The Busy (and Broke) College Students' Guide to Cooking

Macmillan Employee
Macmillan Employee
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Tips to start your career as a personal chef.


Nowadays, many college upperclassmen seek off-campus housing to escape the horrors of dining hall food. While it is liberating to choose and make your own meals, this freedom also comes with the fear of finding the time and skills to do so. Between classes, friends, clubs, and more, it's difficult for college students to find the time to cook -- something I had to learn the hard way this school year. When life gets overwhelming, Wendy's drive-thru becomes more and more appealing. Here are a few tips and tricks that I've discovered for fitting cooking into an already busy schedule, all while staying healthy and saving money.

Be financially aware

If cooking taught me anything, it's how to manage money well for grocery trips. Before you begin to budget, think about how often you might be grocery shopping -- will it be weekly, biweekly, or something in-between? After you've determined this, give yourself a set price-point for your groceries. Make sure that the price-point is realistic: don't try to set it too low or too high. If you see yourself consistently going over or under your original price-point, don't be afraid to adjust it! Regardless of your price-point, I would recommend downloading an application called Flipp. The app allows you to see weekly store circulars, compose shopping lists, and much more, making it a great resource for keeping track of sales.

Look for quick, simple meals -- without sacrificing good taste!

It is a common misconception that easy-to-make meals lack taste, but that's not true at all! A simple Google search of "easy chicken recipes," for example, will yield thousands of different recipes for you to browse. This method can be used when trying your hand at any sort of meal, or expanding your recipe arsenal! I've found some of my favorite recipes through Google searches -- and most of them can be made in less than an hour! Once you've found a few recipes that you like, try printing them out and storing them in a folder. That way, you can always refer back to them when you want to make a meal you know you'll enjoy!

Ask parents and relatives for recipes

Not all Google searches will result in finding recipes that appeal to you. If this occurs, give a parent or other relatives a call! They know your taste preferences and can provide you with recipes that you might not have thought to try. Better yet, ask to borrow a cookbook from a family member! It will provide you with delicious recipes and, depending on the book, meals with short prep- and cook-times that are easy to squeeze into a hectic day.

Eat with friends

Hanging out with friends and eating are two amazing pastimes -- so why not combine them? Having potlucks makes it easy to catch up with friends you may not get the chance to see often while easing meal prep for everyone invited. You could even find a new favorite food to try making yourself!

Get a partial meal plan

Lastly, if you're really in a bind -- stuck at the library for a long night, have an impossibly difficult lab assignment to do, or whatever else may come up -- there's no shame in having a partial meal plan as a backup. They're cheaper than full meal plans, and allow you to eat on campus whenever you feel like it. Let's face it, trekking back home to cook lunch or dinner is inconvenient. Having the option to eat on-campus makes one aspect of life easy, even if the rest isn't.

College upperclassman life is the precursor to real adulthood and, whether we like it or not, cooking for ourselves is usually a factor in both these chapters of life. Learning the ins and outs of even the most basic kind of cooking gives us invaluable skills -- and tasty meals.

Kelly Vena
The College of New Jersey

Kelly Vena is a senior at The College of New Jersey, where she is finishing up her English major and Communication Studies and French minors. She has worked as a marketing intern at Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishers, the high school textbook branch of Macmillan Learning, since the start of the 2018-2019 school year. Kelly has been a writer since her senior year of high school, and her poetry has appeared in two publications as well as multiple editions of The College of New Jersey’s literary magazine.