Eating is a basic need, along with sleeping and drinking. College students in particular tend to be experts at eating, whether it be at a fast food joint, a restaurant, or even the reheated leftovers of their parent’s cooking. Although so much of university life is socially-driven and many students hang out with their friends at places with easily accessible food, there is a huge problem in this community: college students don’t cook.
Saying “college students don’t cook” is a bold statement because this certainly does not apply to all students in college. However, it does apply to enough that it has become common to assume. Think about the last time you cooked something, or the last time your friends cooked something. Was it recent? Was it good? A problem with cooking is that sometimes it can be difficult to plan out and buy ingredients for, especially if you live in a place that has limited access to a kitchen, such as a dorm.
So why cook? Cooking is cheaper than buying meals multiple times a day, and the amount of food produced is usually more than what you get at a restaurant. According to Forbes.com, ordering delivery from a restaurant can be five times more expensive than cooking at home (sorry, Postmates), and even meal kits like Blue Apron can be three times more expensive. In addition, cooking is far healthier than buying ready-made food because all the ingredients are added by the cook, so there is less of a probability for common unhealthy additives like salt and sugar. Harvard Health found that people who cooked at home daily ate 150 less calories on average, as well as less fat and sugar.
But what if you don’t even know how to boil water? No worries, as the Chef Gusteau from Pixar’s Ratatouille once said, “Anyone Can Cook,” and if a rat can successfully be the head chef of a restaurant, then there’s no reason for college students to be afraid of the kitchen.
The kitchen is a problem that many students face since a lot of them either don’t have access to one, share with a group of people, or simply feel unfamiliar in their new environment. If you just moved to a space with an entirely new cooking area, go ahead and explore. There’s nothing wrong with testing the stove with something easy such as soup or ramen to get some kind of idea for how it works before diving in with a larger and more complicated meal. (Let’s just say when I tried cooking lasagna in a broken oven it did not go well.)
The kitchen is often times a challenge, especially if you find yourself in a shared space scenario where you and other people you live with or around are required to all use the same community kitchen. Sometimes you might find another person using it at the exact time that you were planning on cooking, so what do you do? I recommend arriving early to check out the kitchen before hauling all your ingredients down the hall or up some stairs. I would definitely take inventory of the kinds of pots, pans, and utensils that come with these kitchens as well to avoid any mixups when cooking (though sometimes these limited items can test your creativity more than you ever expected). Even if you find someone else using the space, there is usually a big enough area for you to share the kitchen, as terrifying as it may seem. You never know, maybe you’ll even end up exchanging recipes.
After inspecting the kitchen comes the exciting part: deciding on something you would like to cook. This is one of my favorite parts of the cooking process, as the possibilities are absolutely endless (though for beginners it is best to begin with something simple that you will still enjoy). Along with a dish you may already be interested in making, you can also think of something you buy often in restaurants that you might be able to make at home. It will save you money in the end, and you might find it to be a great replacement for the restaurant version. One of my main go-to dishes is pasta because the ingredients are cheap (usually under ten dollars) and versatile, and it’s generally painless to cook. Other recipes that I find myself making often are enchiladas, quinoa with roasted vegetables, and vegetable stir fry, though if there’s anything specific you’re really interested in making there’s bound to be a recipe for it! Allrecipes.com, foodnetwork.com, and even Buzzfeed’s tasty.com are just a few places stocked with hundreds of recipes.
Then comes the next part—gathering the ingredients. This can be a little tricky for some because if you’re a student, it can be difficult to make your way to the store. I recommend bringing a list of ingredients with you, so you don’t over-buy. Buying too much can be detrimental if you don’t have a car and need to carry all your groceries. Bringing reusable bags is also a great idea because you have no chance of them breaking, and those cheap plastic bags won’t pile up in your home (because trust me they do).
In addition to this, when I didn’t have a car I would make a 15-20 minute walk to the store once a week for groceries, but if the store is too far to walk then there are always other options. If you happen to have a friend with a car, see if you can carpool with them next time they need to go to the store since shopping with a friend is more fun anyway. If you can’t find a friend and don’t have a bike, then check the bus routes. If you live on the NAU campus, the Mountain Link bus stops at Wilson hall which is pretty close to Target, and Route 4 gets even closer. If you want more options, Route 7 can take you all the way from Whole Foods to Safeway (but this one might be a lengthy bus ride so be prepared).
Now that you’ve collected all your ingredients comes the main event: cooking. For those of us who have little to no experience, this may be extremely daunting, but have no fear, you have more help than you realize. In the past, people learned how to do things through observation and practice. Now, if you never had that kind of experience with someone, it really isn’t the end of the world. With the internet, we can teach ourselves how to do almost anything through the endless tutorial videos that pop up on our screen, and most recipes make it easy to follow along as well.
Take your time preparing everything for the meal. Time management and efficiency is a skill that increases the more you cook. Trust me, when I first started cooking I would have one part of my dinners finished while another still needed another twenty minutes on the stove, so it’s okay to make mistakes!
My favorite thing about cooking is the ability to provide delicious food for my friends. Most college students enjoy a home-cooked meal because we rarely receive dishes prepared with the care that we used to get at home. Take some time to learn something, even if it’s just one dish at first. (My partner has mastered a mean stir fry, but that’s about all he can make.) Be creative and bold with your choices. It’s fine to fail, but don’t give up if it happens. Just try again. Then, when the meal finally comes out how you want, your friends, your wallet, and your taste buds will thank you.
Here’s a bonus recipe for my favorite homemade basil pesto!
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups solidly packed basil leaves
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
⅓ cup pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted
¾ cup grated parmesan or romano
Put basil, garlic, olive oil, nuts, and salt and pepper to taste in a food processor. (A blender works too, but it will take longer for the ingredients to combine.) Do not over-blend to keep a thicker texture.
Stir in cheese with a spatula or spoon.
Add pesto sauce to any pasta or food of your choice and enjoy!
This is a base recipe so feel free to add any other ingredients if you want, like chicken or sun dried tomatoes, the best thing about cooking is that you can let your creativity shine.