“Love people, cook them good food.”
That’s actually the slogan for my favorite spices brand, Penzey’s (hah) but it’s something I’ve been thinking about lately.
I think entertaining and cooking for people will look different through different stages of life, but it’s something I want to prioritize. When people invite me into their homes or even their dorm rooms to share a meal with me, I feel really welcomed into their life and also loved! So, that’s what I want to do for other people.
During my freshman and sophomore years of college, I had a ton of lunch dates with friends, which was great at the time. But with my schedule now, lunch dates are a bit harder to do, and the afternoon is also, by far, my most productive time of the day, so I don’t really love eating a big meal or taking a super long lunch break. I still do lunch dates, but what I really love is winding down at the end of the day with a warm, comforting meal in a cozy setting and a good friend to chat with. So dinner dates are a dream.
As a college student, I have people over for dinner anywhere from probably 1-5 nights nights per week, depending on the craziness of the week. I love the idea of hosting a biweekly or monthly dinner party club when I’m older! But for now, lots of low-key dinner dates work really well since friends live close by and are always down for dinner dates. For example, last week (from the time I initially wrote this post):
• I made butternut squash mac ‘n’ cheese for my freshman roommate…and then we talked late into the night until she fell asleep on my futon. Hooray for accidental sleepovers!
• On one other night, I brought leftover sweet potato & chickpea stew (from my freezer) in mason jars to eat with a friend in their dorm since they’d had a rough day.
• On another night, after a friend had been studying in my dorm lobby with me all afternoon and we got hungry, I quickly boiled some Trader Joe’s ravioli I had in my fridge and we had a delicious, super easy dinner. Quick tip: I like to add chopped broccoli florets to the boiling water right along with the ravioli for an extra veggie with dinner!
• And on one other night, I cooked dinner with a group of girlfriends as a team effort in their dorm kitchen, which was such a blast. We made this butternut squash chicken salad (their idea!).
• Then, the next night, I brought the salad leftovers to a healthy-eating friend who’d been feeling too busy to cook that week (I grabbed an empty to-go container from the Whole Foods salad bar and delivered it in that!)
When you read that, it may sound like a lot of dinner plans and a lot of cooking. But I actually only cooked twice (three times if you count boiling ravioli as cooking!) And casual dinner dates are a pretty time-efficient way to hang out since everyone has to take time to eat at some point.
During extra busy weeks, I’m usually surviving on quick dinners like smoothies, frozen leftovers, omelets, and baked sweet potatoes. But on weeks with some breathing room, I love to cook for people a lot. Also, I feel like I should give the disclaimer that I’m not some super-friend. I regularly give people birthday presents weeks or even months late, yikes. (Gifts are not my strong suit.)
Meals to Make
One thing I’ve figured out when cooking for other people (or honestly, even myself!) is that the food should taste good, of course, but it doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or time-consuming. I cook a ton of meatless meals because I love them and they happen to be super cost-effective. I also rarely make single-serving meals since leftovers can always find a good home.
Some of my favorite easy, inexpensive meals to cook for other people:
Sweet potato chickpea stew
Omelets and roasted sweet potatoes wedges
Lentil, sweet potato, & black bean vegetarian chili
One-pot Mexican quinoa with all of the toppings (salsa, avocado, cheese, plain Greek yogurt/sour cream)
One-Pan chicken Sausage w/ roasted veggies
Keep it Simple
Making a three-course (or usually, even two-course!) meal as a college student isn’t realistic for me at all, but it honestly doesn’t matter. And paper plates are 100% acceptable, as are homemade leftovers.
I do always keep fresh fruit in my fridge, plus things like carrots and hummus, that I can offer for snacks or to supplement a meal. Another thing I do is keep a pint of ice cream or dark chocolate that I mostly try to save for when I have people over so I can offer them dessert.
I also like to keep at least a bowl of chocolates in my room for the girls in the weekly Bible study that I lead. Last week, one of my girls walked in and immediately goes, “Do you have any brownies?!” I had to laugh because it was a random question, but I love that she basically expected me to have some kind of delicious chocolate waiting for them 🙂I’m also a huge fan of swinging by a friend’s dorm or house with a pint of good ice cream or a fancy chocolate bar + a handwritten note because 1) who doesn’t love surprise ice cream?! 2) it’s a pretty inexpensive, delicious way to show someone that you love them! I learned this from my mama, who would surprise me with ice cream in the freezer or dark chocolate peanut butter cups on my pillow in high school when I got home from school (and she sometimes still does this when I come home from college!)Finally, I always keep a couple of Larabars/apples in my purse or backpack when I’m out and about or having a study date with a friend so 1) I don’t get too hungry and 2) I can easily offer to share!
If you’re budget-conscious like I am, you may be thinking that sharing lots of food sounds kind of expensive. But I’ve found that since I generally don’t buy super pricy food, it’s no big deal!
For example, I got a bag of 9 organic mini apples from Trader Joe’s for $3 yesterday, which makes them just $0.33 each.
I get my Larabars on sale at the store or from Amazon (there’s a $3 off coupon here right now so they’re $0.75 each!)
And for the above meals I mentioned, I did the math out of curiosity and they’re $1-$2.50 per serving even with a lot of organic ingredients, so not bad at all.
I don’t think “acts of service” is necessarily one of my top love languages, but somehow, food changes that! I love cooking for people and giving food gifts and feel really loved when people do that for me. I think part of it is that this shows that they’ve thought of me, noticed foods I like/don’t like, and then taken the time to make or pick something up for me!
For example, a few weeks ago, my dad came to campus to go to a football game with me. He brought a care-package from my mom with two of my favorite blog recipes she’d cooked for me! She made this sweet potato chickpea stew, plus banana berry baked oatmeal. It was so thoughtful and meant so much to me! To sum it all up, I think cooking for and sharing meals with people is one way I can prioritize friendships, while doing something I happen to love. Sharing a meal with a positive, encouraging friend or two is such an awesome mood-booster!
A few random notes:
• Some people may not share food in return, but I’ve realized it’s not everyone’s thing, and that’s okay. Hopefully, they’re a good friend to you in other ways!
• Cooking for every person I know, or even every close friend, doesn’t work. Some people are super picky or just not into this kind of thing. But for the majority of people I know and am close to, it’s an easy way to show that I love them.
• Obvious statement: if you hate cooking, this may not be the best way to serve other people since you’d be miserable trying to cook more. But you can totally implement the ice cream pint + handwritten note surprise if that’s more up your alley!
So tell me…
Do you like hosting/cooking for people? What are your favorite things to cook for other people? Recipe links encouraged!!