I’ve heard far too many horror stories about cooking in college. Harrowing narratives from relatives and friends about subsisting solely on boxed mac & cheese or plain pasta have long plagued my mind. Where’s the flavor? Where’s the spice? Where are the vegetables?
Soon enough, it was time to try my hand in my own college kitchen. Needless to say, I felt less than prepared. In a calculated effort, I created a *color-coded* master list of meal prep ideas, ranging from pumpkin pancakes to tri-color quinoa salad. (I must disclose that I have yet to make either of these dishes. I did try to make quinoa last night though, and it would have been 10/10 if I hadn’t microwaved it for twice as long as recommended. You live, you learn.) I thoughtfully crafted my pantry, doing my best to stock up on items that I could whip up in a pinch but would still have all that delicious, nutritious energy we college students need.
While not nearly all of the dishes I’ve made thus far have been presentable, and some have barely been edible, I’m having quite the adventure. What do I love most about cooking in college?
1. It’s the perfect study break.
After a grueling day of staring at your computer screen (read: scrolling through Tik Tok) or flipping through gigantic textbooks with tiny print, spending time in the kitchen is pretty cleansing for the soul. Even if you are a relentless multitasker, I urge you to take the twenty or so minutes it takes to pull dinner together to rest the part of your brain that’s been cramming organic chemistry all afternoon. Listen to music! Ponder the purpose of life! You do you.
2. There’s so much potential for synergy.
While striking up some spontaneous communal dinner prep with your neighbors isn’t exactly advisable this semester, college is ideal for kitchen synergy. Whether those around you come from different countries, different states, or even just different regions of the same state, you’re bound to encounter several culinary backgrounds. When it’s safe to do so, make sure to take advantage of this opportunity to learn a little bit about a new corner of the world. Pick up a new recipe or two. Maybe even concoct something totally new that ties in multiple traditions.
3. It’s a no judgement zone.
When you cook for yourself, the world (or, maybe more correctly, your tiny college kitchen) is your oyster. If you’re in the mood to test out your spice tolerance or finally learn how to julienne, nothing is standing in your way. If your masterpiece turns out to be less dazzling than you had hoped, there is no need to fret. Chances are you don’t have to worry about serving it to anyone else, so you can take it as a good ol’ learning experience. You are a culinary force to be reckoned with, my friend.
4. You’re encouraged to get those creative juices flowing.
Even though college is supposed to be all about “finding yourself,” it doesn’t always feel all that glamorous. If you find yourself feeling stuck in a regimented routine — fulfilling requirements, carefully following that degree path, applying to grad school, and so on — turning your energy towards making some innovative fuel for your body can feel pretty great. Go ahead, put that imagination to good work!
You know what I’m talking about. The feeling of opening up the fridge to see a meal already prepared, just in need of a little microwave TLC? Absolute and utter happiness. Whether you’re the super organized type who prepares everything for the week on Sunday afternoon (for which I commend you) or you make two portions at a time to keep things interesting, leftovers are pretty hard not to love.
While cooking in college can be wonderful, it is important to acknowledge that it’s also a luxury many cannot afford. With expensive meal plans and a lack of easily accessible, affordable ingredients on many campuses, food insecurity among the college student population remains a prominent issue. Your institution might offer a swipe donation program or volunteer opportunities at a campus food bank, both of which can help to ease some of these pressures.
What is your favorite part of cooking in college? Let us know in the poll below!
Cover Photo by Toa Heftiba via Unsplash
What do you love most about cooking in college?
No judgement zone