When prepping for college, I had everything all lined up: coordinating extra-long twin bed sheets, a college-ruled notebook for every class, one of those really annoying graphic calculators, and of course, my day-planner.
What I didn’t have was a kitchen.
You see, life on campus is really kind of this cruel survival-of-the-fittest game pitted on teenagers just barely old enough to make life decisions on their own, let alone know how to cook a frittata.
“Okay, so look,” I would think to myself, “you expect me to live on my own, and cook for myself, too? What do you think this is, Little House on the Prairie?”
But I survived, thanks to the help of a generous meal plan, and plenty of Ramen noodles. Eventually I would move off campus, and into an apartment of my own. It had the standard white walls, a cream carpet, and a gated entrance. I was living the college dream.
“...Wait. This apartment doesn’t come stocked with three meals a day?” You can tell I was a pretty disillusioned college student.
I had to learn, and learn fast, how to find ways to well, survive. I mean, in all seriousness, survival wasn’t really as much of a goal as was, say, waking up for class on time. So, in looking back at my formative years, if I had to pass along some words of wisdom to would-be college students, and mothers of college students, it would be summed up in the following list:
The Quintessential College Kitchen Needs
GROCERIES Duh. This is a given. But what should you buy? Generally, I like to stick to the basics, because with basics you can go most anywhere.
Milk, eggs and bread – The trifecta in groceries. If you have these three items, you will always have a meal.
Cereals – What’s easier than a bowl of cereal and milk?
Salad fixin’s – Bagged lettuce, or heads of lettuce, and then whatever else
you’d like to go on top. Nuts, fruits, croutons, cheeses. Salads are super simple to make, and they’re a great place to explore flavors.
Canned soups and vegetables - These have longer shelf lives than buying fresh. They’re also cheaper. Of course fresh is better, but when you’re in and out of study groups, a college student can be kind of crunched for time. It’d be worse to have your fresh veggies, and consequently all that money, go bad.
Proteins - Ground beef, chicken breasts that you can freeze, and lunchmeats for on-the-go sandwiches, etc. I always tried to have a protein of some kind paired with a vegetable and an additional side, like rice or potatoes.
Instant meals – This is a broad category. This can include minute rice, instant grits, or just-add-water sides. You may also consider picking up a few freezer meals. Most grocery stores these days have great options that are cost-effective, too.
TOOLS When you’re planning your first college kitchen, you might be just as clueless as I was. Here’s a list of things that would have made my life a lot easier.
Pots and Pans – A good set of pots and pans should include a stockpot, a few saucepans, and skillets.
Measuring cups – Contrary to popular belief, measuring cups are different than drinking cups. Who knew?
Knives – Just remember, a sharp knife is a safe knife. Or something like that.
Food storage – Since you’re going to be cooking, you’ll likely have leftovers. Save money by storing your leftovers in airtight containers.
Slow cooker – With a slow cooker, you can set something up in the morning and have it cook while you’re at class. You’ll enjoy coming home to a freshly cooked meal. Another great way to have leftovers.
Like I said, these are really just the basics so that you’ll be able to put food on your plate every day. An expanded list might include mixing bowls, bakeware, and a hand mixer... but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
And in closing, enjoy college!