Cooking after College: The Ultimate Guide to Life after Ramen
Cooking Real Food at Home >>> Dining Out and Ordering In
There’s enough to learn in college without the pressure of mastering the kitchen, so there’s no shame in entering the “real world” without the skills to whip up healthy, delicious meals for one.
It’s not easy. What’s easy is relying on take-out and frozen meals.
But home cooking doesn’t have to be rocket science. With a little planning and the right tools, it can even be…wait for it…fun.
Yes, it’s true! Cooking can become a hobby in which you get to express your creativity, experiment, and learn how to both nourish yourself and treat others. Cooking for yourself means you’ll eat healthier because you’ll know exactly what’s going into your food and you won’t be adding empty calories or unnecessary chemicals.
Buying groceries and preparing your own food will also save you unbelievable amounts of money. It never seems this way after you drop $100 during a big grocery store visit, but the foods you buy there in bulk will last you weeks, whereas you get only a few servings of food for $25 or more depending on where you dine out.
Plus, there’s just something that feels good about cooking yourself a grown-up meal after you’ve left the comfort bubble of college and your cafeteria visits. Your beautiful meal may even be worthy of an Instagram! #AdultStatus
Here we’ll show you everything you need to cook after college. That way, when Mom and Dad come to visit your place, you’ll show them you learned more than how to write a thesis over the last four years.
First Step to Gourmet You: The Ultimate Shopping Experience
Where to Shop: If you’re looking to save some change while you shop, there are clear winners when it comes to lower-priced groceries. Try shopping at these supermarkets, and see which has the brands, atmosphere, and products you best suited to your lifestyle. Depending on what you’re looking for, or if you’re shopping for a special occasion or party, it might be worth stopping at pricey places such as Whole Foods. But for your usual shopping trips, try places such as:
- Market Basket
- Trader Joe’s
Portions to Buy: It will save you money to buy in bulk when you can, but if you’re cooking for one, as many new college grads are, it won’t always make sense to by everything in bulk.
Try buying staples and non-perishables in bulk when you can, such as beans, rice, pasta, lentils, oats, and other grains, canned chicken and tuna, canned vegetables and meat cuts, bread, vegetables, and fruit that you can freeze. If you live with roommates, talk about cooking meals together or swapping nights when you cook for each other. This will help encourage you to cook and it’s much easier to cook for a few people instead of one.
If you need to cook for one, it’s usually best to buy your produce and dairy once a week to make sure you don’t buy more than you can eat and let it go to waste. If you get into a good cooking routine, you can usually use your dinner leftovers for an easy packed lunch the next day at work, so you’ll usually need less groceries than you think.
Nutrition: In college, it seems acceptable – a rite of passage even – to regularly eat microwavable ramen, mac ‘n cheese, frozen dinners, and Pop Tarts.
But with a full-time job (where you may sit all day), less time to exercise, a slowing metabolism, and more stress, it’s more important than ever to eat healthfully.
You can still indulge, but it’s time to cut out the packaged, processed food and eat real meals with the nutrients you need. When you fuel your body properly, you’ll have more energy to get through your day, excel at your job, and still have time to hang with friends and catch up with mom on the phone.
Here are some easy ways to make your shopping list healthier:
- If it doesn’t come from the earth, limit your consumption
- Your list should be colorful
- Your list should be balanced, with proteins, grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy, unless you’re following a special diet
- Swap processed carbs, like white pasta, for healthier ones, like whole grain pasta, or an ancient grain like quinoa
- Ask if you can make some of the things you’re buying, like salad dressing, with cheaper, healthier ingredients
Money-Saving Tips: Before shopping, simply do a web search for coupons to the store you’ll be going to; even if you can’t print out coupons, most stores will accept digital versions on your phone. Subscribing to your local newspaper will also help you get clip-able coupons.
You should also sign up for email alerts for sales and coupons from your favorite stores, as well as follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instragram. Often just liking a supermarket chain on Facebook can get you a coupon or discount.
Another tip: take advantage of rain checks and price protection. If you head to a store to buy a sale item and find that they’ve sold out, you can always ask the cashier for a rain check, a slip of paper or card that allows you to get the deal on the same product even once that sale has ended. With price protection, if you buy a product and see that it’s on sale just a few days later, you can request the difference in money back.
Creating Your List: Simply writing up you shopping list can be overwhelming; it’s easy to forget things or buy something you already have if you don’t have a chance to take stock of your fridge and pantry first. And what if you don’t have the recipes you wanted to make this week on hand? Shopping without a good list can be frustrating and leads to impulse buys that often go bad.
