How To Cook on a College Student’s Budget

This is a picture of a person cooking pancakes on black frying pan.

By Abby Kohlberg

It can be daunting to learn to cook. It’s easy to simply throw in the towel and buy frozen dinners or takeout. When you’re just getting started, even apparently simple recipes become difficult. It seems difficult to know where to start, but the basic skills every cook needs include:

  1. How to heat foods
  2. How to measure ingredients
  3. How to cut ingredients

The measuring skill is the easiest, there are three rules of thumb:

  1. Scoop into the measuring cup with a spoon and use the handle of the spoon to level off the extra. You don’t scoop it with the measuring cup and you don’t pack it in. You’ll measure out a different amount of stuff from the recipe if you don’t do that.
  2. Except for brown sugar. You pack the brown sugar in with the spoon. Brown sugar is weird.
  3. Measure liquids over the sink. It’ll be less messy.

The basic tools needed in your kitchen are listed in this article from Real Simple, if you are moving into the real world and need to stock your own kitchen.

A cost-effective and minimum-effort strategy to cooking your own meals is to put aside some time and cook a lot of things, then pull from your fridge or freezer for the rest of the time. For example, it’s cheaper to buy and cook a whole chicken than to get just a breast for each meal.

Also, breast meat is much more finicky than, for example, a chicken thigh, and most recipes that call for a chicken breast will work just as well with a chicken thigh.

A whole chicken might seem intimidating, but it’s more doable than you might think. And once you’re done, you’ll not only have dinner. You can use it to make sandwiches, roll-ups, salads, or use it as a pizza topping for days afterwards! And the only ingredients you really need is salt, pepper, butter, and the chicken. This from Allrecipes explains everything you need!

Eggs are cheap and versatile. There are at least 59 ways to cook an egg, and there’s a good chance you’d like at least one of them, so try them!

Stir fry is underrated. It’s easy to make, easy to use to get random leftovers out of your fridge, and easy to spice up with a new sauce or ingredient. The only thing to remember is to put the stuff in at the right times so that nothing is undercooked and overcooked, and this chart and your phone’s timer can help with that.

When you’re cutting things up to put them in the pot, it’s important to do it safely. It’ll feel weird and wrong at first, but you’ll get used to it and you’ll be at much less risk of bleeding all over your beautiful stir fry.

You aren’t supposed to automatically know how to cook. It’s something you learn. It’s fun, it’s rewarding, there is always the risk of catastrophic failure, but there is also the chance of discovering something you didn’t know you liked.

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