Now that you are out of college, working full-time, and living on your own, you might be starting you hear a little voice in your head that starts to kick in when life gets settled.
“I can’t continue destroying my body with fast food.”
We have all been there, living by ourselves during that careful transition right after college and before starting a family, or maybe even prior to meeting that special someone. The feeling of freedom is overwhelming and exciting, but we have a tendency to forget about our bodies and proper nutrition. We think that we can get away with munching down on processed store bought Mac and Cheese for the rest of our lives. The problem is…we can’t.
What’s the solution? Well, you can sign up for one of those “We will cook it for you and deliver it to your doorstep” services, but let’s face it, if you’re right out of college you probably don’t have the money for it. Besides, when you opt for those meals you are still giving away control of what goes into your food and, in turn, your body. The second option is to learn to cook. Yes, I know, you just got out of college and thought you were done with learning things. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but life goes on and you must always continue learning.
Cooking isn’t as hard as it might seem. Generally, the idea is to mix a bunch of ingredients together for the desired result, like in chemistry class. Knowing how and what to mix under what condition is what you will need to learn to do. We suggest that you start with the basics. The first step might be the most expensive out of all the steps you will need to do on the road to culinary mastery, but it’s also the most important. You need to stock your pantry, fridge, and freezer.
Let’s start with the pantry. Anything that has a long shelf life and doesn’t need refrigeration will need to be stored in the pantry. This includes things like spices, salt, and chicken stock. You will use these types of ingredients to prepare a lot of your meals. Chicken stock is a base for many kinds of soup and sauces, and it is an absolute must to have handy. The same can be said for spices and salt. They give your dishes life and amazing flavor. No chef is able to prepare scrumptious food without seasoning; it’s just not possible. The next set of items you need in your pantry is grains. This includes pasta, rice, quinoa, and other similar dry ingredients which can be a base for many meals. Next, you should consider beans, which there are millions of.
Choose some of the basics and ensure they are available when you are in the mood for something that requires bean as the main ingredient. If you start with the basics like black beans and kidney beans, you would be surprised what you can make out of those. Having some dried fruit and nuts is also a good idea, as these will come in handy if you decide to make a pie or make something crusted with nuts. They are also great in salads. Overall, dried fruits and nuts are very versatile ingredients.
Be sure to keep some tomatoes around. The tomatoes in your pantry will not be fresh, but instead diced, pureed, or stewed and stored in a can. You will see calls for all of these varieties in recipes as you begin cooking more often. Every week before you go shopping, you should check your pantry to make sure it is still stocked with these basic ingredients. Oh, and one last thing…honey. Please buy some honey and put it in plain sight so you remember to use it. This ingredient is commonly overlooked but makes an amazing substitute to so many ingredients when a recipe calls for sweetness. And it’s also great for tea or coffee!
Now we move on to the fridge. The test for what will or will not go into the fridge is simple. Does it have to be refrigerated in order to sustain shelf life, or does it taste better cold? If the answer is yes then it goes in the fridge. Contrary to the pantry, space here can be more limited. So let’s focus on the absolutely necessary items. Butter and eggs, because let’s face it, a breakfast without eggs is a waste of time. You will also need to consider milk, cream or half & half, and Greek or plain yogurt.
At least one or two of these varieties will be a necessity, but you can defer to personal taste in deciding which to keep on hand. Condiments are next on the list, including but not limited to ketchup, sriracha, Dijon mustard, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. Finally, don’t forget vinegar. You’d be amazed how many meals this can go into.
The dark, deep side of the fridge known as the freezer also plays a big part in solo cooking. All frozen fruits and veggies go here. They will keep better this way and you don’t have to worry about using them right away. You might want to keep your extra butter which isn’t being used here as well. We all expect to find things like ice cream in the freezer because there will be a day when you are just not ready to face the world and only ice cream will make it better. Remember to occasionally clean out the freezer. Even though the temperatures are sub-zero bacteria and all sorts of nasty stuff can still multiply here and make your tasty stuff not edible.
Now that we have the staples stocked at home, it is time to shop for the specific meals that you will eat this week. Our suggested approach is to make a meal plan for the week and create a shopping list accordingly. As far as making a decision on what to eat, try hitting up your favorite culinary website (we like FoodNetwork.com) and just start surfing. Surf till your heart can take no more and you can’t help it but get in the car and go shopping.
Decide on exactly what you want to eat, keep an eye on the calorie count, and also make sure the recipes don’t have some unknown fruit or vegetable only found in the tropical rainforest of Venezuela with a price tag of an arm and a leg. Besides that, it’s all up to you. Start slow and move on to more complicated dishes. Even if you never become a culinary mastermind able to cook for an army, absolutely anyone can learn to cook for one.