College is a time of great stress and also a lot of fantastic experiences. Schools open the doorway to things like internships and volunteer opportunities, but they also make sure you always have something to work on. One way to deal with stress that they’ll advertise to students is for you to go by the cafeteria and grab a quick meal on your way to the library or favorite study spot. For some students, this works, but not for very long.
No matter how creative cafeterias get with the food they serve, it isn’t always right for everyone. People who have specialized diets like vegans and vegetarians may not have enough — or any — options to eat. Those with food allergies come across this problem as well. And for many, they just prefer food from elsewhere. It’s why pizza places and Chinese restaurants around schools offer discounts and delivery. However, eating takeout every night is also not a great way to live.
While you’re learning about many other things during your time at school, you’ll find that you need to learn about cooking as well. Dorms aren’t the best place to begin a culinary career, but even if you lack a stove, you can still find ways to cook for yourself. To figure out where to start, check out some tips so you can skip the Ramen and be a successful dorm room chef.
1. Never Forget About Your Roommates
When you live with roommates, you have to be especially careful about how your actions affect them. Things like keeping your room clean and not spending too much time in the bathroom will come up, and this same thoughtfulness applies to cooking.
If you think there’s a good chance you’ll burn a food, make something smelly or generally make a mess in your shared space, give them a heads up. They’ll appreciate knowing what’s going on, and they may even want to join in on the action!
2. Start With the Small Stuff
Your first instinct might be to start looking at food blogs online or pinning recipes on Pinterest, which are both great to do. Just remember that you should start with the small stuff. Instead of aiming to bake a family-sized lasagna, maybe look for simple pasta recipes instead.
The fewer ingredients and steps there are in a recipe, the more likely you’ll be able to cook it or find a way to add it to your dorm room supplies. Plus, you don’t want to make a big recipe and then get discouraged when it doesn’t work out.
3. Buy the Basics
Almost every meal will share a common ingredient, and those ingredients come together as the staples of every kitchen. You should learn what the staple foods are so you know what to go out and buy.
If you plan on cooking, think about spices and vegetable oil. If you want to bake, focus on things like flour and baking powder. These are things every cook should have in their pantry, and they’ll end up lasting a long time. Don’t sweat it if your initial grocery bill is higher than you thought it would be. These items are worth it!
4. Rethink the Basics
Okay, so you’ve bought your staple foods. Now what? It’s time to get creative. You can only make sandwiches for so long before you start to crave literally anything else. Rethink how you can use your foods by getting creative.
For instance, a can of tuna usually only costs about a dollar, and it can be made into many different meals. For five dollars, you could get five entirely different dinner options. Take a second to do an internet search on the ingredients you have on hand to see what you can make.
5. Talk With Your Campus Nutritionist
More and more colleges are now getting on board with the idea of offering students the ability to talk with a nutritionist while they’re enrolled. Check on your school’s website to see if a nutritionist is on staff, and then make yourself an appointment.
Not sure if that’s for you? Certain bodily functions, issues and goals you may have are signs that you should see a nutritionist. Even if you’re healthy and fine eating anything, a nutritionist will help you learn about what foods you should eat and how to cook them.
6. Branch Out When You Can
Eventually, you’re going to get tired of eating the same soups and sandwiches that you can easily put together. When you get there, know how to branch out. You can explore a whole new world of foods by investing in a rice cooker or microwave pasta bowl. These things don’t take up much space, but they present the opportunity to try all new foods. And if you haven’t already, renting or buying a mini fridge will give you more space to store food (and keep it all safe from your roommates!).
You may have been assigned to the tiniest room on campus, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck eating at the cafeteria every day. There are still plenty of ways to cook in a dorm room that don’t require a stovetop or dishwasher.
The best first step you can take is to talk with a nutritionist so that you get started by eating what’s right for you and not just what’s microwaveable. Reaching for the quick foods often means eating stuff that’s processed and unhealthy, which will lead you down the road of bad health habits.
Then, it’s time to get creative! Buy the basic foods and do some research to learn all the different ways you can combine them to make meals for yourself. Or experiment on your own and see what you can come up with! Foods like tuna and pasta can be stretched into multiple meals if you find the right recipes.
Don’t let your worries stop you from inventing delicious foods for yourself. You’ll be much happier not waiting in the cafeteria line every night, and you’ll have fun while you’re cooking!