed with 50g reduced fat cream cheese + leftover crushed nuts (optional) + additional fruit/ berries of choice (optional) Method:
1. heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius (~355 degrees Fahrenheit). 2. In a greased oven safe container/baking tray (15-20×15-20), combine banana, mashing this like so, followed by the rolled oats, vanilla protein powder OR wholemeal plain flour*, cinnamon, baking powder, grated carrot, nuts, honey, and milk. Mix until well combined. 3. Place in the oven and cook for about ~35-40 minutes, or until golden and firm to touch. 4. Allow oats to cool in the container/ tray. 5. Loosen the edges with a knife and then combine and add the yoghurt ‘topping’ 6. Upon serving, cut into 4/6 servings**. If serving warm the next day – reheat a slice in the microwave for ~1 minute (yes the yoghurt layer actually tastes great slightly heated also, or you can add this the next day, after heating if you would prefer), or serve as is/cold. **individual portion sizes will vary. If opting for the no protein powder option, serve with an additional heaped tbsp of yoghurt (per serve/slice), to ensure a similar protein serve too option A. Nutrition information (serves 4, with protein powder option): C: 52.5g, P:23.1g, F 12.8g, Calories ~437cal (~1830 kJ) #carrotcake #carrotcakeoats #bakedoats #oatslice #healthybreakfast #easybreakfast #mealprepbreakfast #healthyrecipes

♬ original sound – Potato. – Potato.

First things first: breakfast. I’m a certified oats fan yet, being bored of the overnight oats trend or my microwave porridge, I decided to try out Rose Maclean’s baked oat ‘cake’. The odds were high for me to love this recipe, as it combines practical meal prep with my favourite type of cake.

The ingredient list is student-friendly, as I chose to forgo protein powder and maple syrup for the flour and honey I already had in my kitchen. The carrots and bananas were cheap, whilst oats and Greek yoghurt can be bought in bulk and used for breakfast later in the week.

Safe to say, this was a success. It was pretty easy to assemble all of the ingredients before leaving them to do their thing in the oven. The yoghurt topping really made this recipe for me, and I felt like I was having dessert for breakfast every day. My only criticism is that the cake was slightly dry, but warming a slice up in the microwave with some extra honey did the trick.

Carrot cake oats recipe
Credit: Annabel Benton @ The Mancunion

Protein salad pots

I always struggle with what to make for lunch, yet meal prepping for study days is the perfect way to keep costs down as a student. After browsing Reels for a while, I settled on making Amelia Sandy’s protein power pots. I was drawn to the prepable aspect of this one, as it’s such a pain making lunch from scratch every morning.

With the basics of chickpeas, kale, and quinoa – all pretty cheap – you can probably choose to add whatever veggies you like. I followed Amelia’s veg choices and added cherry tomatoes and cucumber, along with some olives I had in the fridge, and invested in a bottle of lemon juice to drizzle on top. However, I did swap out quinoa for lentils to add a bit of interest.

I also ended up popping each portion inside some toasted pitta bread, as it’s safe to say some veg and lentils aren’t going to keep me full on campus all afternoon. As a salad, the prep was easy and it was good to get some extra protein in, but don’t be caught out by online portions and make sure to make the lunch your body needs.

Pasta al-ragù


PASTA AL RAGÙ 🍝🌱 This might be the best vegan ragù I’ve ever made, inspired by @mob and you have to try it! 😋 Much love Maya ✨ RECIPE (4-5 servings, 1h prep time): -1 small cauliflower -120g walnuts -300g mushrooms Blitz up everything and mix with some oil and salt. Bake at 200C/400F for 30mins but stir after 15mins. -1 onion -2 pieces celery Finely chop and sauté in oil. -5 Tbsp tomato paste -1 Tbsp miso (optional) Roast for a bit. -60ml balsamic vinegar Deglaze the pan with it, then add the veggie mince. -1 to 2 cups (250ml-500ml) water -salt to taste -pepper to taste -1 Tsp paprika and dried herbs -2 bay leaves Stir and let it simmer for at least 20mins. Cook 350g pasta al dente, finish cooking them in the sauce with some pasta water. – PASTA AL RAGÙ 🍝🌱 Das könnte das beste vegane Ragù sein, das ich je gemacht habe, inspiriert von @mob und du musst es probieren! 😋 Viel Liebe Maya ✨ REZEPT (4-5 Portionen, 1 Stunde Zubereitungszeit): -1 kleiner Blumenkohl -120g Walnüsse -300g Pilze Alles zerkleinern und mit etwas Öl und Salz vermischen. 30 Minuten bei 200 °C/400 °F backen, aber nach 15 Minuten umrühren. -1 Zwiebel -2 Stück Sellerie Fein hacken und in Öl anbraten. -5 EL Tomatenmark -1 EL Miso (optional) Kurz anrösten. -60 ml Balsamico-Essig Die Pfanne damit ablöschen, dann das Gemüsehack dazugeben. -1 bis 2 Tassen (250 ml-500 ml) Wasser -Salz nach Geschmack -Pfeffer nach Geschmack -1 TL Paprika und getrocknete Kräuter -2 Lorbeerblätter Umrühren und mindestens 20 Minuten köcheln lassen. 350g Nudeln al dente kochen, in der Soße mit etwas Nudelwasser fertig garen. #veganrecipes #easyveganrecipes #easyveganmeals #easyveganrecipes #veganpasta #pastarecipe

