Photo taken by Kacy Buxton

Throw out the take-out: Learning how to make a good meal

Good food means happiness, family, comfort and warmth. Especially if cheese is involved.  But without knowing how to plan meals or shop effectively and affordably, you just get hungry. 

For those on a budget, like many students, learning how to cook, meal plan, and grocery shop efficiently also helps to stretch the dollar and save time.

To get started plan out a menu for a week. “When I first started really cooking (which wasn’t until I got married two years ago), I would plan a week of meals. This helped me to know what to shop for and how to prepare in advance,” says Gracie Cherry, who graduated from Umpqua Community College in 2017 with an AAS in the Executive Business Assistant program. She is now working as an administrator and transaction coordinator for the Mast-Forney Real Estate Group in Roseburg.

Planning out a menu for a week prevents additional time consuming and expensive trips to the store. This also allows for fruit and vegetables to stay fresh before the next trip. Knowing the week’s menu will also help to save time when planning what to have for dinner.

Create five headings on a list: protein, dairy, fruit and vegetables, dry goods, other. Now add the ingredients you need to buy under each of the headings, after checking your pantry. If you have to purchase extra of an item, make a note on your list to plan to use the extra in a meal in the next week.

Oatmeal is an inexpensive breakfast option. The big box of plain oatmeal will go a long way. You can then add your own toppings; brown sugar, dried fruit, cinnamon, chocolate chips, canned peaches, nuts, peanut butter. Sandwiches are a quick lunch option.  Buying lunch meat at Grocery Outlet is affordable and they usually carry turkey, ham, and beef in low-fat as well as regular. They also carry affordable string cheese and beef sticks that make good lunch options.

When you are planning meals, dinner is the most important. Knowing ahead of time what you’ll make can help reduce dinner prep. “I prepare as much as I can the night before by thawing meat, chopping up veggies, whipping up a sauce, etc.,” Cherry says.

Something to keep in mind is to make enough so there are leftovers.  These leftovers can either be the next day’s lunch, or, if there is enough, they could be another dinner later in the week.  “I work full time so I know how hard it is to come home at 5 to 6 p.m. and not have a meal ready or leftovers in the fridge,” Cherry says. “I used to only make enough in one meal for my husband and I to have one serving each. Now, I generally cook enough so there are two lunches for the next day.”

Use your shopping plan as a store map. When in the produce section get all the fruit and vegetables that are on your list, so that you don’t have to walk back and forth all over the store. Then do the same with the rest of your list. This will not only help with keeping on track, but also with staying in the week’s meal plan.

Picture by Boone Olson

Cooking Instruction Resources

There are many resources available for learning how to cook, some cost while there are others that are free.  On Instuctables, there is a Cooking Class by Jessy Ratfink that teaches the basics of cooking for free. From knowing what supplies will be needed, to knife skills and then to baking, broiling and roasting, this class covers the basic know how to get started cooking.

For learning various techniques, BBC has many available to explore and learn.  From a glossary of cooking terms to how to quickly prepare vegetables.  Yet keep in mind that as BBC is a British company some of their terms are different than those in America.  They also have videos available for learning how to cook on their YouTube channel BBC Good Food.

For free recipes, Food Network has many available.  They include the recipe itself as well as a video to explain and help show how the cooking process is done. Now an open source website called allrecipes has many recipes with short videos on how to cook the food item.

Meal planning, shopping effectively, and cooking techniques are all important in the process of learning how to cook. “Don’t be afraid in the kitchen. Relax, be daring, explore the glorious food realms, read about the different food groups and how they play a role in your body, buy a recipe book, have fun!” Cherry says.

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