As college students, I’m sure we can all agree on one thing to help us get through long days, busy schedules, projects, assignments, tests, quizzes, homework, reading, meetings, relationships, and everything in between. And, no, sorry to say, but that one thing is not Netflix, puppies, or the Starbucks in Smith, instead, it’s food.
We never really pay much attention to the effect that food has on our overall happiness, but I’m here to say that there’s something quite magical about an ice cream cone rolled in rainbow sprinkles or a slice of ooey gooey pizza. Oftentimes, college students, myself included, take for granted how important it is to eat right – especially during those weeks when your professor decides to assign a fifty-page reading in the last five minutes of class, when your calendar looks like a game of tic tac toe, and when you can’t even remember what color the carpet in your room is. Focusing on the elements that you can control – such as how much sleep and exercise you get and what you put into your body – is a starting point.
Living on campus the past two years, I had the luxury of a meal plan. Whenever I was hungry, I could walk the fifteen or so feet to my nearest dining hall, head up to a station, grab a plate, sit down, and enjoy. I never had to think about meal planning, grocery shopping, preparation time, or washing dishes. Now, however, having moved into an apartment, I now must consider all of these things – on top of my schoolwork, commitments, and activities. Knowing that I am not alone in the boat of college students who came to college with experience making maybe one or two items – scrambled eggs and toast, anyone? I’m here to share what I have learned. And with that, let me present some tips and tricks to guide you when it comes to making healthy, satisfying meals that are not only easy on the wallet but will make you feel like Rachael Ray or Emeril…BAM!
Plan Ahead of Time
There’s nothing worse than going to the supermarket on an empty stomach. Anything and everything will be tempting, and anything and everything will make it into your cart and back home with you. The dinosaur chicken nuggets? A necessity. A jug of chocolate milk? Can’t live without it. A family size bag of Cool Ranch Doritos? Ah, toss it in. If you write out a set list of exactly what you need for that week’s meals, you’re less likely to fall into the trap of a growling stomach. Before heading to the supermarket, look through your fridge and pantry to see what you have, what you need, and what you absolutely want. What really helps me, surprisingly, is having limited space to store my food. If I don’t have room for it, then I can’t buy it. Take a cue from Santa; make a list, and check it twice!
Make Healthy Choices
When living at home, it’s easy to eat healthy when your mom nags you to eat your vegetables! But, when you have the freedom to instead stock up on taquitos, waffles, and Easy Mac, getting your daily dose of greens might take the back burner unless you think wisely. First, read nutrition labels. I know that we were all taught how to do this in middle school health class and have most likely tried to forget about that time in our life – Juicy tracksuits, hair feathers, Axe, and Silly Bands. Knowing what to look for when shopping for ourselves, however, is important. Items that we consider “healthy” such as granola bars can actually be loaded with sugar. Taking the extra time to read the labels can help you prevent that Freshman – or Sophomore, Junior, and Senior – Fifteen. Second, sneak in your vegetables. We always hear of parents tricking their kids into eating mashed potatoes with cauliflower and zucchini in their muffins. So why not do the same? Throw a handful of spinach into your morning smoothie or add some veggies to your omelette. You can keep eating what you love, but with some simple switches, what you love will show the love in return!
While I consider myself to be a decent cook and an avid watcher of the Food Network, before coming to college, I had quite limited experience actually planning and making my meals. The first week or so, I resorted to making the same few dishes, and while they are still my favorites, as I got more comfortable cooking for myself, I began to branch out and try new things. There are literally millions of recipes out there to try so that you’re not stuck eating the same things every night. When I first made chicken – something that oddly enough freaks me out thanks to a not-so-pleasant experience with undercooked chicken – I felt like a true adult and rejoiced in my roommates’ praise for conquering such a task! I think it’s important to recognize that while the kitchen can be scary, coming from someone who has dealt with some minor burns and cuts, it can also be freeing. Trust yourself and your ability to try new things so that you can break free from the Ramen Noodles that are holding you back!
My final piece of advice for transitioning to the added responsibility of cooking for oneself is to value food for what it is: a story. Every time that we eat, we tell a story of where we are in life, who we are with, and what we value. We all have that one meal that is ingrained in our heads: a meal that we shared with someone we love, a meal that went terribly wrong, or a meal that we would pay millions of dollars to relive. Whether it is the taste of your mom’s caramel brownies or your favorite restaurant’s lobster macaroni and cheese, food has a transformative ability. It can help us connect with those around us. It can bring us back to a special moment. It can heighten our moods. The power of food should not be underestimated. And, for that reason, treating yourself to a nice meal – whether prepared by yours truly or picked up on Main Street – is a valuable act. I’m not sure that there’s anything a warm chocolate chip cookie can’t fix!
Food can take many forms, and not just literally! It can be a warm hug, a much-needed reward, a call home, and a memory. As college students juggling hectic lives and trying to balance everything that we’ve signed ourselves up for, food is one of the many things that we can control, and for that reason, it becomes much more important. For all of my fellow Blue Hens who have recently made the transition from meal plan to apartment kitchen, I hope this blog post has inspired you and made your stomach rumble. We have a lot on our plates, pun intended, so let’s at least make sure that we’re filling them up with something that would bring Guy Fieri straight to Flavortown! (Can you tell that my roommates and I have been watching too much Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives?)