But there are ways to simplify and fool-proof the shopping list process. Try an app such as GatheredTable. It lets you input your diet (omnivore, paleo, vegetarian, pescetarian, vegan), any food allergies and likes and dislikes, then sends you a weekly meal plan with recipes from the site, as well as any outside recipes (such as ones from the Rada blog!) that you add to your plan throughout the previous week. It creates a shopping list for you based on your recipes and the number of people you’re cooking for, helping you to navigate the grocery store like a pro.
The app also remember what you’ve recently bought, so it will ask you if you need more of say, a spice, before adding it to your list. Plus, if you’re super strapped for time, or live in a big city where grocery shopping is nearly impossible (hour-long lines, no car to haul groceries home in), GatheredTable offers the option to order the groceries you need for your plan from grocery delivery service PeaPod. If you opt for this service, there’s zero excuse for not cooking; you’ll have the exact groceries you need for the recipes you plan to make that week, delivered to your doorstep during a time you set. Talk about streamlining the shopping experience.
Keep Your Food Fresh Longer: Americans throw away about 25 percent of the food and beverages they purchase. Don’t want to be part of this money-wasting stat? It’s all about how you store your produce.
- Separate your fruits and veggies. Some fruits give off ethylene gas, which can make vegetables break down faster. Apples, cantaloupe, honeydew and apricots are especially gassy.
- Wash berries in one part vinegar and three parts water, dry thoroughly, then place in the fridge in a container.
- Place vegetables at the bottom of the fridge where it’s coldest.
- Make sure produce has room to breathe in your fridge and isn’t being smothered by other products or bags. If produce must be in a bag, make sure it’s perforated.
- Wash leafy greens, dry, then wrap in paper towels and place in a perforated bag in fridge.
- Buy produce last, that way it spends less time in your cart before making it to your fridge.
- Not all produce has to go in the fridge; store potatoes, onions, garlic and squash in a cool, dark pantry. Tomatoes should always be stored at room-temp. And bananas, pears, apples, citruses, melons, pineapple, pomegranate, watermelon, eggplant and jicama can be stored outside the fridge if you’re planning to eat them soon and they haven’t been cut up. This chart helps break down how to best store your food.
Don’t be Fooled: Unhealthy Masquerading as Healthy
Looking to stick to a healthy diet can be tricky when so many unhealthy foods market themselves as the next superfood. Your best bet in navigating the perilous supermarket aisles is to follow the nutrition guidelines above and avoid these unhealthy foods in disguise.
Low-cal/Low-fat Frozen Dinners
These seem like the easiest meal option ever and can help you stick to proper portions, but they tend to be loaded with sodium and preservatives, as well as low in nutrients you’d get from the same fresh-cooked meal.
Bottled Juice and Green Tea
Make your own juice, smoothies, and tea whenever you can. The pre-made stuff tends to have tons of added sugar, and for green tea, the bottled stuff often lacks the antioxidants that make tea so good for you!
If you’re cutting down on meat or follow a meatless diet, veggie burgers and meat substitutes are not the answer! They are heavily processed and often contain more fillers than actual vegetables, so check the ingredient list before buying, and eat in moderation.
Breakfast Bars/Energy Bars
These are such an easy on-the-go breakfast or midday snack, but in all reality, they’re just cookies in healthy packaging. Opt for a healthier, lower-sugar homemade version or a higher protein breakfast, like eggs or steel-cut oats, to keep you full longer.
Low-fat Peanut Butter
The fat from nuts is good for you, so there’s no need to get a low-fat version of peanut butter. This is true of many low-fat foods, such as yogurt. When the fat is removed, sugar often replaces it for taste. But sugar won’t keep you full the way fat will, so it’s best to go full-fat and eat reasonable servings.
Much like energy bars, the idea of trail mix is great, but it’s often loaded with sugar. Try making your own – it will save you money, too!
Skip These Major Grocery Money-Wasters
The grocery store is full of products you can make yourself, or at least save major money on by buying a differently packaged version. Keep these tips in mind:
- Buy loose popcorn kernels instead of the microwave bags.
- Vinaigrette dressing is super easy to make on your own, just combine 60 percent oil of your choice (olive, grape seed), 30 percent acid of your choice (balsamic vinegar, lemon juice), and 10 percent of other flavors (mustard, herbs). Voila!
- Skip pre-packaged salads and toss together your own for way less.
