By: Nadia Bedrosian, CSUN Dietetic Intern
Cooking at home is an excellent way to save money on food and can be beneficial to your health. When you cook at home you are able to adjust ingredients to meet your taste preferences and health needs.
Still, there can be barriers to cooking at home. Researchers found that university students were found to enjoy cooking and eating with roommates, but felt barriers to cooking included: limited culinary experience, limited access to healthy ingredients, limited finances, and limited time. 1
At California State University, Northridge (CSUN) the National College Health Assessment II surveyed students on their habits and behaviors. Only 4% of CSUN students reported that they ate the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables (5 or more per day), 20% reported eating 3-4 servings per day, 65% reported eating 1-2 servings per day, and 11% reported eating 0 servings per day. 2
Additional barriers that may impact fruit and vegetable consumption in student populations include having a limited kitchen space and/or limited cooking appliances. Also, some individuals may feel that they aren’t very good at cooking and may become discouraged to cook.
Certain appliances can assist in creating a more food preparation friendly zone. If you decide it is a priority to you to prepare your own food, here are some ideas to help you get started with limited resources.
Cooking with Limited Kitchen Appliances
If you have a small kitchen space or no kitchen space some of these options can help overcome those barriers.
If you are able to save up this is a great tool to have to ensure your fresh ingredients stay fresh. Prices online are reasonable and you can always make the decision to split the cost with a roommate. (To optimize space, the top of the fridge can even double as an organizer for your seasonings and utensils).
Microwaves are often used to re-heat foods that have already been prepared, but they can also be used to create meals using fresh, frozen or shelf-stable ingredients:
- Rice, couscous, quinoa, lentils and oats can all be cooked quickly using a microwave. Use them as a side dish or as the base of a main dish.
- Use a microwave-safe container to make scrambled eggs. Stir-in seasonings and quick-cooking vegetables, like spinach.
- Make a single-serving muffin in a microwave-safe mug using flour, oatmeal, baking powder, spices, berries, milk or milk alternative, and sweetener of your choice.
- Potatoes can be cooked in the microwave and stuffed with your favorite toppings. Try combinations such: as cheese and broccoli, plain yogurt and chives, or nutritional yeast and chili powder.
- Choose your favorite type of tortilla and cheese to make a quick quesadilla. Microwave until the cheese is melted. Top with salsa or fresh tomatoes.
- Vegetables, fresh or frozen, can be cooked in the microwave. Top with lemon juice, fresh herbs, dried spices, hot sauce, or Parmesan cheese. Or serve with a side of hummus.
If you find yourself really busy during the week to prepare meals, you can set a time during the weekend or twice a week to prepare your foods for the week. Food preparation containers can be used to store your food for the week.
Resources for Food Assistance
The Marilyn Magaram Center (MMC) provides a FREE Food at CSUN map and calendar that highlights resources that provide free food, such as the CSUN Food Pantry as well as financial assistance that can be used for food, such as WIC and CalFresh.
For tips on eating healthy on a budget, MyPlate has suggestions at every aisle of the grocery store, such as buying vegetables and fruits that are in season, using beans as a low-price protein source, and buying canned seafood like sardines or tuna.3
Finding the right kind of recipes and techniques will assist with increasing your cooking skill and will allow you to create your foods quickly.
From our second edition Wellness Cookbook, the Chicken with Couscous and Orange is a great recipe to prep and eat throughout the week. The combination of fresh oranges, avocado and couscous work to create a delicious refreshing meal.
If you have limited kitchen appliances or ingredients, you can customize the recipe to use what you have in your pantry. Some ideas to get you started:
- The couscous can be substituted with another grain such as rice or quinoa and cooked in a microwave.
- The chicken can be substituted with another canned protein, such as chickpeas.
- Fresh oranges can be replaced with canned options, such as canned mandarin oranges.
- Oil, vinegar, spices, and seasonings can be adjusted to your taste preferences and ingredients available to you.
With a delightful variety of recipes, you can get more comfortable with cooking at home by following recipes as written, or using getting creative with ingredient substitutions. Stay connected to the Marilyn Magaram Center for recipe inspiration and upcoming cooking workshops.
- Murray DW, Mahadevan M, Gatto K, et al. Culinary efficacy: an exploratory study of skills, confidence, and healthy cooking competencies among university students. Perspectives in Public Health. 2015;136(3):143-151. doi:10.1177/1757913915600195.
- American College Health Association. National College Health Assessment II: CSU Northridge Executive Summary Spring 2018. https://www.csun.edu/shc/national-college-health-assessment. Published Spring 2018; Assessed January 20, 2020.
- Healthy Eating On A Budget. ChooseMyPlate. https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/budget Accessed December 15, 2019.