Yes, You Can Cook: An off-campus guide to making your own food

During the last semester that I lived in the dorms, one of my biggest complaints was cafeteria food. I was tired of the same food every day, even though there were different options. I would tell everyone I knew, “Just wait until I move to my own place — I’ll be a real chef,” basically inviting everyone over before I even signed a lease. 

Fast forward to today. I’ve now lived off-campus for a year and a half, and while I enjoy cooking, it’s much more common for me to say something along the lines of, “Why am I hungry again? I don’t want to cook” than anything about my cooking skills. However, I have figured out a few things that I think would be helpful for anyone looking to save money, develop new skills or start adulting. 

  1. 1. Search out inspiration.

    Wanting to cook for yourself does not mean that you need to drop all your other hobbies and start developing recipes all on your own! There are so many interesting blogs, YouTube channels, cookbooks and Instagram accounts dedicated to affordable, quick and delicious meals that you can tailor to your own needs. I recommend following accounts that make food that looks good and taking screenshots of recipes. There are a lot of options out there, and I try to follow diverse accounts so my recipes aren’t all the same. I’ve recently tried to follow a more plant-based diet, so on YouTube I follow Caitlin Shoemaker and Pick Up Limes; for blogs, I really like Pinch of Yum, Minimalist Baker and From My Bowl. It doesn’t really matter which accounts you like — it’s much more important that you start to think about what food you’d like to cook and which recipes you can try. 

  2. 2. Have a plan.

    After you have lots of inspiration, you need to start planning. On a school week, I usually take 2-3 recipes and decide I want to try them. I make a grocery list based on the ingredients of the recipes, and then plan to get staples for breakfast and snacks. When you’re in the grocery store, follow your list. Seriously. You may think that you’re able to figure out what you’ll eat in the moment, but I have found that it always leads to me needing to go to the grocery store within 2 days because I don’t have something I need. Once you’re back from the store, I find it’s really helpful to make sure you have a list of what recipes you’re planning to make, so that you’ll remember your plan when you’re hungry.

  3. 3. Make friends with leftovers.

    This point is especially important if you live alone. While it’s less fun to eat the same food over and over, making a big batch of one recipe early in the week can allow you to have meals ready when you have less time later in the week. It also makes it easier to cook recipes because most are formatted for at least four servings, so you don’t have to do the math of halving or quartering a recipe. Finally, if you pick recipes with distinct carb, vegetable and protein components, you can mix and match your leftovers to make new meals, preventing boredom and monotony in food.

Cooking does take a little bit of work, but the rewards are more worth it and longer lasting than that exam you crammed for and then forgot all the information for right after. Making your own food allows you to save money, develop new cooking skills and maybe even impress your roommates, significant other or family. Put the effort in, and you’ll build a foundation that you can grow on for the rest of your life!