♬ Originalton – Maya Leinenbach

Now we’re getting fancy. With a bit of free time on my hands, I decided to try out this vegan ragù recipe. This was one I’d saved on Instagram a while ago, but I did have to plan the time into my schedule to make it – not the most practical.

To stick to my weekly food budget I used slightly fewer walnuts than recommended and also left out the balsamic vinegar, bay leaves, and miso. I think this recipe turned out alright without them, however, if you do give it a go, be warned that making the mince is fiddly, generating a lot of washing up.

Combined with some pasta, the ragù was a hearty meal and it was fun to make my own mince as a pescatarian. However, after cooking for two hours, I did expect a bit more flavour. Maybe it was the ingredients I decided not to buy, but I don’t think I’ll be trying this one again (unless I’m really bored!).

vegan ragu recipe
Credit: Annabel Benton @ The Mancunion

Vegan shepherd’s pie

Looking for some comfort food, the next video recipe I attempted was Sophie Waplington’s ‘Easy, Beany Shepherd’s Pie‘. This recipe is vegan, yet, unlike the ragù, forgoes meat completely in favour of beans and lentils. The recipe recommends black beans and kidney beans, which are great low-cost protein sources for those on a budget.

Combined with the mushrooms and lots of garlic, this was a lovely meal after a long day. Hearty and just about fancy enough to make you feel like you’re putting in some effort, I’d recommend this to anyone wanting to try something a bit different. I made my own mash but left out the expensive cashew cream the recipe suggests. You could even buy pre-made mash to cut the prep time.

My final touch was 34p garlic bread from Aldi, as you can’t get too ahead of yourself. By simplifying the ingredient list and opting to boil rather than bake my potatoes, this shepherd’s pie wasn’t too much effort.

Pesto gnocchi traybake


DAY 3 of VEGANUARY | pesto, sausage & gnocchi traybake. A one dish winner that comes together in just 30 mins and is absolutely divine. ▫️500g gnocchi ▫️1 head broccoli ▫️100g chestnut mushrooms ▫️200g baby plum tomatoes ▫️1 red onion ▫️4 vegan sausages – I used @cauldronfoods Lincolnshire and they were delish ▫️1 tbsp olive oil ▫️1 tsp oregano ▫️Salt and pepper ▫️2 tbsp vegan pesto ▫️Chilli flakes and a drizzle of good quality olive oil to serve, I used @farchioniuk Bake at 180C for 25 mins and ENJOY. #veganuary2024 #veganuary #veganrecipes #gnocchi #traybake #onedish #mealprep #batchcooking #foodtok #foodie #healthyrecipes

♬ original sound – ur mom <3

To stay true to my student pasta pesto roots, I finished the week by trying out this gnocchi traybake by Emma Petersen. By roasting veg in the oven and combining them with gnocchi and pesto, this recipe saved on washing up as well as my funds. Roasted veg is perfect for using up any leftovers in your fridge whilst keeping prices down.

I did choose to leave out the sausages as I wanted to go all in on the vegetable flavours, but I’d imagine they’d be a nice high-protein addition. The gnocchi was the star, however, and felt like a fancier alternative to your basic supermarket pasta. The cooking time was one of the quickest I tried – so easy to pop into the oven after a long day at uni.

The gnocchi kept well and tasted fresh for two days. As a busy third-year, I love a traybake recipe which makes multiple meals and would recommend this to anyone who has spare veg to use up in their fridge. As across the whole week, it was nice to try out some of the endless recipes I see across social media without having to fork out for a whole new store cupboard!

Annabel Benton

Annabel Benton

Co-Culture Managing Editor at The Mancunion // Twitter: @AnnabelBenton_

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