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The challenges of cooking at college

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For many college students, cooking meals while away at school can pose a big challenge. While some students have prior experience with cooking and preparing meals, college is the first culinary experience that many students receive while being away from home for the first time.

“I feel like I had zero experience before coming to college and the hardest part of it was just not knowing where to start,” Keili Holt, a junior in apparel, merchandising and design, said. “I think it’s a lot of trial and error but it definitely helps if you have something to follow or someone with experience to help you.”

Gracen Jones, a senior in apparel, merchandising and design, believes her cooking has improved drastically since coming to college. She has learned how to cook certain meals without using a recipe and has expanded her cooking knowledge.

Some of Jones’ favorite meals to cook at home include tofu curry and ratatouille.  

“They’re quick and easy to make and also very delicious,” Jones said.

One issue that can pose a challenge for students without a vehicle on campus is transportation. Limited options are available for students to purchase groceries on campus. While some campus markets have small selections of grocery products available, students who are looking to cook meals beyond the basics will most likely have to travel off campus to one of Ames’ several grocery stores.

Students can take advantage of Iowa State’s CyRide bus service, which makes routine stops at many of these stores. The free service can be helpful to students without vehicles on campus who still want to make regular grocery trips without having to spend money paying for a mobile ride service.

For students living in campus residence halls, cooking meals can come as an even greater challenge. While kitchen situations vary at each of Iowa State’s residence halls, some are equipped with kitchenettes that provide students with the space and resources to cook their own meals. Due to the limited nature of these kitchenettes, they are sometimes occupied by other students, making it difficult to rely on for consistent use. 

Several of the campus residence halls require students to purchase a meal plan, which can deter many students from cooking themselves, as they have access to pre-prepared meals. For students who have schedules packed with classes, extracurriculars and jobs, ready-made meals are often the more convenient option.

“I work at Potbelly here and so it’s hard to motivate myself to cook sometimes when I know I could just stop in and grab a sandwich,” Reece Seery, a junior in finance, said. “When I have homework and other stuff going on, it’s usually just the easier option.” 

Despite a lack of time, experience or accessibility that challenges students, cooking meals independently is an important skill to learn as it teaches students both life skills while also promoting healthy options for those looking to stray away from takeout and packaged meals.

“It’s important for students to know how to cook good quality meals at college for health and fun,” Jones said. “I think getting together with a group of friends to cook a meal is a great way to reduce stress.”

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