Mid-mester blues about your college kid’s meal plan account? Have you already refilled it a time or two? Wondering how they are ever going to make it through the end of the semester on a budget? Well, let us use the upcoming break, or home relocation if COVID has shut down your campus, to teach a few tips and tricks to make more out of your meal plan and take a bite out of the cost.
I reached out to a friend who teaches Introduction to Culinary Skills at a High School and asked her what few tips and tricks she hope her students leave the classroom with. Then I coupled that with some realities of dorm life and navigating your first kitchen to provide a few tips. So, whether you are a planner like me trying to appease the prep gods, a parent wanting to share some of your home comforts like a long distance hug, or just trying to save both you and your student some money, get ready for some quality time in the kitchen, and at the grocery store, with your college kid.
Now, of course, your college kid’s housing situation will determine what tips can be applied now and what will serve them well when they have access to a kitchen(ette). Either way, making sure they have the “basics” down is essential to them embracing cooking now and learning that it gets better (hear easier) the more you practice.
When you got the move in checklist there were a few things missing, trust me. Add to that list of “dorm essentials” some Microwave safe dishes. It was the first thing I borrowed from my roommate and then purchased as a college student. You can get through any missed mealtime or late-night hunger pangs with a few microwave-meal staples and at least one microwave safe plate, bowl, and mug. Fire up those leftovers, whip up some scrambled eggs, or make a “muffin in a mug” without the smell of burning Styrofoam, or the mess. Throw in a small set of measuring cups and/or measuring spoons too. This way they are not guestimating those critical add ins.
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- One sharp knife and a cutting board can change your prep game and options in a dorm. Being able to chop or portion items that you want to cook up or snack on now and save for later is critical to not being afraid of buying things larger than single serve. Bonus, these can easily be stowed in a dorm room or small kitchen and will serve many purposes. Quick veggie snacks to take on the run? Just slice, bag, and go. Sliced fruit, ooooh the luxury. Much cheaper buying in bulk vs. “take away” from campus. By a block of cheese, and cut, not unwrap, your own slices. Teaching the basics around the knife is an awesome life skill and one they will be able to use for many years to come.
- If there’s space, and housing allows it, a small grill to open up additional options for your homesick kiddo. This appliance can be both a convenience and approachable training on temperature and timing. While they can be avoided when you have a full kitchen, the Foreman Grill was a lifesaver when the options or timing fell short for me and my roomies in college.
- You successfully have them now thinking about leftovers and portioning their grocery store snacking haul so, you will also need containers for storage. Think zip-top plastic bags in all sizes or reusable glass or plastic containers. Have fun with making it their own with the wide variety of storage options, colors, sizes, styles. You can even make these stocking stuffers or Chanukkah presents this Holiday Season!
- Now, encouraging them to eat healthier from time to time doesn’t always have to mean cooking. Throwing together a salad or pre-making those Pinterest perfected mason jar salads, are also an approachable option. The dressing can make or break this from catching on. My go to easy salad dressing at home is tossing a ratio of 3:1 oil to vinegar into a small container with a lid, then adding something for taste, like mustard, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, shake up and go!
As a parent you always want them to be safe. At this point they know, knives are sharp, and grills are hot. But, it’s important to also make sure they practice safe handling and spoil rules. Always wash your hands before handling food. Fruits and vegetables should be rinsed prior to eating or cooking and a good rule of thumb is to keep raw chicken separate from other prep. “Sell By” is a guideline to use within the next 3-5 days and you should never eat anything left out proximately 4hrs and leftovers should only be stored for up to 7days or frozen.
You may not be able to immediately replace your college kid’s meal plan, but even downgrading could save you some money in the semester ahead. You are also championing a great life skill they will value for years to come.