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My Experience Cooking as a Freshman in College & Life

Moving away from home for college was definitely hard but realizing that I no longer had the luxury of home-cooked meals to look forward to every night was even harder. I’m a Cuban-American born and raised in Miami, Florida, with a mom that cooks every single night and absolutely despises the thought of TV dinners and the occasional McDonald’s craving. When starting at UCF earlier this fall semester, I knew I had to take advantage of the kitchen in my apartment-style dorm. It is essential to remember that as a Hispanic, seasonings are the No. 1 most important aspect of our meals. So of course, my shelf in my dorm room kitchen has the works, the essentials and even more than that. 

I decided to start off making meals I regularly ate at home — this included the staple carbohydrate of white rice accompanied by various meats and sides such as ground turkey, steak, chicken, pork and more. I knew I wanted to avoid the “Freshman 15” so choosing the right foods would be quite challenging since adulting includes budgeting — a foreign concept to me. However, over time I was able to figure out how to plan out my meals for the week in advance, set a time to prep my meals and constantly remind myself that unfortunately, there’s almost always food at home.

Cooking has become a therapeutic activity for me. It’s time to wind down and escape from the reality of daily life as a student. There is nothing more satisfying than feeling like you absolutely nailed a recipe or made something you once believed you could never do. I wholeheartedly believe that if more students took the time to research recipes and different foods they find interesting, it would be easier to put the ramen down.

At the same time, I do understand that not every college student has the same access to a kitchen or the financial stability to do groceries every other week, so establishing healthy eating habits is not always easy. I have the utmost respect for the organizations at UCF that seek to educate students on healthy living and even provide grocery items, clothing and toiletries at the Knights Pantry located on campus.

As many students like myself may joke about being broke and hungry, these stressors impact our sleep schedules, mental health and academic performance. Food insecurity grows more prevalent as tuition and housing prices increase, as well as other costs for books and other academic resources. Although cooking has helped me save a large amount of money throughout my first semester at UCF, there are times where I cannot escape my cravings for Chipotle or an iced coffee from Starbucks. Unfortunately, the constant two-dollar pastries from Cafe Bustelo on campus eventually do add up.  

My best advice for students like me who have to cook to avoid constant spending is to learn how to make three solid meals that bring you comfort, familiarity and simplicity. This past fall semester showed me how lonely dorm life can be especially during midterms and finals, and at times the only part of the day that I looked forward to was making a meal that reminded me of home.

Another tip is to get creative and to not be afraid to fail in the kitchen, it is the best way to get better and explore flavors. It is also important to shop in the right places. Personally, there are items I find cheaper at Walmart or Aldi than at Publix and other grocery stores. Pinterest and Instagram have become my best friends when it comes to easy and quick recipes that are healthy and reasonable.

It’s very easy to get caught up in our studies, jobs and lives. Consequently, we end up neglecting our bodies and our overall health. I believe that to academically succeed, we must take care of ourselves, and a good first step to doing that is through the food we eat. If you’re like me and you’re willing to give cooking a chance, remember to season your meat with more than salt and pepper and never underestimate the power of olive oil. Although I’m not Gordon Ramsey or Paula Deen just yet, I hope to continue my cooking journey this upcoming spring semester! 

Below I have attached a few of my favorite dishes made by yours truly! 

Media: 12, 3, 4, 5 provided by the author.

Emily is a junior at UCF majoring in Political Science, Advertising and Public Relations, and minoring in Writing and Rhetoric. She's a Miami Native and a Cuban coffee and croqueta connoisseur — she feels that there's nothing like a shot of espresso after a long day. She loves cooking, traveling, and spending time with her family and friends. When she's not studying, you can find her binge-watching TV shows or reading a book on her list.
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