Food and Drink: How to balance textbooks and cookbooks

There’s something about being a student that’s several stages removed from being a cook. You’re probably poor, strapped for time, working with a crappy kitchen, and only making single servings. Also, your roommate made pancakes last week and your counters are still covered in gelatinous goop.

The temptation to eat cereal or frozen pizza at home, then grab food on campus whenever you can, is strong. Everyone tells you that preparing your food at home is one of the most effective ways of eating healthier and saving money, but there are so many barriers to making your own food that’s just as yummy as your favourite fast food joint.

Here are some ways to stop waiting for Christmas to eat home-cooked food, and for god’s sake, stop getting your food from an app.

Pick a niche and go with it

Are you guilty of Google-searching a food you’re craving, looking at the first few recipes, then giving up because it’s too hard/too many ingredients/you don’t know where to start? Take a step back and think about the fact that people have been cooking longer than the internet has even existed. There’s more information out there on different types of cuisines, methods of cooking, or special diets such paleo, pescatarian, or vegan than your prof tried to cram onto CuLearn. Don’t cheat yourself by making random searches and hoping to stumble onto something good! You ditched that undeclared major in first year, so let’s be more specific here.

Are you trying to spend less on takeout, and you miss pad thai desperately? Look for an Asian food blogger, and find a recipe for pad thai! Have you always wondered what good vegan food tastes like? Buy a vegan cookbook! We all have special interests in life, and the same applies to food. Treat yourself by satisfying one of those interests and mastering that type of cuisine. Another bonus to this approach is that you’ll be able to spend less on pantry staples, since certain styles of cooking require the same core group of ingredients.

Luckily, there’s a wealth of blogs out there to start you off. Spend some time online looking for one that you like. After spending some time on their website, you’ll start to develop a one-sided relationship with them, connecting with their content in a way that’s far less creepy than staring at someone’s Tinder profile. Finding a couple of good bloggers or cookbook authors to cook from is a lot less intimidating than searching the whole internet, and it allows you to test out some recipes before investing in a cookbook written by the same blogger or another of the same cuisine.

Don’t meal prep—meal-prevision!

Once you’ve found some good resources, you’re probably getting excited and maybe drooling a bit. But can you do it? Can you really put all those ingredients together and make something edible? Stop asking yourself those questions, and don’t think too hard about each recipe. Try not to spend a lot of time humming and hawing over what to make. Pick a recipe that looks good, commit to it, then make a grocery list with the ingredients. If you’re feeling confident, think about what you want to eat for the entire week and maybe choose a few recipes. Next time you’re at the grocery store, pick up what you need (seriously, do I need to spell this out for you?). OSAP is breathing down your neck, so no way you’re going to let those ingredients go to waste. You’re making that casserole, and no one can stop you.

Respect your pantry

When one of your motives for cooking is to save money, spending a little bit more at the grocery store to get pantry ingredients for specific recipes can be a hard pill to swallow. Eight dollars for smoked paprika? Three dollars for apple cider vinegar? Twenty dollars for black truffle oil???

It’s alarming, I know, but take a deep breath. A lot of students forgo those kinds of flavouring agents because of the cost, so they spend as little as they can at the grocery store, and prepare food at home with the exact same, bland taste every day. This is a good way to save money in theory, but when you’re eating food that you don’t honestly enjoy every day, the temptation to eat out is hard to resist.

If you end up buying dinner a couple times a week, you’ve easily blown through what you would have spent at the grocery store. So stop being dramatic and buy the ingredients the recipe calls for, and forget the delivery charge on Uber Eats.

Most of these ingredients you only have to buy once, and you can use it for lots more recipes in the future, so your costs will go down over time. Also, nothing will tell your parents you have your life together more than seeing a bottle of liquid smoke in your cupboard when they come to visit. Make sure to hide your liquor on the other side of the pantry.

Get other people involved

Once you’ve found a couple blogs you like, maybe bought some cookbooks, and your pantry is looking mighty fine, share your cooking with others! The easiest way of being the most popular person at any function is bringing fresh baked goods, or appetizers to share. It’s also well-documented that cooking on the third date can be an effective way of moving things along. I like to post what I make on Instagram, and I send all the photos to my grandmother to make sure someone tells me they’re proud of me on a daily basis.

That’s how you keep up your motivation for a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle of preparing your own food and appear like an adult who started the end-of-term paper way earlier than everyone else.

If you really need more help, buy an apron for self-validation, and start cooking what you want.

– Photo by Amanda Vollmershausen