Tips for cooking on your own

Cooking all by yourself may seem like a daunting task, but we have some valuable recommendations that can make the process as smooth as possible!

By Lily McDonald

It is no secret that we all have easy access to dining halls and student centers here at Syracuse University. However, one day we’ll be living on our own. To prepare, I spent one week cooking dinner and making dessert for my family to see how much of a challenge this would actually be. 

Before coming to college I never had to worry about making dinner. My mom was always in the kitchen ready with a meal, or ready to support me if I decided to make something on my own.  Once I got to Syracuse, I had access to food at almost every corner, which made my “cooking knowledge” basically unimportant. However, as I go through my college journey I have quickly realized that this will not always be the case. When it comes time to live on my own, I will be required to make my own meals. I decided to get a jump start on my eventual responsibilities to prevent kitchen nightmares in the future. 

I quickly realized how hard it is to pick out a recipe. There are an endless amount of choices, so certainly don’t wait until it’s time to start cooking to decide what you’re making. Also, while this may seem obvious, make sure you have all the ingredients before starting the recipe. I found myself having to go to the grocery store in the midst of cooking because I was missing certain items needed for the meal. Especially when responsible for both dinner and dessert, it is crucial to keep track of all the ingredients involved in each recipe. 

One of the most important details I discovered was that you should always start prepping your meals long before it’s time to cook your dinner! Chopping onions, peppers, mushrooms, and other vegetables take much longer than you may realize. If you get this all done beforehand, it will make the process much easier. The involvement of equipment, such as a garlic press, can also assist in shortening the time needed to prep your meal. Read through the entire recipe to see what has to be done to get ready. If the chicken needs to be cut into cubes or strips, you can set time aside to get this done as well. Once you get all the intricate details finished, you can save yourself the frustration that comes from rushing through the process after missing an integral step. Since you’re on your own, prepping your meals is definitely a factor in getting the best result!

Another important fact to realize when cooking for yourself is that this meal is for you. The recipe may call for a certain amount of spices, toppings, or vegetables, but if you want more or less, you are certainly allowed to stray from the instructions. In my first attempt at making dinner, I made french onion chicken. I followed the recipe exactly and was disappointed when there were not enough of the toppings, diminishing the wonderful flavor. 

For my next attempt, I made a stir fry with broccoli, carrots, and peppers. I enjoy a lot of vegetables in my dinners, so I added much more than the recipe called for! I also love mushrooms, so even though they weren’t included in the directions, I added them. In my opinion, recipes typically don’t call for enough sauce either, so I doubled this part of the recipe for more flavor. I like to think of cooking as a sort of art in which you are allowed to be creative in the process. Do whatever you want to make the meal as delicious as possible for you!

When you are making dinner all by yourself, you will soon realize there are many steps involved in creating a complete meal. You may have to keep track of meat, poultry, vegetables, grains, or starches, all on your own. It is necessary to perfect the art of multitasking! Particularly when you are also responsible for making dessert, you have many different processes to think about. 

During my first attempt, I didn’t master how to accurately time the separate parts of the meal so they would all be done at the same time. The chicken may take 30 minutes to cook, but the potatoes and green beans also take 20 minutes, so you have to make sure you start the sides accordingly. When you throw in a dessert to the process, this adds a whole other set of steps. 

On the night I had to make both dinner and dessert, it certainly was a large undertaking. I decided to make a Funfetti cake with cake batter frosting for dessert, and a creamy keto chicken with vegetables for dinner. First, I made the cake batter and put it into the oven to cook. While the cake was baking, I began to prepare my meal. After the cake was done, I set it aside to cool, assembled the dinner, and began searing it on the stovetop. While also keeping an eye on the main meal, I made the cake batter frosting to decorate my cake with later. I frosted my cake after eating dinner, so I didn’t rush the process. As you can see, I had to keep track of many steps. In order to get everything done by yourself, you have to do several things at the same time. It is crucial to multitask when cooking on your own to create a complete, scrumptious dinner and dessert!

My delicious attempt at creamy keto chicken and veggies. Photo credits: Lily McDonald

Eventually, we will all be responsible for feeding ourselves once we venture out to live on our own. To avoid relying on takeout and pre-made dinners, cooking for yourself is an invaluable skill to have. If you practice putting together meals now, you can have an easier time in the future once it becomes necessary! This opportunity was eye-opening for me, and I am glad I was able to experience it. The feeling of creating a complete meal is extremely rewarding, which can make your dinner taste even better. Most importantly, have fun with the process and experiment however you like. Good luck and happy cooking!

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