Tips for First Time College Chefs
The experience I have in the realm of cooking is negligible. As of right now, my best dishes are cereal, macaroni and cheese, and eggs. Since I am moving into an apartment next school year (SUCK IT, DORMS), I was planning on spending my entire summer accumulating a wide range of cooking knowledge under the tutelage of my parents back in my hometown of Dallas, Texas.
However, my plan of learning how to cook was sidetracked when I moved to Austin for an internship. So now I have been thrown into a situation where I need to learn to fix food for myself right now. Not going to lie, I definitely panicked a little bit. I’ve been eating dorm food for the past three school years and never had the need to cook for myself.
If you are finding yourself in a situation where you need to cook for yourself and you’ve never really cooked before, don’t panic. You won’t starve. It’s just a new skill that you’ll have to learn. I’m not going to give you some spectacular recipes for the college student (although I’ll show you some websites that help!), but I will help ease the panic of learning how to become self-sufficient when it comes to food.
Keep it Simple
Let’s be real. You’re not going to be fixing a five course meal every single night. You probably don’t have the skills, money, or time to take on something so ambitious. Don’t get overwhelmed with trying to fix something big; just keep it simple. You just need a basic main dish and maybe a vegetable as a side dish.
This may not be true for everyone, but my comfort foods are usually simple meals. Spaghetti and meatballs, baked potatoes, meatloaf, etc, are all relatively easy dishes to fix. Just ask your parents for the recipes and you’ll be on your way to creating a collection of easy recipes that you’ll love.
Strive for Balance
When cooking for myself, it’s harder than I thought it would be to create a balanced meal. Once I’ve figured out what I want for my main dish, I really don’t want to think about a vegetable too. However, it’s extremely important to create healthy dishes for yourself. After all, you’re not relying on the gross food from the cafeteria anymore, so you have control over what you put in your body now.
I try to eat at least one serving of each food group every day. If you need help remembering all of your food groups (where were you in kindergarten?), you can find a lovely food pyramid here. Dairy, protein, vegetables, fruit, and carbohydrates. For me, the hardest thing to get is always my vegetable, mostly because I’m not a fan of green food. But I’ve found a select few things I like (like green beans and zucchini) and so I always have those in my kitchen.
I have been tempted to try out some of those frozen, premade dinners from companies like Stouffers. The commercials on TV make them look so good, and they have a large variety of things you can eat. And, and to be honest, it just seems so much easier to preheat the oven and stick something in there than worrying about actually cooking. However, I’ve learned that you need to be careful about eating things like this too often. Take a good look at the nutrition facts on the side of the box. On a delicious box of enchiladas, I found that nearly half of the calories came from fat. Yikes. Maybe it’s okay for once in awhile when I just don’t feel like cooking, but I certainly won’t be making these a staple in my diet.
Just make sure you’re aware of what you’re cooking for yourself and really strive for a balanced meal every time.
This is something that has really helped me from panicking too much about cooking for myself. You know me. I love to make lists and I like to plan. If you take just 15 minutes out of your day early in the week to plan the meals you will have for the rest of that week, it will relieve stress of not knowing what you’re going to eat for dinner that day. It will also help you when you go to the grocery so you only have to make one trip instead of making a trip every day.
Additionally, planning will help you save money if you plan with keeping leftovers in mind. For example, tonight I’m planning on buying a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery (genius idea, FYI, because they are delicious) and eating some of the meat tonight with Rice-a-Roni (a San Francisco treat). However, there is no way I’m going to be eating that whole chicken tonight. So, for tomorrow night, I’m planning on having chicken tacos using leftover chicken meat from tonight. Now all I have to worry about is the taco dressings for tomorrow night. Use previous meals to help you figure out what to eat the next night. Do not be afraid of leftovers. Get yourself some Tupperware.
I’m not a cooking genius by any stretch of the imagination. I do not experiment in the kitchen. I’m a very let’s-just-follow-the-recipe kind of person. So as I’ve tried to prepare myself for this summer and next school year, I’ve come across several helpful websites with easy to follow recipes.
Real Simple Recipes is a good place to start. It allows you to do different kinds of searches: lunch, dinner, dessert, poultry, beef, fish, vegetarian, etc, etc. Sometimes it’s difficult to find a manageable and realistic recipe (do I really need to make Halibut Wrapped in Grape Leaves?), but it’s a great starting off place because often time you can just simplify a recipe if you don’t want to make it so complicated. I started a list of recipes I want to make and I refer to it when I’m drawing a blank of what to eat that week.
Another great website is Collegiate Cook, which as you can tell by the name is perfect for those who may not have all of the experience they need in the cooking department. You can also search here for dinner, lunch, dessert, etc recipes. The directions are easy and clear to understand. Plus, this site also features recipes that you can make in your dorm where you may not have the appliances of an apartment.
Also be sure to check out Luke’s tips for slow cooking!
What are your favorite things to cook? How did you first get started when you had to learn how to cook for yourself? Let us know in the comments!