We’ve all been through the dorm phase, and we all are (or will be) going through the apartment/house phase of college cooking. We all know the nostalgia of missing mom’s cooking as we’ve spooned bland meals from the dining hall (or even worse, our own first attempts at cooking) into our mouths. But what students don’t often talk about is transitioning from dorm to apartment cooking, and how they experienced and overcame (and sometimes, failed) adulting, alone in the real world.

I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone in struggling to transition. Going from never needing to cook, to having to cook to accomplish basic survival, has been a trying journey. Statistics even point out that people our age spend only only an average of 11 to 17 minutes cooking and clean-up total. 

As one of those unfortunate souls attempting to adult, I have compiled a list of helpful discoveries, tips, and advice that will help your transition from a virgin cook, to an expert, in a few hundred words

You DON’T Need Every Utensil and Appliance Ever Created

Sabrina Yu

I come from a household with a mother who cooks daily and has attained a kitchen chock full of every gadget you can imagine: mincers, crockpots, fancy (and super expensive) potato peelers,  at least three baking sheets, and more. Suffice to stay, when I first tried to shop for items to fill my own apartment kitchen, I wanted to buy everything. And then I faced the reality of my situation: I couldn’t afford to purchase all these amazing kitchen utensils I was used to seeing, nor did I have space for it all. Sure, it might have made some aspects of cooking easier, and my kitchen look fuller, but I only had a part-time job to support myself, and I realized my mother hadn’t bought everything at once. She’d simply acquired things over the years. 

Taylor Kozloski

After realizing all these things, I really did my research. I also visited several stores with my mom. Target was the best option for me, because their items were relatively cheap and were of good make. Sometimes, Walmart will do the trick (especially for your wallet), or even your local grocery store, like Meijer or Kroger. Most may go for the whole kit and caboodle of equipment and supplies for their kitchens

But, I’ve discovered you only need six basic items to really begin your cooking career: a baking sheet, a pan (I prefer non-stick), a single pot, a spatula, a plastic or wooden spoon, and a butcher’s knife. The rest of history.

Starting Simple is Key

milk, coffee, peanut butter, oatmeal, cereal
Brooke Buchan

When I say this, I mean both with your ingredients, and with the recipes you make. It’s totally okay to find confidence in cooking items that you know you can whip up in ten minutes or less, or popping that frozen pizza from the store into the oven. All of it gets you comfortable and familiar with kitchen appliances. In my first initial week in my apartment, all I did was make the things I knew how to make from home. For example, I ate Eggo waffles almost every morning before I forced myself to actually cook an egg and make some toast. It was a learning curve that got me warmed up for the bigger recipes I was going to attempt later–because I wanted to try, and because I was getting sick of the same foods everyday. 

Starting simple with purchasing ingredients is also important to recognize. If you don’t plan on make five course meals right away, then there’s no point in buying an entire cabinet-full of spices. Snuff out that little voice in the back of your head that’s telling you you need everything. Once again, a few ingredients will get you pretty far for simple recipes: garlic and onion powder, salt and pepper, red pepper, & cooking spray. The spice section in the grocery store may overwhelm you–don’t let it.

When shopping efficiently and on-budget, it’s important to bring a list of food and ingredients you need or want before entering the grocery store to avoid any side-tracking into the candy isle. In addition, your first trip is usually your most expensive, as you stock up on some essentials. Don’t let it phase you. I’ve learned it’s all about building up your pantry.

Cooking Meat is NOT as Intimidating as it May Seem

meat, fish, pork, beef, ham, fillet, seafood
Jocelyn Hsu

I will admit I avoided any recipe that included cooking meat for at least three weeks. And let me tell you, to all fellow herbivores reading this–it was hard. By the end of that third week, I was craving meat. I finally caved. The next grocery trip I bought a pound of ground beef to make lasagna. And I will admit I was terrified to cook it–not because it was going to taste bad, or because I thought it had some mutant power to kill me from the inside if I ate it. But because I wasn’t confident in being able to tell how long to cook the meat. There are no labels to cooking beef in a pan on the stove. Only observation and experience are there to help you. I knew I should have helped my mom cook more!

Not going to lie, the lasagna turned out great–although the meat was edible, it was a little under cooked. It turned out cooking meat wasn’t as intimidating as it seemed. While the recipe might have been a bit of a fail, I discovered better ways to test whether it was done or not: cutting open the meat a little to check for any red or pink, using the touch test, and just cooking it for longer. If you have a meat thermometer on hand, as long as the meat reaches about 165 degrees Fahrenheit for poultry, and 160 degrees Fahrenheit for ground meats, it’s thoroughly cooked. And I’ve gotten better at it. Now I can make chicken and fulfill my meat cravings with confidence.

Adjusting Serving Sizes–Yeah, It’s A Thing

milk, dairy product, cream, flour, sweet, dairy, dough
Katherine O'Malley

It’s so easy to cook too much. Especially when it’s only for yourself, or the couple of housemates still in the apartment during break. Most, if not all recipes have serving sizes listed, and these can be adjusted according to your needs. If this is the case, you must remember to adjust the ingredient amounts for the recipe as well by simply dividing each measurement in half, or thirds, according to your serving size preference.

On the other hand, I’ve discovered that sometimes I like to make more food so I can have leftovers for another day when I don’t feel like cooking. Others may not like leftovers. Either way, the Internet is your friend for accurate measurement needs and questions, even for those whose frenemy is mathematics itself!

Tip: There Are Hundreds of Recipes Out There

Judy Chen

Before coming to college my junior year, I wanted to be prepared. I spent two days attempting to compile a small book of recipes that looked tasty and seemed college student friendly, as well as possible to make with the small amount of kitchen utensils and appliances I now owned. I was completely sure I would only find a few recipes I would be able to attempt, with my limited cooking knowledge.

Turns out, I had nothing to fear. The cooking world on the Internet is thorough and it’s HUGE. From professional recipe websites, to sites that appear smaller and more personal, the food choices felt unlimited. It was like the moment when Squidward first eats a crabby patty–first surprise, and then revelation. Websites like MyRecipes, One Dish Kitchen, even our very own community at Spoon helped me explore the cooking world better. My favorite, though, by far, is Valerie’s Kitchen– the site is extremely friendly to its users, interactive, and each recipe will automatically alter the measurement portions of ingredients according to the serving sizes you prefer!

Housemates Make Cooking More Enjoyable

coffee, smoothie bowls, girls smiling, laughing, eating smoothies, smoothie, Ocean, Summer
Julia Gilman

Let’s face it–none of us like to share. I am especially stingy when it comes to the groceries that I purchase myself. Honestly, I could probably live a long, comfortable life during the zombie apocalypse, with the way I conserve and try to use every food item.

Nevertheless, cooking with other people is just as fun, if not more so. Not only will it be easier on your wallet if you sometimes divide up meals during the week, as well as not having a week’s worth of leftovers, but taking the time to cook together is a great way to bond and see each other if you have very hectic class schedules during the day. I know I have learned to appreciate those moments that I can cook with everyone.

The More You Cook, The Better It Gets

Veronica Kampfe

There’s a saying: practice makes perfect. Cooking is no different. I never saw myself as the girl that would enjoy slaving away in the kitchen to cook everyone a hot meal, or even having the time to do it. But I’ve learned to make the time.

It’s rewarding when I want to procrastinate on homework, distract myself, or just have a hot meal awaiting for my growling stomach after a very long day in class. Also, it’s satisfying, to know that I can take care of myself with more ease than I began. I feel like an adult, just trying to adult in the adult world, and actually being successful at it. And that, to me, is more important than anything else in the world.