Amanda Hart, FCSE Educator and Purdue Alumni 2010
Welcome back to campus! I hope you had a great summer. Now that you are back, you get a fresh start. Take the time to unpack all your things and take a good look at your life/home/residence. What do you want to change this year? Sometimes moving into a new place stirs us to try something we’ve never done before. Maybe you’ll take that wall and turn it into a mural (just remember to paint it back to white before you move out.) Maybe you’ll resolve to wake up early and exercise. (Good luck with that. No, really…. Good Luck!) Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll decide that this is the year you learn how to cook. Cooking is a fantastic skill and a pastime that I have enjoyed for a long time. One of my earliest memories is being in the kitchen with my grandmother “helping” her make dinner. Even if you’ve never been in a kitchen before, now is the time to start. Why should you cook for yourself? Here’s why:
Reason 1: You are in control
While we can taste five distinct flavors: sweet, sour, salt, bitter, and umami, our brains are hardwired to really like fats, sugars and salt. This is leftover from our hunter/gatherer days when every day was a struggle to stay alive. Although we have moved on to a different way of life, our taste buds have not. When you eat out, restaurants try to capitalize on that genetic craving and add fat, sugar and salt to their foods. Read Crave Man for more information about restaurants and capitalizing on genetic cravings. When you have control of the ingredients that go in your food, you have control of your health. You might even notice a drop in the fat, sodium and sugar you consume. Now that doesn’t mean you won’t ever eat a Wendy’s Baconator and fries ever again, but you will be more aware of what you are eating. You control what’s organic and, on the other end, what preservatives you choose to eat.
Also, don’t forget about weight management. We’ve all seen (or been) the person who put on the Freshman 15 before they knew what hit them. When you cook your food, it’s easier to focus on the fruits, vegetables and lean meats and to stay away from the unlimited ice-cream bar.
Reason 2: Safety
If you have allergies or are sensitive to certain foods, you are probably doing some cooking of your own already and good for you! Maybe you don’t have any food allergies, but your significant other happens to, now you can cook for them with your newly acquired food preparation skills! Nothing says “I love you” quite like a home cooked meal that won’t kill your date.
Also, don’t forget about the wonderful world of food-borne illnesses. And yes, they are just as gross as they sound. Bacteria or chemicals can contaminate the food you eat, and then hang out in your guts and make you sick. Awesome, right? If you want to know more about these lovely critters (which include bacteria, viruses and parasites) check out the USDA website. When you are in control of the preparation and handling of your food, you are given the opportunity to monitor and confirm that it’s safe to eat. As you are cooking, keep some handy tips in mind.
- If it’s supposed to be cold, keep it under 40*F
- If it’s supposed to be hot, keep it over 145*F
- If you keep perishable food at room temperature, you have a 4 hour window before bacterial growth starts to explode. Don’t believe me? Check out this video. Gross!
Reason 3: It’s cost effective
When you eat out, not only are you paying for your food but there are many other things that are factored into that price. Think of all the goods, services, and people that goes into running a restaurant/dining hall and it’s easy to see why your burrito costs $8.00. When you are your own manager, head chef, and busboy it’s easy to see why your food will cost less.
I’ve got one major tip for you: buy in bulk. Sam’s Club in Lafayette is a great place to do this. If this is a little far to travel for you, Aldi is here in West Lafayette and it is also a great place to shop. You can find quality food items for much less than what you would spend at Payless or Walmart. When you buy in bulk, you are paying more up front; however the total unit price is less. This is a great strategy for things you know you will need and aren’t perishable. These things include staple items such as rice, pasta, dried beans, paper towel, dish soap, ketchup, canned soup and flour. These things will last a very long time as long as you store them properly.
Reason 4: Cooking is FUN!
Cooking can be a simple act that holds so many rewards! Cooking gives you the opportunity to show self-expression and go on a food adventure without leaving the house. You will learn new skills while sharing bonding time with your friends and family. You can use your artistic and creative skills and feel a sense of pride in creating something edible and beautiful. Cooking is nourishing for the mind, body and the soul. And goodness knows during stressful times (finals, anyone?) we all need something to help us relax.
Yay! You made it to the end! I’m glad you heard me out. Now that you’ve heard my reasoning, let’s hear yours. Why do you cook?