Classes can be scary, but the kitchen doesn’t have to be

Cailley Hammel, MCT

Your first apartment – if you’re a typical college student, it can be a little overwhelming. You’re out of the cramped dorms, a good thing, but you’re also out of the dorm cafeteria. Cooking real meals for yourself may sound intimidating, but with the right tools and trusted standbys, cooking on your own can be done quickly, cheaply and, most importantly, in a healthy way. But first, you need to set up your kitchen.

To help you get off to the right start as fall semester begins, we’ve assembled five lists of five tips that will help you get started in your first kitchen.


Nicole Cormier, author of “The Everything Healthy College Cookbook”, offers some advice for eating and cooking healthy in your new digs: When buying groceries at the store, shop the perimeter — that’s where you’ll find the healthiest food. When choosing vegetables, fresh is always best. If prices are high and produce is out of season, frozen vegetables are another alternative. Canned veggies, while not as ideal as fresh or frozen, are an OK alternative as well.

“Rinse them well so you get rid of up to 90 percent of the sodium,” Try a new, healthy food like quinoa. “It’s this up-and-coming whole grain that more and more people are finally catching onto; it’s been around forever,” she said. “It’s a superfood because it’s a protein and a fiber.”

It’s also versatile — use it in salads, stir-fry and tabbouleh, among other things. Go green and make your own window box. That way, you can grow your own herbs and spices year-round. Before you go shopping, make a list. But organize it according to categories like fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains, snacks and fluids.


1. A cookie sheet: Sure, you can bake cookies, but you can use it for just about anything you need to bake in the oven.

2. A mixing bowl: Better yet, invest in a set of stacking mixing bowls. They’re inexpensive, and you’ll have the right-sized bowl for anything from mixing to serving to storing.

3. A slow cooker: You probably didn’t consider taking a slow cooker to college, but it’s a great tool to use.

4. A colander: Otherwise known as a strainer, a colander is indispensable. Use it for all of the pasta you’ll be making, or for draining fruits and vegetables.

5. A nonstick pot, pan and skillet: OK, that’s three items, but you will need an assortment of pots and pans for stovetop cooking. Although you might be tempted, avoid buying the cheapest pots and pans you can find. They can be coated in chemicals that get into your food, and cheaper pans are likely to wear out quickly. Instead, invest in some better quality that’ll last.


1.Measuring cups/spoons: While it’s perfectly fine to experiment with your cooking, you might want to start off by measuring each ingredient. That way, you’ll know how to adjust the flavors for next time.

2. A spatula (pancake flipper): It’s a little like the Swiss army knife of kitchen tools. Get a nonstick spatula and use it for cooking eggs, flipping pancakes and burgers or as a serving tool — you’re sure to come back to it time and time again.

3. A cutting board: You might want a few in different sizes and thicknesses. Some are thin blocks of plastic, and others are thinner and can bend, allowing you to move food around easier and funnel it into pots and pans.

4. A can opener: It’s one of those small things you forget about until you need it.

5. Set of knives: Like the pots and pans, think about quality more than what’s cheap. You can purchase a good set of knives, but there are three big ones to look for: a chef’s knife, a bread knife and a paring knife.


1. Braise: This involves cooking meat or vegetables in butter or oil until brown, then cooking it in a covered pot while immersed in cooking liquid on low heat for a long period. This tenderizes the meat and makes it more flavorful.

2. Simmer: To cook slowly on a lower heat setting. This is common in sauces and other liquid-based dishes.

3. Sear: Cooking quickly over very high heat, this seals in the juices of what you’re cooking.

4. Sauté: To quickly cook over high heat.

5. Steam: To cook over boiling water. This is actually better than boiling, as it retains more inherent nutrients.


1. Olive oil: Cormier advises you get in the habit of cracking out olive oil instead of butter. “(It’s) a monounsaturated fat, which actually helps your cholesterol levels,” she said.

2. Pasta: It’s great to have in the pantry because it has a long shelf life and is easy to make. Pick up a few different noodle shapes – and also other varieties. In particular, try whole grain pasta, which Cormier recommends.

3. Frozen vegetables: Cormier said there’s no excuse for skipping out on vegetables. Use them as a side dish, or part of the entree, or even add them to soups to make your meals more hearty and filling.

4. Chicken: It’s basically the meat version of the potato – it’s incredibly versatile. You can freeze it until you need it, and you can cook a large serving and use it throughout the week in other dishes like soups, salads, pasta and sandwiches.

5. Leafy greens: Making a salad isn’t hard. While grocery stores usually sell plenty of bagged varieties for a shortcut, it’s a lot more cost-effective to buy fresh heads of lettuce or spinach leaves and make a salad yourself.


1. Garlic powder: Garlic is both tasty and good for you. When you’re low on time, add garlic powder to your dish when you can’t crush or mince fresh garlic.

2. Basil: You’ll quickly learn how well basil and tomato go together. It works wonders in Italian dishes and on pizza, so give it a try.

3. Lemon pepper: Great for chicken and fish dishes, this spice adds a bite of citrus for some zing.

4. Crushed red pepper flakes: Another versatile spice, you can add it to just about anything for a nice kick of heat.

5. Some seasoning blend: Think Italian seasoning or any of the other numerous options for adding flavor to food. Experiment and see what kinds you like, and what you like to use them for.