- Buy a reusable water bottle and you’ll never have to buy it in bulk at the store again. Plus, it’s more environmentally friendly! If you love flavored water, buy a water bottle with a flavor infuser and fill it with fruit for a lightly and naturally flavored water.
- There’s no need for pre-cut fruits and vegetables when you have awesome Rada Cutlery knives!
- Spice mixes are delicious, but you can make them on your own by combining spices you already have in your cabinet.
- Out-of-season produce is much pricier than what’s in-season, but it’s hard to recognize this or plan recipes around this. One easy way to make sure you’re getting in-season produce to work with is by joining a CSA or shopping at your local farmer’s market. This is also a great way to get organic produce for a cheaper price than in-store.
- Speaking of organic, if that’s important to you, know that it’s not necessary to buy all produce organic, which can help you save some money. You should buy these “dirty” fruits and vegetables organic if you can: Apples, strawberries, grapes, celery, peaches, spinach, peppers, nectarines, cucumbers, tomatoes, snap peas, potatoes and blueberries. The organic versions often have more of the antioxidants in them that make them so nutritious. These “clean” fruits and veggies are usually fine to buy inorganic because their farming practices use less pesticides and don’t make them less nutritious: Avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwi, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes.
The Ultimate Kitchen: The Equipment You Need to Cook Like a Pro
You gotta have the right tools for the job. Cooking can be really frustrating if you don’t; and believe it or not, creating your dream kitchen isn’t that expensive with Rada. They have everything you need to cook meals more efficiently and quickly, and that makes cooking fun! Here’s a breakdown of the utensils, tools and cookbooks that will make your life SO much easier.
Utensils/Knives: Once you’ve stocked your utensil drawer and knife block with these, you’ll have the tools for any recipe. Need to slice up an apple? Let Rada’s Regular Paring Knife do the trick.
Chopping herbs? Rada’s Cook’s Knife makes it easy.
Peeling a potato? Go with Rada’s Vegetable Peeler.
All of Rada’s knives and utensils feature surgical-quality, high-carbon stainless-steel blades, meaning they’ll easily cut through whatever food you’re preparing. Check out Rada’s top selling knives and utensils and stock up your new kitchen!
Kitchen Tools: Using your oven just got 100% easier. Stoneware (which you can use to bake pizza, bread, biscuits, cookies or casseroles) absorbs heat to maintain an even temperature, making everything you cook have that crispy, perfectly browned crust. The stones don’t need to be preheated, and can go from freezer to a 400-degree oven, making it super easy to reheat leftovers.
Cookbooks: Having cookbooks on hand makes cooking a lot less daunting – you don’t need to be a chef, you just need to be able to follow a recipe! Rada Cutlery has plenty that are perfect for the new college grad – they’re all about quick, easy, delicious meals. Try these ones out to save time and learn to make a dish you’ll love.
Find even more cookbooks here!
#ProTips for the New Cook
Cooking Meals for One or Two: Many recipes are designed with families in mind, which can lead to a whole lot of wasted food for you. Here are a few tips to make the most of cooking for a small household.
Make Dishes that Serve as a Full Meal – Preparing a dish with a salad, main item, and side can be a lot of work to serve one. But it’s important to get all the food groups on your plate! That’s why dishes like stews, grain bowls, casseroles, and hearty soups and chilies are your friend. You can make them all at once, include veggies, protein, grains, and i fats, serve them for one, and freeze or refrigerate the leftovers in one container. Using one pot or pan makes for simple clean-up too.
Have Diced Veggies, Fruits, and Single Servings of Meats on Hand – Recipes can take longer when you have to do all the chopping at one time. By cutting up veggies and fruits beforehand, it’s easy to toss some on a salad or into a dish that calls for them. If you buy a large cut or a big portion of ground meat, divide it into single serving bags and freeze them. That way, you’ll only have to thaw what you’ll use for yourself.
Use a Veggie as Your Dish – Some vegetables make the perfect single serving dish, like squashes, eggplants, zucchinis, or potatoes. Slice them open, fill them up with toppings, and bake for an easy meal.
Take advantage of muffin tins – You can make all sorts of yummy things in these (think mini quiches, casseroles, frittatas, and taco bowls), all in single, on-the-go servings!
Food Prepping for the Week: One major secret to cooking after college is mastering the weekly meal prep. Preparing meals for the week and refrigerating or freezing them makes post-college life so much easier. Sometimes you’re just too busy to cook. But that doesn’t mean you should eat a box of cereal for dinner. If you prep your meals on the weekend, you’ll be able to easily eat healthy all week.
