Student Teamwork in the Kitchen
When a young person moves away to college or university it is likely to be their first time in charge of a home and a budget - even if it is in a flat shared with several other students.
It is important to make a success of such arrangements, because if you get it right you are more likely to enjoy the total student experience of new friends, new surroundings, and new academic challenges.
Agreeing the Ground RulesThe flat, or rooms, you occupy will be your home for most of the student year, and agreeing ground rules that you can all sign up to is essential. Drawing up a list (and lists will become oddly important to you) for allocating the chores, is not difficult. Just factor in some flexibility so that everyone has their turn of the least palatable jobs needed to keep the place liveable.
You are not out to win housekeeping awards; but overflowing sinks and bins and nothing but mess and clutter day in and day out will soon have you all despairing - hence the lists.
Feeding Yourselves - the PriorityArguably most important are the rules that will hopefully keep you well fed and fit. You all have to eat, with any luck at least a decent breakfast and evening meal every day, and you should be able to do it with a little organisation.
Decide first how you want to organise the cooking. Cooking together as a group could be fun but not very practical since it’s unlikely everyone will be available every time. Taking turns to cook will give each of you more freedom and if there is one team member who does not want to participate there can be a trade off for some other contribution.
Paying Into the KittyShopping is an important consideration. Do you shop together (unlikely) - or do you buy the food when it’s your turn to cook (more practical but you would have to agree an average budget).
There are merits to pooling your money for basics and bills for the flat - not just for food but for everything from rent, gas and electricity, as well as items like toilet rolls and bin liners. This will let you budget over the term; but you have to be honest with each other in your use of things and avoid the temptation to use the kitty ‘for emergencies’.
Cutting CornersIf you’ve decided to take turns to cook, and that the cook-of-the-day should shop for the food, your next step will be keeping costs down. Where there are local markets you have the best and cheapest source of fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese and other products. At the supermarkets try to go towards closing time when fresh food nearly on its sell-by date will be marked down, perfectly good for use that day.
Avoid pre-packed fruit and vegetables because they are likely to be more expensive. Don’t be tempted by delicious looking strawberries in January; they are unlikely to be delicious and they will be very expensive. Choose seasonal foods. There is a wide variety and they will be at their best.
Choose from the freezer rather than the chilled-food range for items like pizza. They are cheaper and they will be just as good.
If your dish of the day is going to be a casserole, use the oven economically by doing baked potatoes and vegetables at the same time.
Keep your eyes open for money-off vouchers and buy-one-get-one-free offers for items that you will use a lot of, like tea and coffee.
Keeping a Good Store CupboardMake it a rule, for anyone who finds a basic item running low, that they should add it to the list of things to get. Try to keep a reasonable store cupboard and fridge - with basics like bread, eggs and cheese, cans of beans and tuna, packets of pasta and rice, and perhaps a jar or two of pasta sauce.
Items like this will come into their own when time - and patience - is short, such as at exam times. Then it is more important than ever to have a nutritious dinner and you can manage to do that without cooking for hours.
Don’t Go ThereLastly, the one problem above all others that is likely to sour relationships in communal living is the washing up. Does the person doing the cooking also do the washing up that day? That's probably not very fair. But whatever decision the team takes, try very hard to make it a rule that no dirty dishes are left at the end of the day. Wash them and stack them in a rack to dry.
You’ll all thank each other when you reach for a coffee mug in the rush to get to lectures in the morning and find that there is actually a clean one for everyone.