Sometimes, when times get rough or when your university’s dining halls aren’t exactly appetizing, the best thing to do is get rid of your meal plan altogether and cook for yourself. Though this may not seem like a major decision, it certainly can be for someone who is not properly prepared to take on the responsibilities and time commitment that come with making that decision. To avoid being this “someone,” your best chance at having a successful meal plan-free semester is to start planning for it as soon as possible. Here are some tips:
Utilize your friends.
Once a month, ask friends to bring you tons of fruits and vegetables so that you don’t have to buy them yourself. Often times, dining halls will have items you can use as ingredients, so stock up by asking friends to get a lot of them for you at the beginning of every month. Why on a monthly basis? To avoid being a burden on them later by asking them everyday. Since it’s summer now, take the time to coordinate with your friends. This way, you can get an idea of what you have to look forward to cooking in the coming semester.
If you utilize your friends, learn how to cook with their meal plan’s ingredients.
This is important. You are asking for vegetables and fruits, not full meals, so you have to know what ingredients you need to learn to cook with. Over the summer or during break, take the time to look up (and try) simple recipes using those ingredients. Carrots, broccoli, spinach, lettuce, and other vegetables are common ingredients.
Take into account how much time it will take to cook everything.
Make a meal plan of your own. Can you cook something other than, say, eggs? Try to be creative and prep over the summer by learning to cook different things so that you can have some variety. Soups, salads, pasta, sandwiches and more are all fair game. This will also help you stay away from losing important nutrients due to cooking the same foods over and over again. Having a balanced diet, after all, is vital to your health.
Stick to water.
If you’re doing this because of financial reasons, forgo drinks like soda, juices, and even milk. You can get your necessary calcium and Vitamin C intakes elsewhere. Plus, water is healthy for you! But, again, be sure to get those key nutrients in other forms.
Pay close attention to events going on around campus. They tend to have food and/or drinks. Though these tend not to be the most nutritional choices, they can be helpful on days where you can’t cook for yourself because you’re too swamped with work or because you’re sick. Also, if you find fruit salads present, do not be afraid to bring a small Ziploc bag to grab some for on-the-go snacks/energy boosters for the day! Of course, be sure to engage in at least part of the event; the hosts did, after all, get food for their intended audience and you don’t lose anything by learning new things!
Other things to consider:
Given your schedule — and taking into account your social, academic, and work life (as well as allotting time for sleep) –, you need have quick recipes ready to go because cooking can be time-consuming. Even if a recipe is quick, you have to store the ingredients correctly and clean up after yourself, so be sure to add ten or so minutes to your overall time spent in the kitchen.
Is the kitchen nearby? On a day that you’re sick, would you be able to easily access it without it tiring you? On a day that you’re not sick, would this be the case? Remember that you would not only have to lug around the ingredients if you store them in your room’s fridge as opposed to the communal dorm fridge, but you also have to lug around the pots, pans, and cooking utensils.
If you know that you are not the most hygenic person when it comes to food (e.g., you leave containers dirty for days, you are not good about keeping track of expiration dates, you forget to correctly store ingedients). then forgoing a meal plan might not be for you. Not sure? Try cooking for yourself for a week or maybe even just four or five days with ingredients you know you will have handy throughout the semester.
Keeping track of expenses
If you are forgoing a meal plan for financial reasons, keeping track of your expenses is a must. Be sure to create a weekly or monthly budget plan for yourself, and stick to it because you might otherwise end up spending more than you would have had you kept your meal plan.