Opinion: I’m glad I don’t have a Meal Plan


Jacob Meyer

Getting creative in the kitchen keeps me healthy and engaged. Now that I’m living off-campus, I get to go home for lunch. Photo credit: Jacob Meyer

Jacob Meyer

Freshmen beware; eat healthy or not at your own risk.

Moving off-campus isn’t just a new-found freedom from dorm rules, or a sense you’ve regained your long-lost privacy for having flatmates but not literal roommates; it’s also a culinary awakening.

I won’t lie, the poor eating habits I kept when living on-campus were my own fault. I was way too-content to swipe-in to the Orleans Room and head straight for the grill in the back to pick up a cheeseburger and a soda. Too many times I overlooked the salad bar or the fruit bowls out of laziness or the ‘inconvenience’ of having to get a second plate, even if I might not have eaten my fill – ‘I’ll just go to the vending machine later’ I’d think to myself.

To be perfectly honest, I was a bit hedonistic for those two years I lived on-campus, given that I was just a few steps from the dining hall at any time and wasn’t in-charge of preparing the food I was going to eat.

Then I stayed in New Orleans this past-summer.

I had been cognizant of my inexperience in the kitchen, but I promptly decided I would change that – if not for my health, then for my survival at least. After graduating from cold-cuts on white bread and grilled-cheese sandwiches twice daily, I made the call – that’s right – I learned to cook over the phone with my mother giving me the sage wisdom I’d taken for-granted for much of my youth. Bratwursts, grilled-chicken, New-York strip steaks – all deliciously arranged on a plate or on an expertly-toasted bun.

Part of learning to cook is learning to choose the correct ingredients, and that is a responsibility you owe yourself if you want to cook well. I’ll go to Walmart and buy six pounds of Fuji apples not just because I want to include fruit in my diet, but that I’ve included honey, cinnamon, and vanilla extract in a recipe for sweet-sautéed apples for any time of day. For meats, I have a set of five-basic-seasonings for great flavor – salt, pepper, granulated garlic and onion, and paprika. Restocking your food is an equally-important responsibility, and it became part of my growth as a cook to make return trips for different types of cheese, ground-beef, or breakfast meats.

The act itself is a perfect storm of factors scientific, technical, and therapeutic. Whether it’s hacking-apart a pineapple with your shiny santoku knife, taking an hour in the morning to fry sausages and bacon, improving your grilled-cheese game, or paying penance for your sins while you juice the lemons and limes for a homemade margarita mix, you will benefit from the self- care that cooking your own food entails.

Cooking has also made me more-creative, as I’ve experimented on a whim with fascinating results. Chop and sauté the aforementioned Fujis, then bake them on some biscuits for an improvised kolache-style pastry, or take the leftover zest from your margarita mix and fry it with a chicken-breast for a sweet meat that goes well on a grilled sandwich with swiss-cheese.