If you can’t stand the heat, put on oven mitts

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Alright this is a subject of which, in my general experience, students fall into one of two categories: passionately for and passionately against. It&rsquo;s time to talk about cooking.</p>

If you’re really determined to save money then you’re going to have to learn how to cook. Maybe you’ll grow to love it, maybe you won’t. Eating out is more expensive than making food yourself (plus, it’s usually healthier if you cook at home). Hang on to the thought that each sandwich you eat in class means more dollars for a rainy day. Maybe limiting eating out to twice a month max means you get to go to Cuba next winter or, you know, pay your tuition on time. So here is a beginner’s guide to saving money by cooking.

1)     Make it yourself. The fact is half the things you buy at the grocery store you could probably make yourself for cheaper. Anything that has been pre-spiced, pre-cooked, pre-cut, or deboned for you has a markup. For example, never ever buy pre-seasoned meat. It is grossly overpriced and all they did was toss it in some spices. The added cost of seasoning that one package of meat compared to unseasoned is usually the same as buying a bottle of those spices (some of them are even premixed for you) and seasoning your own meat for months to come. And don’t ever think you can’t do it because you don’t have the “secret recipe”—every recipe known to humanity is now on the internet. All you need to do is type “DIY…” into the Google bar and it will be there. “DIY Red Lobster cheese biscuits” is my current favourite.

2)     Don’t cook every day. If you already don’t like cooking, having to do it every day will not make it better. You can pick one day a week, like Sunday, to be your “cooking day” and just make a big pot of stew or a humongous salad and then divvy it up into containers for lunches and/or dinners throughout the week. I recommend this method if you find yourself drained coming home in the evenings. If the thought of eating the same thing for a week bothers you, there’s also the option of just making larger portions when you cook so you mix leftovers with fresh food. I like a balanced meal of starches, meats, and veggies so I tend to make enough rice for two or three days the first night, then maybe I’ll cook an entire head of broccoli and have that leftover for the second night, and the third night I’ll finish the rice and veggies but double up on meat so I won’t have to cook meat again the next day. Schedule it out to suit your preferences and your class schedule.

3)     Get the right tools. Maybe you don’t know a saucier from a sauce pan, and that’s okay. If you’re going to cook, though, you will need some basics to get started, and yes it sucks spending money on oven mittens, but you know what’s cool? Your hands when they’re wearing oven mittens and not covered in blisters. Start with a spatula, a ladle, tongs, a paring knife, a chef’s knife, a peeler, one small cutting board, one large cutting board, measuring cups, measuring spoons, and of course, oven mitts. Pack them all into a plastic storage container and you’ve got your kitchen supplies ready to move in a jiffy. I guarantee that the money spent on these tools will pay off over time—especially because time is exactly what you’ll save when you have the right tools.

4)     Learn the lingo. Cooking has a language just like everything else. Maybe two or three of the words from 3) confused you. Go look it up. All the information is free online. The easiest way to learn is the same way you learn any language: read a recipe and look up any words you don’t understand. Watch a YouTube video to see exactly how it’s done. That’s how I learned to cut up a whole chicken into wings, thighs, legs, and breasts. It was gruesome but I also saved a pretty penny since a whole chicken was on sale and I got all the cuts for half the price.

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5)     Read the labels. Pay attention to the dollar per pound ratio. If you look closely at the labels for meats and produce there is always the ratio of how many dollars (usually cents) per pound is being used as the basis for the price tag. Compare that ratio among your options, sometimes the bigger pack is actually being offered at a greater value because they’re charging less per pound. Same goes for boxes of crackers, cans of soup, etc. They legally have to put the weight on the bag, use a little simple math to determine whether you’re really getting what you paid for.

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