Campus cooking could keep students healthy, happy

By Jessie Webster, Columnist

There are only three components necessary for a successful college career: good grades, enough sleep and an active social life.

Lesser known is my personal food formula, in which I try to nourish my body and mind with ingredients that are cheap, fast and healthy.

The kicker in both scenarios, of course, is that only two out of the three options are realistic for most people. Furthermore, many of us are much more inclined to eat something quick and unhealthy if it means freeing up time for other activities.

As I barrel closer and closer to my college graduation, I’ve made a concerted effort to practice skills I’ll need as a functioning member of society. One of them is cooking.

And, through my simple, yet tasty research, I feel confident concluding that there are profound physical, social and economic benefits to cooking as a college student.

The most obvious impediment to cooking in college is the lack of proper tools. Since I currently do not have easy access to a kitchen, I spent my Saturday afternoon two weekends ago embracing my inner Julia Child at my friend Carly’s apartment.

Carly and her roommates have a pretty standard apartment on campus, and their kitchenette includes the basic stove and oven. While those of us without our own appliances are at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to cooking, several dorms on campus offer access to kitchenettes perfect for trying your hand at simple, delicious recipes..

For our own meal, Carly and I decided on some pasta with homemade meat sauce and a grapefruit yogurt cake for dessert.

The ingredients, including 1.25 pounds of beef, tomato sauce, a package of premade garlic bread, a grapefruit and powdered sugar cost less than $10 per person. Carly already had ingredients like eggs and butter, so those were not factored into the final cost.

According to a September 2016 article from The Washington Post, the average college meal plan costs around $3,000 a year. Even taking one day a week to cook in bulk and then freezing or refrigerating for later can save you significant time and money on food for future meals.

Although not every aspect of our meal was made from scratch, even consuming a meal that was mainly homemade has pronounced health benefits.

According to Michael Pollan, author of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” cooking for yourself almost guarantees that the ingredients you use will be healthier for you.

“There are things built into the process of cooking that guard against those very tempting, but ultimately not very healthy, foods,” Pollan said in a May 2014 interview with the Boston Globe. “You don’t even have to worry about what you’re cooking because you will naturally gravitate toward simple things.”

Equally as important to the health and financial benefits of home cooking are the social ones. Although Carly and I spent less than 30 minutes in the kitchen, we used the time to catch up on each other’s lives and for once, talk about things that did not revolve around grades or job applications.

And, with the current popularity of video recipes on websites like Buzzfeed, learning how to prepare a quick and easy meal has never been easier; no cookbook required.

When I look back on my time at Illinois, I probably won’t remember the extra 30 minutes I spent at the library, but I hope I remember the time I spent with friends cooking a good meal. Especially if the food is tasty.

Jessie is a senior in Media.

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