Smoke fills the air of my kitchen as I frantically run with a dish towel from fire alarm to fire alarm, swatting away at the burning stench of charred toast.

One of my housemates asked what happened and another nonchalantly replied “Juliette’s trying to cook,” to which the other said “say no more.”  

This scene is disturbingly typical in my life. I struggle not only to cook, but also to grocery-shop for myself. The transition from the on-campus meal plan life, to that of a barbaric upperclassman, is a difficult adjustment for all, but for some, it is much, much more difficult.

Often, coming home following a long day of cumbersome study groups and last-minute papers, I am absolutely famished. I open my fridge and to my surprise, the only items on my shelf of the refrigerator are a package of nearly expired smoked-salmon and a jar of chipotle aioli.

I’m tempted by the luscious trays of greens and fresh berries my housemates have stashed away, but I couldn’t take those. That would be untrustworthy. So I am stuck with a strange salmon and aioli combo smashed between two stale pieces of bread. Just sad.

Everyone handles the transition to off-campus eating differently. For example, all of my housemates are on different levels of cooking and meal prep. One of the housemates wakes up early and makes herself oatmeal with a mountain of toppings, one has shelves of ramen noodles and half a freezer full of chocolate muffins from Costco, another thinks she’s Gordon Ramsay. Then there’s me, who somehow always burns toast and can’t even cook a “just add water” recipe for pancakes.

You can find me darting my way to class with a hearty meal composed of a bag of orange flavored dried cranberries and an uncooked Pop-Tart.

Living off-campus calls for frequent grocery shopping and cooking and in my case, a pitiful attempt at cooking. I often hear my housemates and other upperclassmen complain when their grocery bill is a measly $57. Somehow I rack up $144 worth of groceries in my cart and manage to run out of food quicker than them. I blame the high cost of prepackaged foods and feel targeted by grocery stores as a “culinarily challenged” being.

It is very obvious which grocery cart is mine. It typically contains seven to eight bags of chips, hummus, pepperoni, pickles and an assortment of questionable, random items such as a fully-prepared pork tenderloin, cilantro and jicama. An adequate cook’s shopping cart typically contains items such as salad makings and chicken breast.

My housemate, who’s convinced she’s starring on a cooking show, recently prepared a beautiful chicken stir-fry with a colorful medley of veggies. I was enamored by her creation and asked her if they were frozen beforehand. She replied, “No, I simply bought a bunch of vegetables and cut them up.” I replied in disbelief asking how long it took. “It took like four minutes,” she said.

Not only do upperclassmen have to frequent the grocery stores, they have to look up recipes and shop according to what those require.  

Hearing how easy preparing this gourmet meal was for her felt like a slap in the face. I reacted by whispering to myself “let’s get ourselves something prepackaged.” Next, I slinked away to the freezer, which my food takes up 90% of and grabbed some pot stickers which I bought in bulk.

Recently, I have decided to give cooking another shot. I texted my parents a picture of me cooking chicken and my mom asked if it was staged. My dad said he had to heavily zoom-in on the picture to make sure it was me. The level of shock my own parents had due to the fact that I was legitimately cooking saddened me. I want to do better. I need to do better.

What I and many fellow upperclassmen do would be considered more assembling than cooking. Peeling the plastic lid off a frozen meal and popping it into the microwave is not cooking, nor is slapping a few pieces of meat and a slice of cheese in-between bread.

One of my friends said, “Juliette, you’d love this YouTube channel I found which targets college students who have no idea how to cook and teaches them very basic recipes.” The room erupted in laughter at my mercy, but I took this harsh roast as inspiration to force myself to learn some basic cooking skills to T-pose on my haters.

Although I am continuing to attempt cooking, getting a Community Meal Plan at the COG is something to consider. There are four different options for community meal plans on the Zag Dining website. The plan with the highest number of swipes has 110 and is called the “Community Loyalty Plan,” priced at $855. The “Community Sinto Plan” has the lowest number of swipes with 30 and costs $275. Without a meal plan, swiping into the COG costs $7.78 for breakfast, $9.29 for lunch and $10.55 for dinner.

For a meal plan to be useful for students who live off-campus, it depends how you use it. The COG is taken for granted by many during the underclassmen years, but as an upperclassman, all of a sudden, the COG is an absolute palace. Ways to maximize the COG experience include bringing out snacks and bringing in to-go containers to grab meals for later. Having the option to get a meal on-campus is also convenient if you live far away and don’t want to shuffle home in the cold multiple times a day, only to eat a frozen taquito.

A combination of a small meal plan and meal-prepping is a power play which has been successful for many upperclassmen.

Whether you burn any food you touch, or whip up a Gordon Ramsay-caliber meal on the daily, the transition to off-campus eating is a struggle which calls for constant gratitude toward frozen food and the COG.

 

Juliette Carey is an arts & entertainement editor. Follow her on Twitter: @Jujcray.

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