Elaine Ulsh is a second-year computer science and physics major and writes “The Occasional Observer” for the Daily News. Her views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
I love cooking.
But I find cooking not as “quick and easy” as everyone says it can be. Recipes that are meant to take 30 minutes end up taking an hour or require ingredients that most people don’t have on hand. I don’t have enough wiggle room in my schedule or budget for that.
My mother was one of those moms who would make half the month’s meals in advance and have them frozen for when we needed something quick. Her culinary planning and prepping ingrained in me a strong feel for how to cook — something I carry with me to this day even though I’m out of the house and in a place of my own.
Last year, I had more time to dedicate to cooking food, but it wasn’t necessary. Since I was living on campus, I could use my meal swipe whenever I wanted. I had 14 swipes — that’s a guaranteed two meals a day as long as I used them correctly.
And I didn’t want my boyfriend to have to worry about food either, so we split my swipes, which is actually a lot easier than it sounds. Those meal swipes can go a long way. In doing that, we cooked our other meals in one of the DeHority third-floor kitchenettes probably five to seven times every week.
These meals that we threw together were the epitome of college cuisine: cheap and easy, but not necessarily healthy.
Health is something near and dear to my heart, so with an entire kitchen of my own in the apartment my boyfriend and I now reside in, I have been dedicated to cooking healthy food that tastes amazing too.
Finding time between classes and due dates for a social life can be very stressful for many college students. But for some of us, a cramped schedule can affect more than just when we see our friends. For me, it’s hard to find time to eat, much less cook.
I don’t want to be stressing out about when I can fit cooking into my already hectic schedule. I recognize food is a necessity, so I must consume at least something, but I don’t want to be constantly thinking about it. I especially don’t want to be spending $100/week buying overpriced dining hall food, which sometimes isn’t even good.
And I especially didn’t want to be constantly running to some fast-food joint, which I tend to do when I don’t feel like cooking.
Before the new school year started, I decided I was going to start preparing a week of meals for both me and my boyfriend. It was a needed alternative instead of stressing out over the when, what and where of cooking during our busy weekly lives.
Honestly, it’s been going great.
When I’m hungry, all I have to do is open the fridge or freezer and heat up a healthy, already-prepared meal. When I don’t have to worry so much about cooking, I feel as though I have taken back a very important amount of time in my schedule.
According to a study by the University of Paris, people who prepared meals ahead of time had more fruits and vegetables in their diet than those who didn’t. The study then mentioned meal prepping is associated with healthier diets and lower levels of obesity in both men and women by choosing healthier options and not eating badly due to not having the time to cook.
Health is important to me, and I like feeling in control over what I put into my body. And it’s not just about looking a certain way either. It’s not about being fitter or skinnier — it’s about the way food fuels me.
I have a condition that requires me to eat a high sodium, high potassium and high iron diet. And those dining hall meals weren’t making the cut in terms of making me and my body feel good.
I could eat the strictest chicken and rice diet ever, causing a flare-up and feeling absolutely awful. I could also eat like crap and have no energy due to lack of vital nutrients. For me, finding the balance between the two extremes is very difficult, especially as my aging body becomes less forgiving.
This balance can be even more difficult to find when considering my boyfriend’s diet as well. He has a tendency for high blood pressure. This means he needs a low sodium diet while I’m the exact opposite.
We’ve known this since I found out about my condition and have dealt with it to the best of our abilities.
Controlling the sodium amount isn’t the problem, but trying to have one meal with two different sodium amounts is. Originally, I was cooking meals with low sodium. But when I started feeling unwell because of it, I realized I couldn’t live a no salt life anymore. It wasn’t sustainable.
Meal prepping has really changed this dilemma. I can choose ahead of time what I’m going to be eating and how much sodium is in it. I can create a balance. Some food can be made with absolutely zero sodium, while others will give me what I need.
Since my boyfriend is fairly active, I don’t have to worry about his blood pressure as much as I have to worry about my condition.
I can put my health at the forefront and create delicious food I can eat throughout the week without feeling progressively worse.
This is just one example of how the benefits of meal prepping have changed my life. But there are so many more. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the benefits of meal prepping include saving both time and money, helping with weight control and reducing stress.
As someone who is prone to stress, I am constantly looking for ways to manage it. Meal prepping has been a lifesaver in that regard.
A lot of the stress associated with cooking, at least for me, is whether I have all the ingredients, if I have enough time and deciding what I’m going to cook in the first place. With meal prepping, I decide what I’m going to eat for the week on Saturday, go shopping for ingredients I don’t have and cook at least half the day on Sunday.
Many of the recipes I make take at least an hour each, but it doesn't have to be that difficult. There are tons of 15-minute recipes on the internet. There are meals that can work around anyone’s schedule.
I choose recipes I enjoy, regardless of how long it takes. And I can do that because I’m making it beforehand. It helps me feel fulfilled during the week, regardless of the pressures from work, school and other obligations.
I love cooking, and I’ve found a way to fit it into my busy schedule. Doing things I enjoy is essential, but not if they're going to stress me out to the point that I don’t enjoy them anymore.
I think meal prepping has become the perfect fit for me. I encourage others who are struggling with finding the time to cook — and want meals that make them feel full and satisfied — to meal prep with me.
Contact Elaine Ulsh with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.