OPINION: How to cook in college in 6 easy steps

Delicious meals are within your grasp if you follow these easy steps. (Emily DeShazer | Collegian Media Group)

Congratulations! You’ve just enrolled in an institution of higher learning. You’re smart, you’re capable, you’re lean and hungry for action — well, mostly just the hungry part.

How the hickety heck are you supposed to eat here? Your parents aren’t around to make you home-cooked meals, and your tuition rates are definitely going to keep you from eating out every day. What’s a student like you supposed to do?

I’m glad you asked.

1. Don’t worry about numbers

In college, numbers rule your life. Your GPA, your credit hours and your bank balance seem to control everything — including your food!

It’s all too easy to get hung up on numbers when you decide what to eat. Price tags, calorie counts, nutrition facts and portion sizes have a stranglehold on your tummy’s happiness.

But there’s a better way: just ignore them.

Michael Pollan, author and food enthusiast, has a famous saying: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Pollan has theorized that Americans are such a heavyset people because we worry too much about what’s in our food, and I’m inclined to agree.

Mental stress is a frequent cause of weight gain (especially for me), so try to take the stress out of eating. Eat whatever tastes good. Eat with friends so you don’t eat too much. Eat a vegetable. You won’t regret it.

2. Buy a skillet

There are a lot of different ways to cook food. Slow cookers are good for folks on the go and grills were made for pounds and pounds of meat. In college, though, your best bet is probably a skillet.

Skillets can cook meat, vegetables, eggs, hash browns, quesadillas, pancakes and even fruit if you’re going for something wild. They’re also easy to clean and they don’t take up much space, so if you want to treat yourself to a decent meal in college, a skillet is the place to start.

3. Find your “easy meals”

Now that you have a skillet and a healthy attitude, you have to decide what to cook. If you ask me, this is usually the worst part.

As fun as it is to worry about things that don’t matter, I like to streamline this process a little by making a mental list of what I call “easy meals.”

Imagine your parents took you out to dinner at a decent sit-down restaurant. I don’t know, maybe an Olive Garden or a Dickey’s BBQ or something. What would you order off the menu if you just wanted some simple comfort food? Congratulations, you’ve found an easy meal.

Olive Garden, home to the easiest meals around. (Courtesy photo by Mike Mozart via Flickr)

My go-to easy meals are barbecue pork chops, chicken alfredo and teriyaki chicken. It’s hard to be paralyzed with infinite mealtime possibilities when you only have a handful of your favorite options to choose from.

4. Don’t fear the freezer

Restaurant ads and Gordon Ramsay’s personal Twitter might make you think that frozen food is sloppy junk for people with bad taste, but that’s not always true.

It sure is nice if you can visit a butcher and a farmer’s market every day for the freshest groceries around, but if you can’t, buy frozen. Yes, the texture is a little different, but frozen meat will still taste good when it’s warmed up and frozen vegetables are still a healthy addition to any meal.

Frozen food stays good for a long time (barring some possible freezer burn), so don’t see it as a barrier between you and good food. It’s perfectly fine for everyday cooking.

5. Make your microwave a side dish machine

Look, I’m a college student. I know how important it is to have some microwaveable meals in the freezer for days when you don’t have time to cook.

But when you do want to become your own personal chef, why leave your microwave out of the fun?

It’s true that you probably shouldn’t cook raw meat or vegetables in a microwave (that’s what your skillet is for!), but side dishes and microwaves are best friends. You can buy cups and bags of microwaveable mashed potatoes, garden vegetables, rice, soup, ravioli and even bread sticks. What have you got to lose?

6. Share your meals

Feedback is crucial to practicing any skill, but it can be tough to recognize the flaws in your own work. Fortunately, nothing is more inviting to fellow college students than a free meal.

Friends, lovers and even family members will probably want to try your cooking, and if you don’t get something right on the first try, ask them for ways to improve.

Before you know it, you’ll be a master chef — at least by university standards. With your skillet, your easy meals and your practiced expertise, you’ll be well on your way to a healthier lifestyle.

But don’t worry. If you don’t have time to cook, I won’t judge you for eating a few pizza rolls.

Kyle Hampel is a community editor for the Collegian and a senior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

Those words you just read were written by me, Kyle Hampel. I am a 2019 graduate in English. I have strong feelings about barbeque pizza and the Oxford comma. I am a former copy chief, community editor, feature editor, designer and deputy multimedia editor. Beloit, Kansas, is proud to call me their own, along with several other towns I've lived in that aren't as special to me.