The freshman 15 is university’s way of easing the transition into second year. It allows you to store energy (in the form of extra weight) for second year when the only 15 you wish you had was 15 minutes to cook.
The second struggle in my series is the endless battle between kitchen and clock. Sometimes finding the time to cook is harder than filling out a position application.
This is an issue more for those who live off campus. When you come home from school, the decision between nap and nutrition is normally met with the predictable selection of the former. Even when you do find it in you to cook – the fridge is empty, which drains your initial motivation. To those without the privilege of a car, grocery shopping is a nuisance. The result is an empty fridge and equally empty hopes.
Unlike the application process, cooking is essential to, well, survival. My go-to solution when time and supplies were limited was to order out. Soon my bank account took on characteristics of my fridge: emptiness. This solution wasn’t sustainable so I needed to find alternatives. Here are some solutions that have worked for me:
Coming to terms with new methods of meal preparation
No longer can you spend an hour cooking a gourmet meal, the student lifestyle demands a change from traditional methods. When time is limited the focus of your meal should be foods with short preparation times that are highly nutritious. All these listed techniques work to minimize preparation time and mitigate supply shortages.
- Have ‘the basics’ on hand ALL THE TIME. The basics are the ingredients that can be used to whip up a fast meal when you need to. They include: eggs, oil, milk, cereal, pasta and pasta sauce, Nutella (essential), bread, butter, rice, cheese, and a spice rack.
- Embrace your inner vegetarian. Preparing meat dishes take time and can get messy. The best characteristic fruits and vegetables have is that they spoil – almost too fast. So you’re basically forced to create ‘super dishes’ that try and incorporate as much of them as possible. Also, vegetables are cheaper than meat so don’t be surprised when you find yourself eating more vegetarian in post-secondary education. Some veggie-heavy recipes you might want to check out are: Spaghetti Squash, Cauliflower Shepherd’s Pie, and Vegetable Ratatouille.
- Buy a spice rack. As students with varying cooking ability, a spice rack increases the taste of your meals by 100%. Spices last forever and allow you to bring your cooking to the next level.
- Preparing in advance. School has a way of lulling you into a comfortable rhythm of work, then dropping every assessment possible into one week. When you have some down time on the weekends, prep for the busy week ahead.
Big preparations: pre-cut vegetables you know you’ll be using! When you’re making pasta/rice, make an extra serving you can store.
Small preparations: pre-cut ingredients you use constantly. In my house we cut loads of green onion, ginger, and garlic because we use them in almost every meal. Just like a spice rack, they are small additions that go a long way.
- A repertoire of versatile recipes. In the same way you look at your closet and don’t know what to wear, sometimes you look at your (full) fridge and don’t know what to cook. It is helpful to have some flexible recipes to resort to when in doubt. Dishes that don’t have set ingredients but that are super simple to throw together include: stir-fry, omelettes, sandwiches, and stews. Endless combinations! Such fun!
I know what you’re thinking about stews, “but don’t those take hours?!” Yes, but hours of idle cooking time. I find once you get passed the initial stage of prepping the ingredients, you let time (or your slow cooker) finish the rest!
Cooking and grocery shopping take time, but they aren’t hard. One of my favourite blogs, focuses on helping people ‘get their shit together.’ Their no-mercy attitude and tough love techniques are something I have been receptive too. This conflict between kitchen and clock has an easy resolution. You need to put health as a priority. “I don’t have time to cook” translates into “I don’t prioritize my health.” There is a strong correlation between eating well and performing well academically. You can leverage all those hours you spend studying when you supplement it with a good diet. School, the thing that gets in the way of cooking in the first place, actually motivates you to eat healthier. It isn’t all “tips and tricks” about 5-minute meals or kitchen essentials, what brings about long term change is a change in attitude. Prioritize your health guys and prove everyone wrong who says youth is wasted on the young.