August 27, 2012 | Back to: News

College Cooking 101: Tips for the first-time college student

It’s that time of year again: Time to sharpen pencils, purchase textbooks and move into that college dorm or apartment. This August, thousands of young adults leave the comfort of home and head off to live on their own, many for the first time.

While most college students rely on fast food or the school cafeteria, those easy meal options can be expensive and unhealthy. Instead of depending on convenience foods, try cooking on your own. Below are several simple cooking tips for first-time cooks living away from home.

Essential tools

Before moving into the dorm, check with the housing coordinator or reference the school’s website to see what appliances are allowed. Some campuses offer small kitchens in the dorms while others do not. Even with a small kitchen, resources and space maybe limited. Choose to bring tools and appliances you know how to use and that will help prepare meals. Besides the basics, such as plates, cups, and silverware; mixing bowls, knives, pots and pans, and a can opener are all needed for simple cooking. A crock-pot, microwave, coffee maker, and toaster oven are all cooking appliances even a novice cook can use.

Make a meal plan

Most college students are on a strict budget and have limited funds to spend on food. Making a weekly meal plan and shopping with a prepared list will help avoid unnecessary expenses. Consider using recipes written to serve one to two people to avoid excessive leftovers. A recipe app or website usually offers tools to adjust recipes to desired number of servings which can be helpful when cooking for one.

Communicate with roommates

When living with roommates, it is essential to communicate and discuss living arrangements, especially when it comes to the kitchen. Some roommates prefer to grocery shop and prepare meals together. While others like to keep food separate by designating specific cabinet and refrigerator space for each person. With busy schedules and limited funds, sharing cooking responsibilities and costs can help alleviate some of the stress associated with living away from home. Consider shopping and cooking together one day a week, preparing several meals that can then be heated and enjoyed later.

When cooking for the first time, choose easy-to-prepare recipes. These Tex-Mex Potatoes use basic cooking skills and are prepared in the microwave, making them perfect for college cooking.

Tex-Mex Potatoes

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves: 2

2 large baking potatoes

1 tablespoon butter or margarine

1 small onion, chopped

1 large green bell pepper, chopped

1 (16.0 ounce can) chili beans in spicy sauce, undrained

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese-

Scrub potatoes and prick in several places with toothpick or sharp knife. Place potatoes on a paper towel in microwave and cook at high power for 8 minutes. Turn and rotate potatoes and cook for another 8 to 10 minutes or until tender. Carefully remove potatoes from microwave and set aside.

In a large microwave safe bowl, combine butter, onions and bell pepper. Microwave on high for one minute, then stir. Microwave again for one minute or until onions and peppers begin to soften. Add beans and Worcestershire sauce to onion mixture and stir. Return to the microwave and microwave on high for 2-3 minutes or until heated through.

Split potatoes and top with prepared bean mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

— Chef Heather Hunsaker attended and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, but has been developing family friendly meals since she was nine years old in her mother’s kitchen. She knows how to get food on the table in a pinch while sticking to a budget. Currently, Chef Heather serves as a freelance writer and recipe developer for meal planning site www.foodonthetable.com.

Chef Heather Hunsaker
Special to the Sun


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Aug 27, 2012 07:06PM Published Aug 27, 2012 06:59PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.