Let me preface this article by saying I’ve broken the microwave. Somehow I’ve managed to convert its buttons to space control commands and irritate The Best Invention Known To Man. It was #JesusTakeTheWheel when I entered the kitchen.
I have dabbled in take-out, ventured to frozen/canned meals, explored the questionable terrains known as the campus cafeteria, initiated a lovesick affair with ramen that verged on abusive and plunged half-heartedly into the salad world. Real cooking seemed daunting. Meal planning seemed like Excel sheets on a bad day. I mean, it’s fire underneath the stove and that lovely packaged raw meat was once a live animal with a face. On a more Dr. Phil-esque note, perhaps being skilled enough to feed myself was a sure-fire sign of what grown-ups do (I secretly wanted to Peter Pan my life). That, or I lacked an Easy Bake oven as a child.
While my attempts were largely comical, I have reconciled my cooking angst with a vengeance. I now prepare well-balanced meals, being short on money and time. For the culinary challenged and the beginner cooks, here are pointers that will have you feeling like a badass Gordon Ramsay.
1. You can literally throw any shit in a frying pan and it will cook
Ok, so this isn’t brain surgery but for some of you, it has to be stated: pan + oil + heat + something raw = food. Buy sauce in a can, jar or packet and slap it on for taste. This goes the same with a pot of boiling water (exclude the oil though).
2. Repeat after me: staple, protein, veggie
Every meal can be broken down to these basics. That’s it. Figure out which staples are easy to make and just works best with you (bread, rice, pasta, etc). Then, throw in proteins and veggies of all varieties. I decide based on what’s left in my fridge and/or what’s on sale. Honestly, they all go with one another. They’re all friends.
3. Frozen is golden
The freezer is the future. A month will slip by, and while your eye bags have sagged and darkened, your frozen foods will remain just as appetizing. Do it up Costco style. Buy family-pack sized meat, Ziploc them in portions and freeze. Don’t have time to always buy fresh veggies? Buy frozen. Apparently it’s even better. Cooked too much? Freeze neatly labeled packets of leftovers.
4. Cook it all at once
The phrase “cook up a storm” is literal for a lot of us. Why wreck havoc in the kitchen more than necessary? Cook full meals or meal components in bulk over the weekend. Browned ground beef, steamed veggies, your favorite sauce – mix and match as the week goes.
5. Pasta is the cheapest meal
A bag of $1 ramen will feed you once but a good normal-sized package of $1 pasta feeds 4. Slap on sauce, something healthy and you’re still looking at a dirt cheap meal. It’s so broke-kid-friendly, my housemates and I started pricing things via pasta units, “That cute looking top there’s like 25 pastas.” It sheds light on how much you actually pay for stuff.
6. Grocery flyers are gospel
Most flyers exist to burn trees and give you false hope of thoughtful mail. Not the grocery ones. They exist so your wallet won’t burn.
7. When in doubt, call mom
She birthed you so chances are she knows your favorite eats and how to prepare them. She will tell you to cut it with the bacon, wash your fat pants and call your pesky little brother but she will solve all cooking problems, no matter how unfortunate (plus some side life coaching, no charge). Unfailingly, she’s always 10 dial tones away. Because all moms have superpowers, but you know that.