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College Cooking 101

As if you didn’t have enough to think about transitioning from high school to college, you’ll also need to figure out how to survive without Mom’s cooking. Luckily, if you’re living on campus, you’ll probably have the option of signing up for a meal plan to cover your three square meals. But once that freshman year is over, you’re on your own. Browse through our College Cooking 101 section to get tips on how to eat well on even the most meager of budgets and with the most basic culinary skills, because you definitely don’t need a background in French cuisine to eat well and eat cheap in college.

Make Smart Choices

You may have heard of something called the “freshman 15.” It refers to the 15 (or more) pounds you’re at risk of packing on if you replace those home-cooked meals in high school with late night pizza runs and bags of potato chips and chocolate bars to get you through that latest all-nighter. Make time to eat nutrituously during the day so you’re not tempted to order out late at night, hurting both your waistline and your budget. If you get hungry in between meals, whether they’re in the school’s cafeteria or at your off-campus apartment, stock up on healthy snacks like dried fruit and string cheese to keep you from hitting up the less-than-healthy vending machines that probably line the campus halls. And if you do feel like you’ve been making some poor food decisions, try to make time for a club sport or a couple hours a week at your school’s gym. Your tuition fees are already paying for your privileges to use their facilities, so you may as well visit them once in a while.

Mind Your Budget

You probably don’t have much time to worry about grocery lists and whether you’re getting your daily allotments of fruits and vegetables while studying for finals, making plans for Friday night and picking up an extra shift at your part-time job. Lucky for you, you probably have more choices in college than you will once you graduate when it comes to eating fast and eating cheap. If you’re in a college town, the surrounding establishments know they wouldn’t be able to stay in business if they charged too much for dinner, and will have a wide array of options for the hungry yet budget-conscious college student.

Better yet, save that hard-earned (or hard-loaned) money and eat in. You don’t need knife skills and a repertoire of impressive-sounding dishes to make yourself a cheap and tasty meal, and you can do better than that bowl of cereal that’s become a dinner fixture since the fall semester started. Get in touch with your culinary side by investing in one of my favorite contraptions, George Foreman grill (and to avoid too much product placement, any similar kitchen grilling aid could get the job done when you’re in the mood to cook up a turkey breast but don’t have much time to do so in a conventional oven). Stock up on basics at the grocery store like rice and pasta and frozen vegetables that are not only cheaper than the fresh variety, but less perishable. If you’re really adventurous, invest in a cookbook of quick and easy or budget recipes to expand your skills and potentially wow your roommates into thinking you spend a lot more time in the kitchen than you actually do. And perhaps most importantly, stick to a budget and don’t forget about managing that budget. Make a list before embarking on that trip to the grocery so you don’t end up with spontaneous purchases that could make a difference in how stressed out you are in between paychecks and your financial aid disbursements.

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