So Now You Have to Cook for Yourself: How?


Make a Grocery List

Uhg, that sounds like adult stuff. Well, it is, but by going into the grocery store with a premade list, you will find yourself avoiding buying things you already have at home as well as unnecessary items. Plan out some meals ahead of time so that you already know what you need to purchase. This will also save you a lot of time wandering around the grocery store, which is valuable to a college student. When making your list, think about how many meals you eat at home per week and be honest with yourself about your snacking. Making a list and sticking to it can also be a great way to cut back on junk food: if it’s not in the house, you can’t eat it. You’ll also save some money by not feeling compelled to grab something off of the shelf that you might not need. But if there’s anything you should remember about grocery shopping, it should be this: never walk into a grocery store without a plan, and never walk in on an empty stomach. 




Meal Planning

College students can find themselves with little to no free time. However, it is a smart idea to plan a short amount of time over the weekend or on a less busy day to plan out some meals. Search for recipes that you can make ahead of time and keep in the fridge or freezer. Cold pasta or grain salads keep well in the fridge to use for the week’s lunch, and soups are great to make in larger quantities and freeze. I also make savory croissants with ham, cheese, and Pillsbury crescent rolls to keep for an early morning breakfast before class. If you don’t have time to make meals ahead of time, consider getting some of the prep work out of the way for yourself. Cook and season meats ahead of time, or chop up some vegetables to use for a later night’s meal. Make Tupperware your new best friend and don’t be afraid of leftovers.




Keep Yourself from Getting Hungry

It is surprisingly easy to forget to eat after a long day of college. Or, rather, to make yourself a meal that will actually keep you full instead of a Ready-Meal. That’s why it is especially important to remember to make yourself food that will actually keep you satisfied and not searching for snacks later on. One great option is to remember to eat your veggies. While they are low in calories, they are actually full of filling fiber. If you don’t have time to fully prepare vegetables, considering buying frozen ones that can be easily heated up. Don’t just have pasta for dinner; include some kind of meat or meat substitute. In the mornings, try the full-of-protein Greek yogurt and eggs, which will keep you from feeling hungry during that 9 AM. Instead of snacking on empty foods, try fruit and nuts, which have fiber and protein respectively. Even pack yourself some hummus and carrots instead of buying a bagel and cream cheese from the college café again. Slow down on the pasta and bread (no matter how good they may be) and make sure you’re setting yourself up for success in the foods that you eat.




But Cooking Takes Too Long...

Cooking a proper meal for yourself takes a shorter amount of time than heating up a pizza in the oven. If you count the time you have to wait for the oven to preheat and then the 15-20 minutes of bake time afterwards, you could be waiting up to 35 minutes to eat. Cooking a chicken breast in a frying pan, boiling pasta, and boiling vegetables only takes about ten minutes and is much better for you. It’s always okay to pop in a pizza now and then, but bust out the pots and pans every once in a while and your body will thank you. 




So, What Do I Need?

The basic things you should keep in your kitchen to make your own meals are: a frying pan, boiling pot, colander, spatula, oven mit, baking tray, tin foil, cutting board, and a sharp knife. As far as ingredients go, you should keep in stock: garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon/lemon juice. You would be surprised at the flavorful meals you can create with such simple ingredients. Plus, most of these ingredients will keep over several weeks. If not, you can always look for pickled or dried garlic instead of fresh, and so on with substitutes. Don’t leave out seasoning if you can’t get it fresh! Also, be aware of expiration dates on meats, but you can always freeze them, extending their use-by date by months. While we’re on the subject of kitchen warnings, let it be said: don’t chop veggies on a cutting board you’ve just had raw meat on, always heat your meat in the frying pan with olive oil (unless the recipe says otherwise), and never turn the burner on with pasta in a pot that has no water. 




How Do I Know It’s Cooked?

Here’s a handy guide for knowing when your dinner is done cooking:

  • Fish: opaque in color, flakes easily with fork, meat thermometer should be at 145 degrees F.
  • Shellfish: scallops and shrimp turn opaque and firm; crab and lobster shells will turn bright red and the meat will become opaque and firm; muscles/clams/oyster shells will open, if they don’t- throw them out!
  • Chicken: firm not rubbery, juices should be clear not pink, meat thermometer should be at 165 degrees F.
  • Beef: use your face to find out how done a steak is!  Medium rare steak feels like your cheeks, medium steak feels like your chin, and medium well steak feels like your forehead when pressed; ground beef and meatballs are done when the insides are brown not red or pink; meat thermometer should be at 145 degrees F and the meat should be left to rest for at least three minutes.
  • Pork: will be opaque with a slight pinkish tint, meat thermometer should be at 145 degrees F and the meat should be left to rest for at least three minutes.
  • Turkey: juices should be clear not pink, meat thermometer should be at 160 degrees F.
  • Bacon: if it’s crispy it is generally safe to eat, however some bacon remains pink and is still safe to eat, though it should be slightly browned.
  • Sausage: outsides will be golden brown, inside will be pale with no blood or pinkness, juices should be clear not pink, continuously move sausages around in the pan as you cook them, pork sausages should read 150 degrees F on a meat thermometer and chicken sausages should read at 160 degrees F.
  • Tofu: safe to eat raw, there are several varieties of tofu available to cook but the best for pan-frying is generally firm or extra-firm, drain and press the tofu between paper towels before cooking, generally cook until golden on the outside and chewy in the center.
  • Quorn: safe to consume raw, generally requires more liquid to cook than meats, generally takes 10-15 minutes to pan fry depending on the variety (minced meat, sausages, etc.).
  • Potatoes (fresh): around 10-20 minutes to boil depending on quantity and size, make sure water is fully covering potatoes, cover pot with lid.
  • Most Other Vegetables (fresh): around 10-15 minutes to boil depending on quantity, when pan frying they will cook in about two minutes depending on quantity.




Student-Friendly Recipes Guide

Here’s a reference list of some websites with quick and simple recipes for students, as well as a few direct recipes that are tried and true from myself. Pinterest is a great resource for finding college-friendly meals, especially for one person. The app is also handy for finding advice on meal-prepping and meals that will keep well for several days. 


Links to Websites with Student Recipes:


Links to Recipes I’ve Tried: