Features, Tips, Tips and Trends

Channel Your Inner Chef: A Culinary Guide to Off-Campus Cooking

I believe everyone has an inner master chef within them. Some channel the fire and flavor of Guy Fieri, while others spark their inner gastronomic persona with the drive and urgency of Gordon Ramsay. At Boston College, off-campus living tends to be the first time many students are fully responsible for preparing their own meals, and from personal experience, the result isn’t always a Flavortown masterpiece. With a little seasoning and a dash of patience, I’ve enjoyed watching my epicurean talents ripen as I’ve matured into an off-campus resident eager to host her own Food Network show. Whether your go-to is the freezer section or you are ready to open a Michelin star restaurant, I hope these tips can help spice up your culinary skills and make your off-campus cooking experience a piece of cake.

Make a Game Plan

The first time I went grocery shopping to stock up my off-campus house, it was chaos. I made a list but was overwhelmed by the number of options. As a result, I grabbed random foods and checked out without half the items on my list. Now, to save time, money, and some of my sanity, I create an intentional list of meals and snacks prior to my grocery run. I begin this process by scanning my fridge and pantry to see what staples I’m low on. From there, I’ll brainstorm two meals I want to cook for dinner and plan to buy enough food for leftovers, whether for lunch or to freeze. I’ll also add kitchen staples I’m lacking and snacks I’m craving to my list.  

I find it helpful to dedicate one night to meal prep at the beginning of my week. I cook my protein for the week on Sunday or Monday night because my timing gets tighter and my tiredness picks up as the week goes on. If I’m packing breakfast and lunch, I prepare them the night before, so I’m ready to head out the door in the morning. I’ve noticed I maximize my time better if I eat my breakfast on campus. My go-to spot is the Rat, and I frequently pack a bag of granola and berries to pair with yogurt as an easy, mess-free, and fulfilling meal!

Stock Up on Those Staples

When a busy weekend hits, you’re swamped with midterms, or you’re craving something close to home, you’ll appreciate being stocked up on staple items. For me, this could be having a few extra RXBARs in the pantry, a pack of Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken in the freezer, or a bottle of olive oil to use as a base for a marinade or salad dressing. I also like to keep a general array of spices and my favorite condiments on hand to add a hint of seasoning and top any meal off. 

In the fridge, I recommend keeping fresh snacks that take longer to perish, like clementines, apples, or hummus. While I love my raspberries, spinach, and turkey cold cuts, these products don’t last as long, so I try to use them up within a few days. In the freezer, I recommend keeping pre-made meals for when busy days hit. I like keeping meat to defrost and marinate as well as some frozen rice mixes for when I want to cook a meal but don’t have time to go to the grocery for fresh goods. I also think it’s important to keep a few sweet treats stored in the back, as you never know when your sweet tooth will hit!

Keep It Classic and Shop Local 

Sometimes I want an abundance of options when grocery shopping. Wegmans, Star Market, and Costco carry a multitude of brands and food styles—and I love getting my favorite on-brand snacks when shopping at a larger grocer. While I have my classics, I also like to support smaller names and brands. At a larger grocer, you can do this by searching for products that are regionally based—local New England grocers tend to be cheaper due to their proximity. If you enjoy farmers markets, the Brighton Farmers Market is held on Wednesdays near campus, or you could venture down to the market at Copley Square on a Tuesday or Friday for your local goods. Nearby, I recommend going to Johnny D’s Fruit and Produce in Brighton—a personal favorite of mine. Johnny D’s is a family-run market full of fresh fruit and vegetables for relatively low prices. The inside of the store is homey, and you will go home with a bag full of hand-picked produce! 

Store Smartly 

While a kitchen off campus will likely feel much more spacious than the kitchenettes and mini-fridges of underclassmen housing, space is still limited, and I’ve found it helpful to be wise about how I store my food. In the fridge, group similar foods together, whether it be one type of product or all the ingredients for tomorrow’s dinner. I’ve also found that stacking heavier packages on the bottom makes it easier to locate foods and take them out of the fridge.

When it comes to leftovers, have some reusable containers on hand. This will aid your stacking routine and keep your meal better intact, as it will be less susceptible to getting smashed by other foods in the fridge. Containers make it easy to transfer leftovers into lunch as you can swiftly load them in your backpack as you head out for the day. This will help keep your food fresh and flavorful until it’s time to eat.

Keep Clean

It’s essential to check in with the state of your fridge and pantry. Taking a few minutes to clean out your cupboards allows you to visualize what you need more of so you can make smarter purchases. Perhaps you can consolidate two bags of Goldfish into one, or you can chuck that almost empty bottle of ketchup. I also recommend getting a head start on trash day and routinely wiping down your fridge, pantry, and counters. This will help your kitchen stay clean and clutter-free. 

Lastly, when cleaning, do a check-in of the types of foods you are eating. While off-campus cooking can be daunting, with the right routine and mindset, eating well-balanced meals isn’t too hard of a goal to reach. Your brain power will be further maximized, your heart will be full of gratitude, and your stomach will say bon appétit!

April 22, 2023