Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cooking For Yourself in College

Mmmmm, homemade chococado pudding!
Most people I meet groan jealously when I tell them that I got a meal plan accommodation to cook my own food.  For American college students, avoiding the dining hall or cafeteria is one holy grail of success by which coolness can be measured.  In most cases, your parents are wealthy enough to pay your meal plan and discretionary spending, you're finally a senior or live in the right place, you're studying abroad where there are no dining halls, or you're like me and allergic to enough foods to cause chefs to throw up their hands.  As nice as it may be to avoid overcooked Friday fish and watery iceberg lettuce, cooking for yourself can actually be a hassle and a surprising time commitment.  Busy college students are, well, busy and you may find yourself eating one too many packets of Ramen between practice and student government.  Or even worse, not eating at all.   

If you're an aspiring chef, living with a newly limited diet, or already cook for yourself and feel overwhelmed, check out these tips on how to cook for yourself in college. 

Plan Ahead: Pick one (or two) days a week to go to the store, and stick with them as much as you can.  This will help keep the rhythm of your week predictable and manageable.  Write your meals out for the entire week (seven days) and list ingredients on the same page.  If you're planning to make homemade pizza, figure out how much dough you'll need, what kind of cheese, how many containers of pepperoni, and etc.  Write it allllll out, no matter how simple.  When you go shopping, stick to your list.  Don't assume that baking powder is the same as baking soda or that you don't REALLY need the spice that that dish called for.

Set a Day Aside: you know you're not going to want to come home from chorale on Tuesday nights and cook, and Wednesdays aren't much better.  What to do?  Do your weekly cooking in a chunk of time.  Pick a set of time (maybe 3-4 hours at the most) that you have free, and cook your food.  Portion it out into little baggies and containers.  You can freeze, some if you need.  You'll always have food ready when you're hungry this way.  Shopping for, unpacking, cleaning, and cooking all of this you see here (and washing my dishes!) took 4 hours total.

Pick your Staples:  you know what you like.  Make a list of your favorite, simple main dishes.  If you get in the habit of planning for, shopping for, and preparing your favorites, it will get easy every time.  Think simple.  Remember, though, if it can be prepared ahead of time, make it!  I love pancakes, but I don't have the energy or time to make them every morning.  So I make a batch, freeze it, and take two out at a time to microwave and eat with applesauce.

There's no reason cooking for yourself in college needs to be stressful, expensive, or unhealthy.  If you want to take the plunge, go for it!  Yes, you'll have days where you miss the convenience of the dining hall, but with some simple planning ahead, you can make it!

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