A guide to healthy cooking in college

By Julia DiPietro, Staff Writer

College students who have never cooked before might find it daunting to make good meal choices, but General Tso’s Monday and Taco Tuesday are only good so many times before they get old. 

Lindsay Wilson, a registered dietitian with Pitt Eats, said students don’t need to be professional chefs to utilize their dorm’s kitchenette, nor do they have to cook basic recipes. She said students should utilize the internet to find microwave recipes tailored for college students.

“Cooking in your residence hall isn’t just microwaving canned soup, packaged ramen noodles, or mac-and-cheese cups. You would be surprised at what you can cook with little to no equipment,” Wilson said. “There are quite a few cookbooks dedicated to dorm cooking, mug meals and microwave meals that are perfect for cooking in the residence halls.” 

For students in a time crunch before morning classes, Wilson suggests making simple egg recipes throughout the week.

“Crack one to two eggs into a large microwave-safe mug, add a splash of milk, stir until blended and microwave until done — usually about one minute per egg,” Willson said. “This can be eaten plain, added to a bagel with a slice of cheese and deli turkey for a quick breakfast sandwich, added to a whole wheat tortilla with salsa and avocado for a breakfast taco, or mix in chopped veggies or diced deli ham for a microwave omelet.” 

Wilson also recommends tasty treats like mug cakes. For students living in a dorm, microwave cooking is an extremely efficient option, with options for every skill set. 

“You can buy [mug cakes] ready-to-cook from grocery stores — however, you can create your own from scratch with a few key ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs, milk, salt, baking powder and oil,” Wilson said. “If that feels a little overwhelming, start simple with microwave oatmeal or no-cook recipes that can build your knife skills, such as guacamole, no-bake energy bites and overnight oats. Recipes exist for every skill level and dietary preference.”

Students entering college might not have a thorough understanding of nutritional eating and how to navigate misinformation on the internet. Wilson said to watch out for specific terms marketers use when doing research on nutrition. 

“We hear catchy marketing terms like ‘superfoods,’ ‘immunity boosting,’ and ‘fat busting’ that make us want to buy and consume those foods,” Wilson said, “while other foods get demonized with marketing terms like ‘dirty,’ ‘toxic,’ and ‘bioengineered,’ which are intended to intimidate and scare consumers. It all leaves people confused on what to eat to stay healthy.” 

Additionally, as a nutritionist, Wilson said she sees a lot of people making mistakes when looking for healthy eating and dieting tips, which are not sustainable for long term eating habits. 

“Focus … on small changes you can make that are sustainable over time. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating,” Wilson said. “Nutritional science has evolved to focus on the healthy dietary pattern over time and getting rid of the notion that one particular food or one meal will make or break our health.” 

Jack Finegan, a junior business information systems and supply chain management major, lived in a dorm during his first year at Pitt. He said he used his kitchenette to make eggs, which are a versatile, easy food for a healthy diet.

“I made a lot of breakfast before class. Two over easy eggs, fried ham, two pieces of whole wheat toast. Simple but great breakfast. I still make it,” Finegan said. “Some other notable dishes included chicken fried rice, eggs in a hole and chicken parmesan. I used a lot of fresh vegetables.” 

Students who want to use their meal plan for groceries can use dining dollars at stores like Forbes Street Market, according to Scarlett Hudson, a junior biological sciences and gender, sexuality and women’s studies major. 

“If you’re extra creative, you can use meal swipes to “go shopping” in the dining hall — I liked to get large amounts of ingredients like fresh-cut fruit and vegetables at Market,” Hudson said.

Hudson said students in college can still prioritize their health while in charge of the food they put in their body.

“Going to college and being faced with the possibility of losing that outlet was challenging for me, so I was determined to find a way to cook no matter where I lived,” Hudson said. “It can be overwhelming to have to suddenly do all your own shopping, cooking and cleaning, but it’s amazing what you can do with a microwave and an air fryer.”

Sometimes students get innovative with sprucing up their kitchen, Finegan said. Once they learn the cooking basics, it can be fun to test out new recipes with others.

“I broke the rules a little bit. I think I had the best kitchen set up in the entire building. I had two microwaves — one was given to me as a tip at my job, one came with the dorm — a dual burner and a toaster oven,” Finegan said. “I expanded on it, so the size was never really an issue, and I had a pretty large suite with six total roommates. It was fun cooking for everyone.”