As someone who has struggled with depression for most of my adolescence, I have a strained relationship with food. Making and eating food are two completely different activities, and I struggle with both. 

Since the switch to apartment-style living on Clairmont campus, kitchen responsibilities were a daunting prospect and I was completely lost in the beginning. With some help from my therapist, family and friends, I’ve cultivated a much healthier relationship with food.

First, I reframed the act of cooking in my mind. Instead of viewing it as a chore or a task, I began to think of cooking as a way to take a break from the stress of schoolwork. Instead of laying in bed or watching Netflix when I don’t feel like studying, I cook. It’s a far more productive way to recharge and, when I’m ready to eat a meal later, I already have food waiting for me in the fridge. Additionally, since cooking is partly a waiting game, and I am definitely an impatient person, it still gives me the opportunity to binge some Netflix.

Illustration by Allison Barlow

But what to cook and where to start? Before I head to the grocery store, I go through the dozens of TikTok recipes I have saved and write down a few that I’d like to try. It makes grocery shopping about 10 times easier, and opens up a world of options. Plus, TikTok recipes leave plenty of room for improvisation and exploration, which I love. My go-to TikToker is Jeremy Scheck, who provides amazing tips for college-aged beginners and a wide variety of color plates to replicate.

If I’m not up for TikTok recipes, I try my best to improvise. Lately, I’ve been hooked on the classic chicken and rice. The steps are painfully easy too: cut up chicken (or any protein of choice) into small cubes and let it marinate in a blend of olive oil, a cajun spice rub, turmeric and ginger-garlic paste for about half an hour. Steamed vegetables are the perfect side dish to this flavorful plate, and they’re easy to make while the chicken is marinating. You can even cheat your veggies with a microwavable package! 

Cook the chicken for about 10 minutes in the oven at 400 degrees and saute some more garlic in a frying pan while simultaneously frying onions in ghee, a clarified form of butter. When the chicken is thoroughly baked, add it to the pan to give it a crisp sear. Then toss the chicken, rice and vegetables all into the same pan, or  wrap it into a warm tortilla with spinach and shredded cheese. The whole process takes about half an hour and is a huge reward for very little effort. 

To change things up, swap out the chicken for shrimp and season with garlic (shocker, I know), scallions and a cup of soy sauce. This is even less effort than the chicken, as shrimp don’t require much prep or cooking time. This recipe allows you to throw the marinated chicken into a ziplock bag and freeze it for the next time.

After spending more time in the kitchen, I slowly became more comfortable creating my own list of staple dishes. While convenient to give into takeout or simply walk to the Dobbs Common Table, making an effort to map out favorite ingredients and putting your own spin on dishes will only leave you more excited to cook each meal.

I’ve even created delicious meals with my roommate, which has brought us closer. Try sharing your recipes with others; you’ll be surprised how much food can connect others and create bonds. With simple recipes like these, cooking doesn’t have to be daunting or dreadful. 

Cooking is an art and requires practice like any other, but once learning how to balance spices and portions, it becomes simple and rewarding. You’ll also be able to taste the difference when you work on the same recipes and make adjustments, until you get it just right!