Cooking in College 101: Shopping
On a college schedule no one is expecting you to cook a picture perfect meal every night. However, you can avoid eating out all the time (which can get expensive and is usually unhealthy) or prevent yourself from having to create patchwork meals out of random ingredients by buying the right groceries each week. The first big step to buying the right food items to fit your needs is to plan ahead. It’s important and time/money efficient to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack type-foods planned out before you even set foot in a grocery store.
Let’s start with breakfast. Most likely you have a morning class starting anywhere from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.. As many of us know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day and should not be skipped. Buy breakfast foods that will kick-start your day off right. Think in terms of quick and healthy. For example, oatmeal, yogurt, eggs, or toast with peanut butter are all quick and easy breakfast ideas that will keep you more full and focused than a donut or pop tart will during your morning classes. Then think about also adding some form of fruit, like a banana, apple, or berry, if you feel like you need a little more substance or variety.
Next, think about lunchtime meals. If you know your week days are packed and you don’t have a lot of time to fix something during the day, one option is to buy items like frozen meals that you can quickly heat up and eat in between classes. Frozen meals are great because they only take a few minutes to warm up and are much cheaper than buying food at a nearby fast food joint or on campus. Also, if you are not burnt out from eating sandwiches in high school, buy lunch meat and bread to make a sandwich. Then you can add sides such as a bowl of soup, carrots, pretzels, or chips and salsa to go with your sandwich on different days to keep things from getting too repetitive. Again, plan this out! Buy a loaf of bread, frozen meals, soup, chips, and so on each week knowing you will eat them for lunch. Both your bank account and stomach will thank youfor keeping them full.
Now we can’t forget about dinner and the prep work that goes behind it. Here is when planning really plays a roll. Again, you do not have to cook like Martha Stewart each night, but you’ve got to have a plan. Frozen chicken or pork needs hours to thaw out, steak needs time to marinate, and you need time to make it. Think about what you want to have each night when planning your dinners. An easy way to think about this is a meat and two sides. I personally prefer a meat and a vegetable and something like rice or potatoes. Again, buy what you need for the week and know more or less when you want to cook it. If you know you have a busy night with an exam the next day, have some go-to dinners. There is nothing wrong with a frozen dinner paired with a salad or eating leftovers, but you have to know those kind of nights are coming in order to have leftovers or a frozen meal ready to heat up.
Lastly, we can’t forget about snacks you may want to munch on throughout the day. Instead of thinking about buying something like extra cheesy chips that have limited nutritional value, think protein bars or fruit. Something I have found very helpful in avoiding unhealthy snacks is to just not buy them altogether. This is no dieting trick, but a lifestyle mindset. Control yourself in the store and you won’t have anything to eat out of boredom or when a craving hits at home. Now I’m not saying you can’t buy Girl Scout cookies from the sweet girls outside the store every now and then, but don’t buy cookies, chips, or foods you know are unhealthy every week. These kinds of foods can add up (both at checkout and on the hips) and make you only crave more. Think about snacks that are going to stick with you in a good way: pretzels and peanut butter, carrots and hummus, granola bars, and so on. These are all inexpensive items that will help you curve between meal cravings, save money, and help keep you from gaining extra pounds.
Remember, shopping is key when it comes to cooking in college. Have a plan and be ready to tackle breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks each week with confidence. There are plenty of resources available to help you out with budgeting, making shopping list, and finding recipes. So start practicing good planning and shop for the right groceries to make great meals each week.