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How I Survived Without Mum's Food: A Case Study

By: Meg Russell - Updated: 22 Dec 2010 | comments*Discuss
Student; Looking After Yourself;

Sixth year student Anna was very aware of the major changes she was about to experience in her life as she prepared to leave home for college in London.

Yet she belongs to the ‘be prepared for anything’ school of thought and used her time trying to find out exactly what to expect out on her own.

Getting Psyched Up

‘For nearly 18 years Mum had looked after me all the time’, Anna says, ‘and the thought of looking after myself scared me more than anything else. But psyching myself up for things always works for me so I decided this was my best option.’

‘When it came to food, I hadn’t a clue what it cost, or how much to buy or how to prepare and cook it. How many teenagers do? So with Mum’s help I got down to finding out everything I needed to know.

‘We had calculated a sensible budget for food and, before I started to learn how to cook things, I wanted to find out how to make the most of my money. Going round the supermarket I could see it made sense to buy larger quantities of foods that wouldn’t perish, like tea, coffee and cereals. It would be wasteful to buy a lot of fresh foods at one time if use-by dates - and fridge space - were short. I took a note of all the staples like canned foods, rice, pasta and lentils that would keep well and be a good base for meals.’

Learning the Basics

‘As a broad guide to what I should be eating, I read that the majority of my diet should be carbohydrates like brown bread, potatoes, rice and lentils that are filling, together with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit. I also need a small amount of protein each day, from meat, fish, eggs or cheese, and very little fat, salt or sugar.

‘My next step was to spend some time in the kitchen. It turned out to be quite eventful. There were the minor disasters and burnt offerings when I was left to my own devices at first, but slowly I got the hang of things and got a kick out of turning out real food.

‘I would advise other novices like me to start with something as simple as a batter made with flour, eggs and milk, because it is so easy and versatile. You can use the same mixture for Yorkshire pudding and Toad in the Hole and you just add some sugar to it for pancakes.

‘Also if you learn how to make a white sauce, with margarine or butter, flour and milk - which is actually easy - you then have the basis for easy cheese, mushroom or onion sauce. For pasta, a simple tomato sauce, made with tinned tomatoes, onion and chopped herbs, can easily be made into chilli or Italian sauce just by adding a few more ingredients’.

Can’t Boil an Egg?

‘For someone who literally couldn’t boil an egg I now enjoy my own omelettes and can boil, poach and scramble eggs successfully, though I’m told you should try to eat no more than four eggs a week.

‘I like cooking fish, too. It’s quick and there’s no waste, and it’s so easy to flavour. Just some butter and lemon, or herbs and spring onions, are all it needs usually. I’ve learned what fish is best poached or fried lightly in a little oil and which is best grilled. All of it seems to be fine baked.

‘With vegetables I tend to steam them, especially carrots, broccoli and green beans. They have more flavour and it encourages me to have two or three different vegetables at one meal.’

Being Economical - Who Would Have Thought It?

Anna finds she even tries to cook as economically as possible. ‘I often try to cook an entire meal in the oven to make best use of it, so I can bake potatoes with vegetables and some chicken or meat at one time. I’m currently experimenting with casseroles.

‘My parents can’t believe I’m actually looking at ways of economising on bills. I tell them their nagging about my leaving everything switched on all the time has finally paid off.’

‘It may look as though I’ve had to spend a lot of time getting to this point, but that’s not true’, Anna says. ‘All it took was an hour or two twice a week for possibly a month, and it’s been really worth it. I’ve gone from facing a prospect that I found genuinely frightening, to now feeling confident that I can manage really well looking after myself.

‘All I need to worry about is getting through my course work. But at least I won’t go hungry.’

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