Living off campus in college gives you the chance to start “adult” life a bit early. You get the privilege of cleaning for yourself (woohoo!), you get to figure out transportation to and from campus, and you get to cook for yourself (and your roommates). While cleaning isn’t anyone’s idea of a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon, it’s pretty simple to learn and if you’re efficient, it doesn’t take too long to do. Transportation, likewise, is simple: walk; take the bus, train, or metro; or drive. Cooking, however, is different. There are different levels of cooking, as anyone who has watched The Great British Baking Show will know. There is cooking from a recipe, there is cooking from memorization, and there is cooking from scratch.
Note: I cannot teach you to cook from scratch. I’ve been cooking since I was a child, and cooking from scratch still doesn’t come naturally to me; there have been some seriously epic failures when I’ve tried. What I can tell you is how to cook from a recipe. It’s simple: read it, gather your ingredients, and follow the directions. Once you’ve made a few meals more than once, cooking from memorization will come naturally. Learning to cook from scratch, from just an idea of what you want to eat, is up to you.
Some people are born to cook from scratch. They can look at ingredients and just know, through some sort of sixth sense, what to use to make the perfect dinner without having to consult a cookbook or the internet. These are the people who go on to be famous chefs or host particularly welcoming dinner parties. Other people are meticulous recipe-followers and can cook a delicious meal only if they have explicit directions telling them what to do with their ingredients. College students are neither of these. Instead, they’re broke and short on time. When you hear about college students living off ramen noodles and Kraft Easy Mac, you’re not hearing an exaggeration. Instant noodles are cheap, easy, and decently filling, not to mention overly salty and delicious.
But, I beg you, if you are living off campus, please branch out. (I’m not even kidding when I say to watch The Great British Baking Show if you need inspiration.) Your blood pressure will thank you for reducing your sodium intake, and your parents will be proud that you’re learning to cook. Plus, a home-cooked meal is an easy way to impress a date. You may say, “But I don’t know how to cook,” “Cooking is too expensive,” or “Cooking takes way too long,” but I can refute each of those statements.
- “But I don’t know how to cook.” You don’t have to be born to cook to learn how to cook. You don’t even have to memorize anything to cook a meal. There are plenty of simple recipes that are great for beginners; all you have to be able to do is follow a set of directions. Once you get the hang of those, you can move on to more complicated dinners and desserts which, still, only require the ability to follow directions. If you can read, you can cook.
- “Cooking is too expensive.” Think about how much it costs to order a pizza. Unless you get a special deal or have a coupon, a medium one-topping pizza could cost $15.00, plus the delivery fee and the tip. And we all know that a medium pizza doesn’t go very far, especially if you get the late-night munchies. If you shop at the grocery store and buy fresh, canned, and dried ingredients, not frozen meals, I guarantee that you’re going to get more bang for your buck. Do the math.
- “Cooking takes way too long.” Yes, it can, if you’re making chocolate soufflé or homemade ravioli, but the average dinner is going to take you less than an hour from start to finish, including cleanup. I promise that you don’t have to spend four hours slaving over the cutting board to eat something decent every night. Instead of thinking of it as wasted time, think of it as time that you get to decompress from your day, to reflect, and to destress.
The following blogs are only a tiny selection of what the internet has to offer when it comes to cooking and recipes. If you don’t have time to sort through them, do a Google search for the ingredients you have on hand (e.g., “dinner with eggs, cheese, rice, and broccoli”). I guarantee you’ll get a match. If you know what you want to cook but don’t have a recipe to use, your Google search will change (e.g., “recipe for chicken paprikas”). All Recipes, Food, and Martha Stewart Food & Cooking are decent choices when you’re pouring through your search results. If you’re looking for inspiration, though, browse through these blogs:
Budget Bytes: This blog breaks down recipes by how much they cost, as you might expect from its name. Not only does each recipe come with a price, but it’s further broken down into the price per serving. If you make the Greek Turkey and Rice Skillet, you’ll pay $2.49 for each serving, which is way less than what you’d pay for pizza. You’ll find that the pasta recipes rarely break $2.00 per serving. The sheer number of recipes that are contained within this blog (41 pages with 24 recipes each!) will have you cooking a different meal every night for months, and the variety is great. If you have a specific diet (vegetarian or vegan) you’ll find plenty of options to suit your needs.
Collegiate Cook: The unique thing about this blog is the section called “Dorm-Approved Meals.” It includes easy snacks, desserts, and microwave-friendly meals that go beyond macaroni and cheese and puppy chow. But that’s not all. With sections specific to breakfast food, party snacks, drinks (including for the 21+ crowd), and dinner entrees, you’ll find plenty of inspiration. Who knows, you could be hosting a dinner party before you know it! The authors don’t break down recipes by price, so you’ll have to watch your budget, and some recipes are certainly trickier than others, but you’ll find plenty of beginner-level options since you’re the ideal reader. After all, the blog is titled “Collegiate Cook.”
Cooking in College: The first thing you will notice about this blog is that it’s out of date. I’ve chosen to include it in this list, however, because it does provide a good collection of recipes for you to sort through, and again, it’s aimed specifically at college students. At the top of each recipe, you’ll find how many servings it makes, how long it takes to prepare, and how long it takes to actually cook. For those of you who are worried about spending too much time in the kitchen, you’ll be able to use this feature to predict exactly when your meal will be ready. The authors also integrate plenty of pictures throughout the recipe instructions, so you can compare to see if you’re on the right track.
Eating Elsewhere: If there’s one thing that’s not like the others, it’s this. Instead of focusing on meals, this blog focuses exclusively on baking and much more on storytelling than the others. The featured desserts can be tricky and take what seems like an excessive amount of time to complete, but if you need a Saturday activity and want to impress all of your friends, this is the blog for you. Or, maybe your roommates are in charge of meals, while you’re in charge of desserts. Blow them away by crafting a chocolate tart or a blackberry and buttercream butter cake. The images included with each recipe are beautiful, but don’t expect to be able to compare your work with the author’s. All you have to go on are her finished product and her instructions.
Stone Soup: The premise of Stone Soup is that the author creates recipes using only five ingredients. If you’re looking for simple, you’ve come to the right place. The author prides herself on creating delicious and easy recipes that are also good for you, or at least better than that macaroni and cheese that I’ve been talking about. Many of the recipes are low-carb, if you’re into that, and you’ll find plenty that are either vegetarian or vegan, though she has published many for meat and fish lovers too. Keep in mind that the author is Australian, so whenever she mentions that you need “coriander leaves,” she’s actually talking about cilantro.
If all else fails, you can always check out Buzzfeed Food and scroll through the articles to find recipes. While you’ll have to ignore all the quizzes telling you that “We can guess your exact age by your Domino’s order,” there is some good food advice to be found. Some of the posts will link out to recipes on other websites, but others will have the recipe written out on the page. I’d recommend Buzzfeed as a last resort, but only because we all know how easy it is to get lost amongst the quizzes and the “LOL” posts. Good luck!