Cooking for one: Skip the takeout, make quick meals instead

When moving into an apartment, one of the things that will likely be new to you is cooking for yourself. Even if you’re like me and come from a family where everything is cooked from scratch, and you are used to cooking for 4-6 people, cooking for one (or maybe two) will likely be a new experience.

Although it is tempting to just buy a bunch of ramen, frozen pizzas and canned soups, cooking real meals is not too difficult.

Typically, food dilemmas of a college student involve getting meals that are quick with minimum prep, healthy or cheap — or all of these. These meals fit all of these criteria:

Mexican-style food

I imagine the Mexican food part feels random, but it is often my go-to for something quick and easy and not too terrible for your health. It also doesn’t break the bank as a can of beans is typically good for two separate meals and costs less than a dollar — or a little over a dollar if you like organic. Tortillas, tacos and tostados also run cheap along with lettuce, cheese and salsa or jalapeños.

Casseroles

Casseroles, although not always quick from start to finish, typically require minimum preparation, and then time in the oven, i.e. time you can spend writing that paper or studying. One of the simplest casseroles that make most people think of Thanksgiving, but can be eaten year-round, is green bean casserole. But this is not the only type of casserole you can make, casserole is one of those dishes where there are endless possibilities — one of those dishes where you can invent your own.  

Stir-fry

Stir-fry is a very healthy and easy meal that not only cleans out vegetables and meats from the fridge but can also be eaten in a variety of ways. When you make it, it is typical to serve it on rice or couscous, which are all delicious, but there are other ways to serve them, too. One of my favorite meals to prepare is hummus on a pita with stir-fry vegetables. Another great meal is putting stir-fried vegetables or meat in a panini.

Keep it simple

Also never doubt the classic cheap and easy meals like sandwiches and salads. Another incredibly easy and filling meal is a simple baked potato. Although it often seems like a side dish to a steak, it can easily stand on its own. Not only can you top it with butter, but cheese, chili, sour cream and even stir-fried vegetables.

An extra tip is that complicated meals can sometimes be overwhelming when you are just cooking for one. I come from a family where everything is made from scratch from bread, to noodles and tortillas. Making your own tortillas and bread can certainly take a lot of time that could be used for studying or writing that paper.

Among these overwhelming meals include breading and frying meat and vegetables. I made eggplant Parmesan all the time at home, but when you are getting lots of dishes messy for one person in a (likely) smaller kitchen than usual, it can be frustrating especially if you are unlucky enough to not have a dishwasher.

Avoid takeout and fast food

This especially gets hard toward the end of the semester when you have final projects and exams coming up. I admit that in the spring, I don’t think I made a single meal in a week-long period. The best way that I found to avoid this is to have a recipe book and making menus each week with a weekly grocery trip — kind of similar to penciling in the gym at certain times as opposed to just “fitting it in whenever you can.”

Always having food in the fridge is a good encouragement in itself. When you have the dilemma of deciding whether to swing by one of the convenient restaurants on Green Street or cooking when you get home, having food that might be going bad soon makes cooking lunch or dinner much more appealing.

Kat is a senior in LAS. She can be reached at [email protected]