How to Adult: Cooking on a College Budget

My mom is an amazing cook. It’s effortless. And delicious. My kitchen skills are more… hmmm… underwhelming. But it was a skill I had to learn when I left home and went to college, got my own apartment and realized the meal plan didn’t apply to those living off campus.

One thing my mom did teach me was that simple things can be great. And that no one knows or cares that you secretly like eating “insert-cheap-weird-but-delicious-food-here” (hers is spam).

So, below are my basic rules for budget-friendly grocery shopping AND cooking at home.

Cook simple things. Not everything needs a recipe! Chicken with vegetables. Chicken with pasta. Bake a head of broccoli and cauliflower with vodka sauce and cheese. No one knows what you’re eating for dinner in your underwear standing by the kitchen sink. Not every meal has to be a masterpiece. Recipes can leave you with a fridge and cupboard full of oddly specific food stuff that will expire. The simpler and quicker your meals, the more likely you are to keep cooking at home and not let fresh food go to waste. 

Plant-based meals are cheaper, usually quicker and far less likely to kill you from salmonella poisoning if not cooked properly. That’s a really convoluted way of saying “eat more vegetables”. If you are in the habit of leaving fresh vegetables to slowly die in the back of your fridge from the last time you tried to eat green, try frozen and steam-fresh bags. I always have a few in the freezer because I like steamed broccoli as a snack—add some butter, it’s the deal. If it’s something like carrots that I hate chopping and will leave them to rot out of laziness and spite, I will splurge on the pre-cut version. As a rule though, stay away from pre-packed fresh vegetables. The markup is ridic and the more you practice cutting vegetables the easier it gets. Unless it’s grating. I grate my fingernails and knuckles. Know your limits. Bloody carrots are not tasty.

Buy big packs of frozen chicken and freeze individual breasts in ziplock bags. Pull it out the day before you think you might want it. A thawed chicken breast will last a few days so don’t back out of last-minute dinner plans because of the chicken. Live your best life. Be spontaneous!

Do your research and decide what you have to have organic and what you can deal with being whatever. I can’t stand having cage eggs in the fridge, the guilt is too much. But with vegetables, I don’t mind if they haven’t been lovingly fed animal poop mulch and had bugs gently fanned away.

Generic brands will save money. BUT! Don’t buy everything cheap and generic. Sometimes it WILL taste cheap and generic and the money you think you saved will go to waste because you won’t eat it. 

Get the card saver at every store, link it to your phone number in case you forget to bring it.

Cook what you know! Love ramen? Cook ramen! Add a side of steamed vegetables and a fried egg! Instagram that ish! Tag your parents so they know you can take care of yourself! And your school guidance counselor who told you that your home-economics grade was in jeopardy because you couldn’t make parsley soup.

And finally, be flexible! Throw stuff together and figure out how to cook with what you have! Maybe just don’t invite your friends over for dinner until you know it doesn’t taste like parsley soup.

Edie George

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