How I Got My Son to Cook In College

A registered dietitian shares how she's ensuring her kid eats healthfully while living off campus.

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August 18, 2021
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Photo by: MoMo Productions/Getty Images

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Despite my being a cookbook author and registered dietitian, my college-age son is the only of my three children who never had much interest in cooking. That is, until now. As a new apartment renter, my son is now expressing an interest in cooking and healthy eating that never presented itself in years past. Here's what changed and how I'm ensuring my son eats healthfully while he's away at the University of Michigan. (Go Blue!)

College Kids Are Interested in Health, Research Says

As an active 19-year-old, my son goes to the gym regularly and is concerned about what he eats for every meal. Now when he picks up food outside the house, he calls me (his mom, the registered dietitian) to ask the healthiest option to order. So what’s changed? Data from the 2020-2025 dietary guidelines for Americans shows that although adolescents ages 2 to 18 years have the lowest adherence to healthy eating guidelines, folks ages 19 to 30 years are more concerned and adhere better to those healthy recommendations. As people begin to get older, they start to care more about how they eat. I guess my little boy is all grown up!

My son has become much more involved in the cooking process since going to college. A few months ago, he requested mac and cheese with our salmon dinner. My 14-year old daughter who enjoys cooking made the cheese sauce while she explained to my son how to boil pasta and drain it. My son was proud to be part of the cooking process and has since become much more interested in having me teaching him how to cook. I have taught him how to marinate chicken and cook it in a grill or sauté pan, scramble eggs, and how to cook oatmeal. But teaching my son to cook at home, and sending him to cook and eat his meals in his new college apartment are two different things.

Teaching a Teen to Cook

Thank goodness my fellow HealthyEats nutrition expert Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC just released her new cookbook Healthy, Quick & Easy College Cookbook: 100 Delicious, Budget-Friendly Recipes to Satisfy Your Campus Craving. To help my son learn to cook, he selected a few recipes in Dana’s cookbook and we cooked them together at home before he left. Recipes my son selected included Quick-and-Easy Chicken Noodle Soup, BBQ Chicken Pizza, Mix ‘N Match Stir-Fry, Sheet Pan Buffalo Chicken Sliders, and English Muffin Pizzas. My son is all about eating protein, but there are plenty of plant-based options too like Ramen Noodle Salad, Roasted Vegetable Panini, and Veggie Pizza Burger.

Don't miss the section on off-campus kitchen must-haves – it's a helpful list of tools your kid will need in their new apartment. Instead of buying the tools before I go, I make a plan to hit up the big box stores near campus. This saves room in the car on the ride out to school.

I also asked Dana to give me three cooking tips for any college kid moving into their first apartment. Here’s what she said:

Start early! Students that have no cooking or shopping skills struggle with choices when they get to school. Nothing fancy is required, just work on the basics.

Be mindful of food safety. Know how to store and prepare healthy foods without getting sick – there are several tips throughout the book.

Develop health habits right from the start. Stock up on healthy snacks to help fuel your day, go shopping regularly and get some sleep – your body and brain will thank you!

Dana was kind enough to share a recipe from her cookbook.

Ramen Noodle Salad

A ramen recipe is satisfying and actually good for you! So, go ahead and swipe some ramen from your roommate’s stash and make this salad … just make sure to share. For a protein boost add some cooked chicken or shelled edamame.

Makes 6 servings

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 packages (3oz) dry ramen noodles
  • 1/4 cup slivered or sliced almonds
  • 1 (14 oz) bag coleslaw mix
  • 2 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup Sesame-Ginger Salad dressing (Annie’s or Newman’s Own brands recommended)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Discard the seasoning packets and break up the noodles, spreading them across a large baking sheet. Scatter the almonds over the noodles.
  3. Transfer to the oven and toast for about 5 to 6 minutes or until noodles are golden brown, turning them with a spatula a few times during toasting. Set aside to cool slightly.
  4. In a large bowl, toss the coleslaw mix and scallions. Add the toasted ramen and almonds and dressing. Toss again and then serve. This salad is best made about 1 hour ahead, but make sure to eat the same say to make sure the noodles are still crunchy.

Tip: Make your own sesame dressing by whisking together equal parts canola oil and soy sauce with lime juice, honey and toasted sesame oil.

Nutrition info: Calories 337; Fat 11g; Saturated fat 0g; Carbohydrate 39g; Protein 10g

Excerpted from the Healthy, Quick & Easy College Cookbook reprinted by permission of Alpha, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright 2021 by Dana Angelo White

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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