If creating full meals on the weekends seems like too much of a time commitment, you can simplify the process. Choose one staple to cook and have ready to go for weeknight dinners. For example, you could make a big batch of rice, quinoa or potatoes to use as a base for your weeknight meals. Then when you get home after a long day, you just have to add some veggies, protein and sauce and you’ve got a meal. You could also cook several servings of chicken breast on the weekend and save them for you weeknight meals. Just add some grains and veggies and you’re good to go! Just prepping one ingredient for your meals over the weekend will help keep you on track.
It’s Time to Start Packing Lunch Again: Packing your lunch for work, instead of eating out or buying it at your office cafeteria, will save you a lot of money. And, if you’re cooking dinners for yourself, you can usually easily make a lunch from leftovers. Still, the carting-your-lunch-to-work thing can be way more pleasant with these tips:
Try a Bento-style box – These keep different foods separated, which can lead to a much more satisfying lunch (aka no soggy sandwiches from a side of juicy fruit)!
Keep dressings and sauces in separate small containers – Salads will taste so much fresher when they haven’t been soaking in dressing all day, and, with a small container inside a bigger one, that’s one more line of defense to stop dressing from leaking into your purse!
Use glass containers – If you’ll be heating up your food, you’ll want to make sure you pack your lunch in glass. It’s safer for you (as heating plastic can release chemicals) and it won’t stain from heating up leftover spaghetti.
The Most Important Meal of the Day: One of the hardest meals to make time for is breakfast (you’ll have to get up earlier!), but eating a full meal will definitely keep your energy up and help you be more productive. Here are some quick, filling ideas:
- Overnight oats with peanut butter, chia and honey
- Egg and veggie scramble
- Fruit smoothie with protein powder
- Peanut butter and banana toast
- Yogurt, fruit and granola parfait
Snack Like a Pro: You’re going to get hungry at work, probably before lunch and before you get to have dinner. Snacks make all the difference (don’t be a #hangry employee). Here are some super easy-to-prep ideas you can bring with you to work that aren’t another bar:
- Hummus and crudité
- Beef jerky
- Almonds and cranberries (or your own trail mix)
- Banana slices and peanut butter
- Apple slices and cheese
- Half a PB&J or turkey and cheese sandwich
- Greek yogurt
- Cheese and crackers
Recipes to Make You Love Cooking: Not sure where to start on your cooking journey? Take these recipes for a spin. They’re some of our favorites at Rada Cutlery, and they’ve been tested by a recent college grad to make sure they’re quick, easy and super yum.
Hosting a Party Like the Classy Adult You Are
Hosting your first real-person party can be pretty anxiety-inducing – You want plenty of good food and drinks to go around, without having to spend days whipping things up in the kitchen. Rada’s got you covered. Whether you’re looking for theme-specific recipes (Halloween! Friendsgiving! Luau!), or just want some good old crowd-pleasers, look no further than the Rada blog. They have tons of cute ideas, plus their Quick Mixes make it super easy to create delicious dips, cheeseballs and desserts.
Hosting a party is fun with these recipes and Quick Mixes:
And if you need inspiration for your next party, try these blogs. They’ll be sure to give you theme and decorating ideas, as well as recipes:
Other Ways Rada Can Help Post-College:
Speaking of Parties, Rada has you Covered for Holiday Gift Ideas
Heading home for the holidays can be stressful when you have to pick out smart gifts for your friends and family. What could be easier than getting them something they’ll need that you also know they’ll love? Rada offers cutlery gift sets that make amazing gifts for the cooks in your family and your friends (who may be aspiring home cooks like you). Check out these options next time you’re looking for the perfect gift for the foodie in your life!
Fundraising with Rada
Post-college life is filled with extra-curricular activities outside work, like rec leagues, book clubs, volunteering, and community projects. If you’re looking for a profitable way to fundraise for your group, Rada has a simple, fun program. You’ll sell products people love and can use every day, and make a 40% profit. Learn how Rada’s fundraising program works here, and get even more fundraising ideas and information here.
You’re Well on Your Way to Being an Amazing Cook
Learning to cook is an adventure. Sometimes it’s frustrating – like, smoke-detector-keeps-going-off-in-your-apartment frustrating – but it’s also super fun. Making your own food can teach you a lot about what you do and don’t like, and how you want to live. Learning to cook is taking control of a big part of your life. It’s major #adulting, and that feels good. Whenever you need a new kitchen tool or quick recipe, Rada Cutlery has your back. Happy cooking!