After being thrust into the off-campus housing world a year earlier than I was expecting, I’ve had quite a bit of time to learn how to balance cooking for myself with the busyness of college life. With this in mind, I want to offer you some tips and tricks on how to minimize cooking stress while still enjoying delicious and nutritious meals. As a disclaimer, I’ll be providing tips outside of the context of any meal subscription services like HelloFresh or Blue Apron because I do not have experience using them.
If you can, cook with others. If you have roommates, it is immensely helpful to coordinate your meals with them. You can either split up cooking portions of one meal, or you can rotate between yourselves to designate who will cook on any given night. If you live alone, you can plan to either invite friends over or go to their houses to cook for certain nights.
Compile a list of go-to dishes. Documenting a repertoire of dishes you are confident you can make and enjoy can make the idea of thinking of your own dinner much less mystifying. For instance, I know I can cook chicken well with several spice variations, like buffalo sauce, jerk seasoning, Italian seasoning or Korean spices. Any of these choices can pair well with a pasta dish — like pesto, alfredo or aglio e olio —or with a simple side of white rice. Mixing and matching dishes you enjoy can break the monotony of cooking every day.
Take shortcuts if you need. There is an abundance of reliable prepackaged meals or dishes that still taste great and come at a cheap price. If you know that chopping up food will be a large mental obstacle for you, Steamfresh vegetable bags are your best friend. There’s no shame in a boxed mac and cheese if you’re not eager to make a cheese sauce from scratch, either! You could also consider meal prepping either portions of a dish or your entire meal by doing any chopping, blending and the like over the weekend and storing the rest in a plastic container.
Know your grocery stores. The Blue Jay Shuttle gives us access to quite a few different grocery stores, including Streets Market, Giant (on both 33rd Street and 41st Street, one usually more convenient depending on which side of campus you live on), Safeway, Save A Lot and Mom’s. My vegan and vegetarian friends particularly appreciate Mom’s for its higher quantity of plant-based and vegetarian foods. Streets Market is always highly appreciated when you need a couple ingredients in a pinch, but I do most of my shopping at Giant. If you register for a Giant Flexible Rewards card, you get access to discounts and coupons that have saved me quite a bit of money over time. I also make sure to build in time on one evening per week to visit the grocery store. It can be difficult to budget that time, but you will be thankful you did because it will help you avoid running out of food and feeling stressed about not knowing what to make. If you don’t reliably have time to make the trip, you can schedule grocery deliveries through InstaCart.
Take advantage of recipes in cookbooks or on the internet. This one might sound obvious, but searching for new recipe ideas can get you excited about cooking in ways you might not have been before. While I’m a lover of an old-fashioned recipe book, we’re all lucky to have access to the endless recipes online. You can put a good amount of trust into the Google algorithm when you search for a dish, because I’ve never been let down by any of the top results for recipes I may want to try. If you’re not one for searching for recipes ahead of time, you can use websites like SuperCook to discover recipes that you can make with whatever is currently in your kitchen.
Eat what you want to eat. I’m no stranger to feeling like you’re not eating healthy enough or just feeling too burned out to cook on some evenings. You should never hesitate to grab some food from St. Paul Street if that’s what you’re feeling. If you do want to try to limit the amount of restaurant food you get for any reason, I recommend setting parameters for where you will try to get your meals at the beginning of the week. For example, if you know you will be getting home late on some days in a week, you can decide to allot for three restaurant dinners and four home-cooked dinners. Being realistic about your expectations for yourself can allow you to gauge how much food to buy at the grocery store, which will also prevent food waste.