A Guide To Cooking Off Campus

This is my first year living off campus. I was lucky enough to live on campus for two years, one in a dorm and one in my sorority house. I was also fortunate enough to live in the era of DHall, Market One and Einstein’s Bagels so eating on campus was great. When I came to JMU for my junior year the kitchen intimidated me and it still does. I was a brave soul and chose the 50 punches meal plan because of the loss of my favorite on campus eating spots, I wanted to learn how to cook and living in a world full of takeout gets expensive. Grocery stores can be the equivalent to corn mazes and the stove can look like mission control of a space ship but with some guidance and practice those can become enjoyable tasks.

A How to On Buying Food

When walking into the store running to the freezer section might seem like the easiest and most logical thing to do. Microwavable food is fast, easy and has little to no mess. Medicaldaily.com has a list of “Five reasons why microwave oven cooking is harming your health”

  • Microwaves zap food nutrition
  • Microwaves destroy breast milk and vitamin B-12
  • Microwaves create carcinogens in food
  • Microwaves can change the makeup of your blood
  • Microwaves can change your heart rate

Fresher foods may take longer to prepare but your body will thank you in the long run. I made the mistake of buying produce in bulk and then it all went bad within a few days. Buying fruits and veggies in small increments and then going back to the store when you run out will save you the frustration of throwing out rotten food. The same goes with buying dairy, be sure to always check the expiration date and buy the milk, yogurt or cheeses with the expiration date that is farthest away so you can give yourself time to eat it before it goes rotten. There is nothing worse than buying a gallon of milk, drinking two glasses of it and three days later notice it has gone bad. When buying meat stick it straight into the freezer so that is can last as long as possible. According to the huffington post freezing meat can help it last for months on end.

  • Cooked poultry — 4 months
  • Uncooked poultry parts — 9 months
  • Uncooked whole poultry — 12 months
  • Cooked meat — 2 to 3 months
  • Uncooked roasts — 4 to 12 months
  • Uncooked steaks or chops — 4 to 12 months
  • Uncooked ground meat — 3 to 4 months

When going grocery shopping don’t go hungry that can make you impulse buy, make a list and stick to it that way you won’t end up buying junk and buy only as much as you think you can use before the expiration date.

What should you be cooking for breakfast, lunch and dinner?

 Cooking for every meal can be time consuming but this way you can ensure you know exactly what you are putting in your body. Eating on campus for one meal a day or whenever you are in a time crunch is totally acceptable that is what meal plans are for after all. There are plenty of healthy options to choose from on campus. But, there are no meal plans in the real world so learning how to cook while in college is a skill that you will need and use forever. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and naturalliving.com has nine reasons as to why you should eat breakfast each day.

  • Slim down
  • Get and energy boost
  • Reduce the risk of type two diabetes
  • Prevent heart disease
  • Enhance your memory
  • Live to 100
  • Fight cravings
  • Get your daily intake of nutrients
  • Prevent cold and flu

Breakfast doesn’t mean just cereal. Cooking a bacon and egg white breakfast can be quick and easy as well taking no more than 15 minutes. If you want to add some toast to that, Ezekiel bread is a great alternative to regular bread using only a few fresh and healthy ingredients. English muffins can also be another option for your breakfast sandwiches. Want something completely different? Try this, Ezekiel bread with figs and Swiss cheese on top paired with two hard-boiled eggs and a few slices of turkey bacon.

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Lunchtime may be when you are on campus so it could be easiest to just grab something on campus. If that is not the case or you wanted to bring your own lunch to campus a sandwich or salad might be easiest. Again using the Ezekiel bread I introduced before you could easily make a healthy sandwich using lunchmeat, the cheese of your choice, whatever condiments and veggies you would like on top of that. An idea for a salad could be using chicken that you may have prepared the night before for dinner or that morning, add buffalo sauce to that and blue cheese dressing for a delicious buffalo chicken salad.

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Experimenting is key here using different vegetables, dressing and proteins to your salads or sandwiches can make it so you never get bored of healthy eating again. Dinner is always the most difficult for me. By this time of the day I am burnt out and it just seems easier to throw something into the microwave or to just order a pizza. Don’t fall into that trap, making a delicious dinner can go from a chore to a treat once you figure out what you’re doing in the kitchen. There are so many more options than just chicken and vegetables as well. I like to make this a few times a week but nothing is better than coming up with your own creation in the kitchen and being able to share that dish with others. Pasta is always the easy route and since pasta is delicious on its own it can only get better with the right ingredients. I made a classic sausage and peppers dish in the frying pan adding a few seasoning ingredients its up to you what you like and threw it over top of some pasta, it was simple, quick and delicious.

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A dish my mother, Angela Lewis, taught me is a twist on the McDonald’s Big Mac, only it is a healthy version. You can use your choice of ground turkey or grass fed ground beef as the protein base, cook that put it over lettuce add tomato a slice of cheese and low fat thousand island dressing and voila you have your big mac in a bowl and it tastes even better because you made it with fresh ingredients at home.

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Cooking your own meals can seem intimidating at first but once you get the hang of being in the kitchen it can become rewarding and a nice way to be able to unwind and de-stress after a long day of classes and work. Nothing is better than being able to say that you made a dish yourself and for being able to cook that dish for others. Cooking is a skill that we will all need at some point in our lives so why not learn now. Campus food is delicious but so is making your own meals and knowing exactly what is being put into them. Happy cooking dukes.

Peace, Love and DDP,

Hunter

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