Tips for Easy Cooking and Healthy Eating

by Clara Butler

lidas-dorm-room
Learn not to spend all your money at Dig Inn 

If you are anything like me, then you came to college with practically no cooking skills whatsoever. My freshman year alone, I survived mainly on lean cuisines and dining hall pizza. But once I moved into a suite with an actual kitchen, I realized that I should probably teach myself a few things if I wanted to be healthier and more knowledgeable in the kitchen. Below are some tips regarding how to cook in your tiny, shared dorm kitchen and what to make if you’re new at the cooking game.

  1. Start Small

As my sophomore and junior year roommates can attest, the first thing I learned how to cook for myself was quesadillas, which I would make almost every night for dinner. While a relatively healthy meal and a cheap one too, I eventually got so bored with them that I taught myself how to cook other things, starting with loaded quesadillas (chopped up black bean veggie burger and spinach inside the quesadilla). If you are clueless to cooking, start with something basic with not too many ingredients and build off of it. Once I started becoming more familiar and handy with a skillet/frying pan, I could make a lot more than just melted cheese and tortilla.

  1. Be inventive

So if you are more advanced than quesadillas, find recipes that are interesting to you rather than just simple to make. You could even spend a weekend making a huge batch of something and then freeze it for the upcoming month (if you have a crock pot, this will be your savior on nights where you are too tired/stressed to cook). School work is super important but…. if you have a spare moment during a particularly dry lecture, you could always Google recipes for your favorites dishes. I love looking at Buzzfeed Food or watching those videos on Facebook that tell you how to do something step by step. So branch out, try tackling your favorite take-out recipe at home or try to make something you’ve never had or even just cook breakfast for dinner. You won’t get bored eating quesadillas if you make something else once in a while!

  1. Have Recipes in Mind Before You Go Shopping

This is such a boring step but it’s really important, I promise. Before, when I would

trader-joes-line-300x225
Suffer the checkout line at TJ’s for the ultimate pantry staple, cookie butter

venture to Trader Joes (or God forbid, Morton Williams) I would buy whatever I wanted without any real idea of what I could make with the things in my basket. But once I did a little mental meal prep and bought staples like chicken, veggies, and rice, I realized that I could follow through on my cooking plan and make things that I would genuinely enjoy rather than just give up and get food somewhere out. Pretend you’re an adult and make a real grocery list and that way, you can stick to your cooking goals and get things you actually need.

  1. Meal Prep

I know I’ve mentioned this before but it’s crucial, especially when you’re living in a tight space and all sharing one kitchen. Rather than cooking for 30 minutes to an hour each night, try making a big batch of soup or casserole or pasta on Sunday and then put it in Tupperware for the week. This way, you won’t step on people’s toes in a shared kitchen and you can be super lazy during the week. This also leads me into my next tip, which is:

  1. Pack Your Lunch!

Also maybe not the most exciting tip but it will save you money and keep you eating healthy! I intern three days a week downtown so rather than order takeout everyday or walk to one of the overpriced restaurants/food trucks parked around my office, I bring meals that I stash in the office fridge. My favorite is the infamous “Pinterest Mason Jar Salad” where you put the heavy items (like nuts, berries, cheese, protein) on the bottom and then put the lettuce on top so when you dump it out into a bowl, (I keep mine in my desk at work), all the good stuff is on top. I also like making things like ravioli the night before where I eat one portion for dinner, and pack the rest for lunch.

  1. Easy Things to Make

And now comes the time where I give away my remaining secrets and tell you some things that I’ve been making recently. During Christmas this year, I was united with my beloved Crock Pot, who has now become my best friend. I have only used it three times but we are at a 3/3 success rate. The first time I used it, I made turkey chili during the blizzard, the second time was a chicken quinoa burrito bowl, and the third time was an amazing mac n cheese concoction. So yeah, buy a slow cooker is what I’m saying. But if you don’t have the counter space/don’t want to, here are some other things I like to make: salmon (just stick it in the oven for 20 minutes at 400° with some olive oil), pizza (the dough is literally $1.20 at Trader Joes), my roommate’s famous stuffed sweet potato (roasted sweet potato with black beans and avocado in the middle) and just basic stuff like stir fry and pasta with veggies. If you are an absolute beginner, it’s really hard to get started but once you learn how to make new things, you will be so much less reliant on microwave meals/takeout and you will save lots of $$$. Also, Google shit- I learned how to make scrambled eggs from YouTube because I am THAT millennial. But no shame, I’m writing an article on how to cook now, so take that cultural critics.

Let me know (by commenting) if you have any more tips on how to cook in college or any recipes you would like to share.

Clara Butler is a senior at Barnard and Senior Editor of The Nine Ways of Knowing Blog.

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