Living in a dorm on my campus comes with having to purchase a mandatory meal plan, unless you live in a campus apartment. After two years of living in traditional dorms, I moved into an on campus apartment and decided it was time to ditch the meal plan. Going without a meal plan was exciting, (because campus food was starting to gross me out) but also a little intimidating. If you're in the same boat as me, here are some tips and tricks to cooking on your own. 

1. Know what you need

coffee, beer, tea
Collette Block

When you're without a meal plan, one important step to take before venturing out to the grocery store is taking a look into your fridge. Know what you have and what you need to restock on. I've made the mistake of not doing this before and I ended up with two cartons of almond milk, and no bread. 

#SpoonTip: Make a list! Whether it's typed out on your phone, or a physical list you can cross things off of, make one. Mental lists seem like a good idea, but can leave you forgetting important items!

2. Know your grocery stores

beer, wine
Zoe Zaiss

Knowing your options is crucial for deciding where to buy what. Know which stores around you have the best prices and for what foods, quality, etc. is helpful in planning your outing. Some food stores may have better prices on produce, some may have better snacks. If your lucky you'll find one fits all your needs!

3. Split the basics with your roommates

spatula, spork, ladle
Jocelyn Hsu

Splitting groceries entirely with another person or two is not easy, but for essential items such as oil, cooking spray, condiments, dish soap, paper towels, baking soda, or anything else you can think of, splitting the cost or alternating when each of you will buy, is worth it.

#SpoonTip: Before arriving at your apartment, talk with your roommates to decide who will bring what cooking supplies. You don't want to end up with three sets of measuring cups and no pots or pans!

4. Pack travel-friendly meals

pastry, cake, butter, sweet, jam, sandwich, toast, bread
Christin Urso

If you're like me and don't have a lot of time to go back to your room in between classes, packing on-the-go meals is important. Spending money on campus for food can seem easy and tempting, but packing your meals and snacks is a much more budget friendly option. My go-to when I'm short on time is the classic PB&J sandwich, but you can get much more creative than this! Invest in some to-go containers and fill them with salads, pasta, or any other meal you can pack that does not require that much time. 

5. Find easy staple meals

tea, feast, pepper, vegetable
Vicky Nguyen

Every now and then, it's fun to get creative in the kitchen and find new recipes to make. However, most of the time I opt to cook several of the same easy-to-make meals. Find what works for you and your diet, and regularly buy what you need to make them during your trips to the grocery store. You can keep it interesting by changing up ingredients here and there so it's not so repetitive. For example, oatmeal for breakfast is a good staple, but switch it up with different toppings. For dinner, rice and beans are great and fairly inexpensive- find fun spices, or other add-ons for new flavors. 

6. Your microwave is your friend

beans, tea, beer, coffee
Leanna Smith

Microwaveable meals don't always have to come in a cardboard boxes and loaded up with sodium. Use the microwave to your advantage. A good staple to have is a 3 or so minute rice which can be found at many grocery stores (my go-to is this box from Trader Joe's). Other options could include microwave friendly bags of frozen veggies, oatmeal, potatoes, soups, etc. Also, leftovers are key and good to pop in the microwave the next day.

So, after almost a full two semesters of doing this cooking thing on my own, the verdict I came to is that I like it way better than having a meal plan. Though grabbing food on campus can be quick and convenient, I don't regret my choice. I even grew to like cooking for myself and my friends. Don't stress if next semester you'll also be on your own for food, if I can do it, you can too!