Eggs are a staple for college students. I once ate scrambled eggs for dinner and no, it wasn’t part of a weight-loss strategy although it was a pleasant side effect. In fact, as meals go for college students, that’s considered putting effort into a meal. I mean, I had to light the stovetop and everything!
After coming back from the foodtopia that was winter break and my mom’s cooking, I was used to the unlimited variety of food that magically spring up on the dinner table. I’m onto you, mom. At the end of last semester, my first semester of living off-campus, I felt wholly capable of putting something together quickly that people would loosely refer to as food. Call it an effect of my New Year Resolutions, but I wasn’t satisfied with the 5 meals I rotated throughout the semester.
Just a glimpse of my kitchen prowess:
- Mac n’ Cheese (a comfort food staple in our household. During finals week, our house was making this every day of the week)
- Grilled cheese (are we seeing a theme yet?)
- Canned soup
- Scrambled Eggs
Maybe I lied about 5 meals. I had 6! And here I was thinking I was completely incapable.
As you can expect, I got pretty bored of my meals by the end of last semester. So what did I do? Not the healthy thing, that’s for sure. You can always bet that my likelihood of choosing a bad decision is indirectly related to how healthy the alternative is. Instead of looking up new recipes to try for myself, I basically ordered delivery three times a week, which they make so easy here by compiling all restaurants on one website for ordering online.
Not only was that cost-ineffective, I gained mad weight (see New Year Resolutions). So I decided to cook one new recipe every single week.
But how could I satisfy my taste for variety, my budget, and my weight loss goals? Not to mention, the fact that I’m still a full-time student.
The key to all these is versatility.
Yes, if you start from scratch (that means no stealing from your parents’ ingredient supply), it can seem financially daunting for frequently used spices such as cinnamon, cumin, and garlic salt. Secondly, if you have too much variety—I call this overambitious—you’ll drain all your money buying all different kinds of ingredients for the 50 recipes you’re tackling that week.
Remember, as it is with weight loss, you must start small to be able to change and stay on top of things.
So, versatility. If one of your big new recipes you decide to try that week calls for chicken breast, make sure you have other uses for the chicken breast! For example, this week, I’m going to try this Orange Chicken recipe and halving everything because although sometimes I do feel like I have 4 mouths to feed (my appetite), I don’t. Usually, it’s cheaper to buy things in larger sizes, but when cooking for yourself, you may find yourself wasting the rest of your food if you don’t know how else to use it. So, with the leftover chicken breast, I would put them on top of salads or make some chicken stir-fry.
Once, I had a hardcore craving for the pre-cooked Rotisserie Chicken that Meijer sells, so I went ahead and bought it because I knew there were so many other uses for the chicken! The legs and thighs I ate normally because that dark meat is just that good. But the breast I used for the Buffalo Chicken tacos!
- Don’t let your cart look like this!
This goes with bread and fresh produce items as well. Sure, those pita pocket things look great, but can you use them for more than one thing? Use something more versatile, like tortillas or wraps. Those, you can make with tacos, quesadillas, sandwich wraps, breakfast burritos… you get my gist. And the salad packs of mixed greens? Sure, if you like eating salad 24/7. Most people don’t. And the people who do are weight-conscious and either have no time or have no clue how else to eat healthily. Romaine, on the other hand, can be chopped thinly for tacos, or broken in halves for sandwich lettuce!
Having multiple uses for one item also scales down that number at the bottom of your receipt. You are welcome ;)
Another thing is, don’t waste your time! That doesn’t mean to only look for meals that take 10 minutes or less, but to make the most meal out of your time cooking it. If you’re going to cook, it may as well last for a few meals. So, instead of cooking in single portions, go ahead and make the recipe that serves 2-3. Tupperware those for later in the week. This will spice up the variety and, if you’re in one of those EAT EVERYTHING IN SIGHT moods, this will help restrain you from diving for the delivery guy’s number. And not because he’s hot.
When you’re just starting out, make sure you have some staples to throw together when you realize that you don’t have as much time as you thought. My staples include a salad, sandwich, soup, or leftovers. See? Easy items for when you just can’t bother.
As for the ingredients that you just don’t have lying around in your pantry, don’t worry about breaking bank (which sounds like a name-parody of Breaking Bad for a cooking/finance show). Buy them one at a time. A few here, a few there, all while staying within your budget. This totally corresponds to your slow start into the cooking world. Tackle easier recipes first, ones that call for less ingredients than the fancier ones. In no time, you’ll find that you have all the spices you need!
“Cooking for one” can be such a downer term, but it’s actually really fun. I found that I could have restaurant-esque food at my fingertips and have more satisfaction in the cooking process! It’s easier to watch what you eat as well if you eat out less and you have more control of your portions and the amount of fat you put into your diet.
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