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Away at school and on your own – advice for the first time cook



If you’re preparing food on your own for the first time, here are some tips to help you make healthy and inexpensive choices. Here’s your chance to have fun with food.

When grocery shopping

Have a plan! Create a weekly meal plan based on Canada’s Food GuideStart with a couple of meals a week and add more as you get more comfortable with meal planning. Make a list of the foods you need and stick to it when grocery shopping. Get your roommates involved so that everybody has healthy foods that they will enjoy eating during the week. 

Shop Smart! Spend most of your time in the produce, bread, milk and meat sections of the store. In the middle aisles choose inexpensive canned beans, lentils, whole wheat pasta and canned tomatoes and sauces.  It’s fine to pick up a bag of chips or candy once in awhile, but make this a small part of your shopping trip.

Read food labels to help you make wise choices. Use the Nutrition Facts table on food labels to choose nutritious products with less fat, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and sodium. The % Daily Value tells you if the food has a little or a lot of a particular nutrient. 5% DV or less is a little; 15% DV or more is a lot.    

When you get home

  • Prepare foods with healthy fats. Instead of butter when you’re cooking, use olive or canola oils. Spread your sandwiches with mustard or trans fat-free (non-hydrogenated) margarine instead of mayo. 
  • Healthy cooking methods are baking, steaming, broiling, roasting, and stir-frying. Save that deep fryer for special occasions.
  • Reduce the sodium in the foods you use.  Rinse canned vegetables and canned beans, peas and lentils to wash away some of the sodium.  Use less of the seasoning that comes with the taco kits, packaged macaroni and cheese, pasta and rice mixes.  
  • Use less salt then what the recipe calls for, except when baking.  Use less ketchup, soy sauce and other condiments or try the lower sodium option.  Flavour foods with herbs and spices.  
  • Want to save time during the week? Chop raw veggies into snack sized portions and put in containers so you have quick snacks for your way out the door. Wash salad greens and other vegetables before putting them away so that after a long day you can easily prepare a salad or stir-fry.
  • Look into getting a slow cooker. It’s great for soups, stews and chilies. Prepare the ingredients at night, and in the morning plug it in and go. You’ll come home to a hot meal.
  • Need some recipe ideas? The public library will have a good selection of cookbooks, or check out recipes online.
  • Look for cooking classes or workshops. Campus clubs, local grocery stores and community centres may offer classes teaching cooking skills and food preparation – and often free of charge.  

Helpful articles:

Healthy Shopping Tips

Safe Food Storage

There are lots of places to eat, on and off-campus. Here’s some more information:

  • Eating at a residence cafeteria with friends? Check out these helpful hints.
  • Visiting the campus restaurants between classes? Use these strategies to make healthy choices.

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Dietitians of Canada acknowledges the financial support of EatRight Ontario by the Ontario government. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Province.