Every fall, thousands of students begin their first year of college or university. New students face numerous challenges, both academic and nonacademic. Along with quizzes and finals, many must tackle the challenges and responsibilities that come with living on their own for the first time, from handling a budget to doing their own laundry.
With all these obstacles to overcome, it's easy for harried students to conclude that taking the time to learn how to cook just isn't worth the effort. But there are several reasons students should take the time to learn a few skills in the kitchen.
First and foremost is the fact that cooking is cheaper than eating out. Studies indicate that food is the second biggest expense for college students, second only to accommodations. The majority of students can expect to spend at least $2,000 annually on food. Being dependent on restaurants, fast-food kiosks, or even the college dining hall for every meal will push that amount even higher. Even students who live at home while attending a local college will find that their hectic schedule doesn't fit with family mealtimes. Since most parents aren't willing to go on kitchen duty at midnight, students will need to start preparing their own meals and late-night snacks.
Believe it or not, cooking saves time. In the time it takes to walk to a fast-food restaurant or make your way through the buffet line at the college dining hall, you could have prepared a simple dinner of stir-fried chicken with steamed vegetables and rice. Heating up leftovers is even quicker. And you can study in the comfort of your dorm or apartment while eating. True, some dishes — such as Chili con Carne — take longer. But most of that time the food is simmering; all you need to do is look up from your books occasionally and give the dish a quick stir.
Cooking your own food is healthier. Why is eating healthy so important? It's not just about establishing healthy eating patterns that will help ward off disease in later life (although that's also important). A balanced diet increases your ability to handle the stresses of college life. Eating nutritious meals at regular times helps you sleep better, gives you more stamina, and makes it easier to resist sugar-loaded snacks that temporarily raise your blood sugar levels but leave you feeling more tired than ever an hour later. It will also help you avoid the weight gain many students experience in their first year of college or university.
Finally, cooking is fun! Spending Sunday afternoon in the kitchen is a great way to unwind after a hectic week of studying. And mastering new skills gives you a sense of accomplishment. Furthermore, cooking involves building on previously learned skills. For example, once you've mastered the basic technique of making a simple white sauce, you'll find it easy to prepare variations, such as Florentine sauce.
Of course, this doesn't mean you need to avoid the residence dining room or campus food courts completely. Across the country, colleges and universities are responding to student demands for healthier menu options. On many campuses, tofu and tempeh can be found alongside the pasta, and stir-fries are dominating the menu. Still, planning to cook at least some of your meals makes it easier to control your food intake and stay within a budget.
Note to readers: Recipes that are vegetarian are indicated by a carrot symbol after the name.