Why don’t students cook at home? Are they really too busy or do they simply lack the skills? For Russian Psychology student Alexey (35), it’s a combination of both. “I want to get good marks and that just takes up a lot of time. My parents taught me how to cook, but I don’t enjoy doing it. That’s why I’ve never developed my cooking skills. But honestly, it’s going fine; I’ve been living like this for twelve years now.”
Psychology student Elai (24) says the habit simply crept in over time. “I used to do a bit of cooking at first, with my sister, when my parents were still working. And with my last housemate. I used to do the grocery shopping and she used to do the cooking — that division of labour worked really well.” Elai feels that she’s a reasonable cook, but she doesn’t enjoy cooking and uses every little obstacle as a reason to get takeaway or to get food delivered to her house. “My internship was in Amsterdam and I live in Rotterdam, so I had to get up early every day and got home late. I only had two hours to myself every evening, so I didn’t want to spend that time doing grocery shopping.”
Pre-master student Saskia (24) recognises that laxness in herself and only cooks when she’s in company. She is doing an internship right now in which she gets served her breakfast, lunch and dinner, and she’s starting the master Media & Creative Industries. “My housemate shares my lack of passion when it comes to cooking, so we usually just get food delivered. A friend of mine is a great cook, so sometimes we cook together. Or she does, at least, and I watch from the sidelines with a glass of wine in hand. In those instances, I do see that there’s a certain kind of magic going on — in the way she thinks up all those cookie combinations, like goats’ cheese with walnuts and things like that.”
Alexey and Elai admit that they’re not cooking enthusiasts. “Some people experience cooking as a type of meditation,” says Alexey. “There’s a lot going on; they really feel the food. I’m not like that at all.” Saskia: “It’s very hard just cooking for one. There’s always so much food left. My freezer gets packed or the food starts going off. And frankly, I am usually stuck for inspiration as well. It’s a lot easier to just order food in.”
If students aren’t cooking, what are they eating? All three students told us that they did make their own breakfast and ate it at home. Elai: “I am not leaving the house without having breakfast. I usually have quite a healthy breakfast: something like curd with muesli and fruit. Sometimes I also have a sandwich or oatmeal with an apple.” Curd is also Alexey’s favourite breakfast, as it’s his main source of protein, “together with French cheeses”.
Anyone who’s ever visited the local Spar supermarket, knows that students love their lunch or dinner to go. Falafel salads, sandwiches, wraps, croissants — the on-campus supermarket has it all. Still, these students aren’t really into these lunch options. Alexey: “All those meals are way too expensive. I’d rather eat an apple or tomato standing up, possibly with a bit of salt and pepper. My diet is based on fruit and vegetables, meat gives me abdominal pain. By adding various ready-made sauces and all sorts of veggies, my lunch or dinner is never boring. I can make some eggs or pancakes, but I only do that every so often. Once a year, maybe.”
Saskia’s diet is quite the opposite. “Pizza, hamburgers, kipcorns (a Dutch fried chicken snack); we usually ate snacks as a meal. If I had a lecture, I often got a bun with a meat croquette in the cafeteria. Or an apple at the on-campus Spar. I used to do some cooking, but not for lunch. For dinner, I’d cook some pasta, or make a rice or oven dish, like the red pesto pasta that my ex used to make. Very simple dishes.”
Those dinner dishes are actually what Elai eats for lunch. During her internship, she used to eat big meals for lunch and smaller dishes for dinner. “I would usually eat a sandwich or something like that for dinner, or I would get a Turkish pizza or chips at a cafeteria. For lunch, I would eat something rice-based with vegetables, ideally without meat.”
Kipcorn for dinner
It’s easy for your salt or sugar intake to skyrocket, especially when you’re not cooking yourself; it means you can’t be sure of what’s in the meal you’re eating. Do these students feel unhealthy? “I don’t need to cook to stay healthy,” opines Alexey. “I don’t need full meals. I try to balance my intake of proteins, carbohydrates and fat, and avoid sugar and salt as much as possible.”
Elai agrees in part, but she has noticed that she’s lost a lot of weight. “Because I don’t have a lot of time, I don’t always get the chance to eat well. I want to try and cook a bit more this year. As I’m also working out twice a week, I need to consume enough protein.”
Saskia admits that her diet isn’t the healthiest. “I used to eat far too little during the day and far too much at night, but the eating at night was mostly to satisfy cravings for things like fried food, cookies and crisps. Now I’m getting a lot of healthy food at work, I’m definitely noticing the difference. I feel a lot healthier when I’m eating a vegetable dish or lasagne as opposed to a kipcorn for dinner.”
How can you afford a life without cooking?
A life without cooking sounds expensive. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Alexey spends approximately 42 euros per week, while Elai spends about 20 to 30. Saskia’s lifestyle is a lot more expensive: she estimates that she’s spending over 100 euros a week on food. “But,” says Elai, “I might spend 10 euros a day during my exam weeks. That’s just something I need during those periods.”
The shopping basket of the average student contains over 30 euros of weekly groceries. So, how can students who never cook get by on so little money? Elai indicates that she’s only buying very simple products, like fruit, oatmeal, curd and muesli; no expensive vegetables or fruit and no biological or luxury products. There is a certain pattern to Alexey’s groceries: “Rye bread and rice crackers for carbohydrates, French cheese and curd for proteins, and all kinds of vegetables. There are expensive and cheap vegetables, but you can easily live on a limited budget if you go for the cheaper options.”
How do these students pay for this? DUO appears to be the most important source of their income. Elai and Saskia have taken out a loan that allows them to pay for their food. Alexey saved up in the years preceding his studies, when he was a software engineer. But if the groceries only cost 42 euros a week, he should be able to manage, even just on his DUO loan.