Cooking up a storm in residence

Your cuisine doesn’t need to be limited to Kraft Dinner

Boiling pasta and mixing it with tomato sauce is an easy, healthy meal in residence.
Boiling pasta and mixing it with tomato sauce is an easy, healthy meal in residence.

I remember the look on my mom’s face when she caught me inhaling a freshly cooked pot of Kraft Dinner shortly after I had come home from first year. Yes, I had been eating unhealthier than normal. It had become instinctual to reach for something that didn’t burn a hole in my pocket, was effortless to make and even easier to eat after adapting to the residence way of life for the previous eight months.

Contrary to popular belief, eating in residence doesn’t necessarily have to be as expensive and unhealthy as is seems to be—it just takes a little more effort than swiping the student card.

All first-year students in residence are automatically enrolled in a general meal plan when they come to Queen’s, which includes a certain number of meals per week or per year, depending on the option they pick. Unless they upgrade their meal plan, it means that students have to pick and choose when they eat at the cafe.

In addition, on Sunday evenings, when both Leonard and Ban Righ are closed, students will have to explore other dining options—going downtown to eat out, ordering in, or experimenting with cooking skills (or lack thereof). Trying to whip up a gourmet meal after living at home can be a definite challenge. Here are some suggestions to make the transition from clueless-in-the-kitchen to student chef extraordinaire.

Health, cost and know-how are some common barriers for students when it comes to cooking. Recognizing this, Health Counseling and Disability Services has been offering a unique program to cater to these needs through the Peer Health Program, part of the larger Be Well, Do Well program.

Food That Makes Cents (FTMC) was developed five years ago by former Peer Health Educator, Diane Nolting in consultation with some volunteers. They sought to bridge the gap between these cooking behaviours through a hands-on workshop, taught at various locations across campus.

Volunteers teach a small group of students how to prepare and cook a meal while emphasizing the importance of Canada’s Food Guide as part of a healthy diet, how to judge an appropriate portion, food safety and cooking techniques and terminology. The best part is, students get to eat what they make and take home a CD full of easy, affordable and nutritious recipes ranging from appetizers to desserts.

Lee Fisher-Goodchild, coordinator of Health Education and Health Promotion Programs, explained why FTMC is a worthwhile opportunity for students.

“First-years are in a situation where they have to learn about health and nutrition and FTMC is a fun, hands-on way to put together meals,” she said. “Because everyone needs to cook, it reaches an audience beyond first years as well.”

Sarah Costa, a Food, Weight and Body Image team leader, has been a Peer Health volunteer for three years. She explained why the program is beneficial for first-year students.

“The sessions are good for frosh because it gets them thinking about meal ideas that they can create for their second year when they are out of residence and cooking for themselves,” she said.

“Also, all of the tips and advice they learn during the session can be used for the rest of their University career, things like how to eat well while away at school and healthy meal ideas. After the meal is prepared, there is a great sense of community with the floormates—it just makes the session that much more enjoyable because everyone is having a lot of fun.”

The demand for FTMC sessions is also proof of the program’s popularity.

“It’s a huge hit on Sunday nights for Dons and their floors,” Fisher-Goodchild said. “Last year, we had about 20-30 residence sessions and about eight more across campus.” FTMC combines food, fun, and friends—you’ll be a frugal chef in no time if you sign up in September.

Another creative way of eating and being money-conscious on Sundays nights is to organize a potluck dinner with your floor or a group of friends. Not only is it a great way to relax before another busy week begins, it’s also a great way to sample new foods. This is also a good floor-bonding activity to arrange around special occasions. Fisher-Goodchild explained that Sunday nights are a good opportunity to cook with other people.

“It’s something that you can’t do at the cafe and it’s fun and enjoyable to cook together.”

She suggested sharing recipes with fellow floormates, picking recipes from the internet that you wouldn’t normally try and recipes that introduce new food combinations.

Paul Parsons, CompSci ’07, remembers when his floor made chili in first year.

“It was a practical idea because it made a lot of food and we divided up the duties,” he said. “It’s also a great way to bond with floormates if it’s early in the year.”

He also recommends keeping non-perishable foods, such as oatmeal, in residence rooms.

Another student, Jesse Thompson, ArtSci ’07, suggested a creative way of making pizza in residence.

“I had a mini toaster oven, so I had the advantage of cooking more creatively,” he said. “I made bagel pizzas a lot. I cut a bagel in half, put it in the oven with meat, cheese and sauce and let it cook for a few minutes. It was very easy, and fast too.”

Costa also gave some suggestions for cooking in residence.

“Cooking pasta is quick, and using a tomato sauce instead of the Kraft Dinner sauce adds a vegetable serving without the additional fat,” she said. “Tortillas are also easy to make, and any kind of protein can be added, like cheese, and lots of vegetables and salsa make it a complete meal.” Although there are many spectacular alternatives to KD, most students do keep a few boxes on hand for that oh-so-good, yet extremely artificial cheese craving that comes around every once in awhile—especially during exam time.

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