After the relaxation of the summer holidays, going back to university coupled with exam stress, spots and - gasp! - cooking for yourself, can all seem a bit too much like hard work.

But cooking a healthy home-made meal is nowhere near as difficult as it sounds and, given that recent MORI research discovered that university students only have an average of £29 a week to spend on food, is far easier on the wallet than TV dinners and greasy take-aways.

"You may think that bothering to cook for yourself is a waste of precious time and energy that could be better spent surfing the net, drinking or studying," says Silvana Franco, whose new Really Useful Ultimate Student Cookbook is a compilation of mouth-watering but simple dishes to feed even the most accident prone in the kitchen.

"But you need a balanced, healthy diet to function to the best of your ability both physically and mentally," she warns.

"A well-balanced diet will not only keep your mind and body fuelled, but can also help prevent heart disease, tooth decay and obesity.

"And you're less likely to get a cold if you have a good intake of vitamin C, which is something to think about once you've got exams looming," she adds.

Silvana's student-friendly tome is a minefield of recipes, top tips on food storage and hygiene, and advice on planning ahead, including how to eat well without stressing about the practicalities too much.

"Save time in the kitchen by being well prepared and planning what you're going to cook in advance," she recommends.

"A good time-saving way to balance your meals is to cook all-in-one complete meals based on a carbohydrate such as pasta or rice."

Indeed, filled baked potatoes, stews, risottos, or stir-fries with rice or noodles are all quick-and-easy recipes that provide the perfect basis for a well-balanced meal.

Of course, if you do branch out and start making dishes that need an accompaniment, steaming some fresh vegetables or making a quick salad instead of choosing the ubiquitous portion of chips is far better for you, she says.

"If you're vegetarian or vegan, getting enough protein in your diet can be difficult," Silvana continues.

However, living on cheese and eggs to fulfil your daily requirements can lead to weight gain and high cholesterol levels, so eating at least two different foods together to obtain a high quality protein should do the trick.

Beans on toast, which is quick and easy, high in fibre and low in fat, and nearly negligible in terms of cost, is a good example.

First and foremost, cooking should be fun.

"Eating well is the key to getting the best from life," Silvana smiles. "So invite friends for a meal and impress them with your inventiveness and creativity.

"And don't forget, if you're living in a shared house full of students, as the cook, you get to skip the washing up!"


(Serves 2)
250g (8oz) spaghetti
1tbsp of olive oil
1 small knob of butter
2 small chillies, deseeded and finely chopped
2 tomatoes, skinned, deseeded and finely chopped
4tbsp vodka
4tbsp double cream
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated parmesan, to serve
Use extra olive oil if you haven't got butter, but don't substitute the vodka with any other spirit.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water for 10-12 minutes, or until tender.

Meanwhile, heat the oil and butter in a small frying pan.

Add the chillies and tomatoes, cooking for 4 minutes.

Add the vodka and simmer rapidly for 3 minutes. Stir in the cream, bring to the boil and remove from the heat.

Season to taste.

Drain the pasta well and toss with the sauce. Divide into bowls and serve sprinkled with parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.