To succeed in college, students need more than just the capability to make good grades and manage their time and money responsibly. They need a crash course in what cookbook author Nisa Burns calls kitchenability, the art of eating without resorting to dining halls, frozen food or trips to the drive-through.
"Kitchenability is all about becoming best friends with your kitchen in order to feed yourself for life," said Burns, culinary graduate of the Art Institute of Virginia Beach. Burns is CEO of Kitchenability, Inc., the company she founded to teach students how to make easy, healthy, and tasty meals conducive to their lifestyles. Her first cookbook, Kitchenability 101: The College Student's Guide to Easy, Healthy, and Delicious Food, comes out next month. Through the book's recipes and tips, Burns aims to help students discover satisfaction and gain confidence in cooking for themselves.
A recent graduate herself, Burns can relate to college students who miss home-cooked meals, dread the "freshman 15," or simply want an alternative to fast food or frozen meals. Her cookbook includes more than 65 healthy and budget-friendly recipes, from Creamy Hummus Dip to Lemon Cilantro Chicken. The book also offers shopping plans, supply lists, budgeting tips, and advice for cooking in college spaces.
Between a flurry of activity in her own kitchen, Burns - who describes herself as "the Chef of a New Generation" -- talked to WORLD on Campus about her own kitchenability journey and discussed how the concepts and recipes outlined in her cookbook can improve college students' eating habits.
What is "Kitchenability?"
Kitchenability is about becoming compatible with your kitchen. Whatever type of space you have, a dorm room, shared housing or small apartment. You don't need a big fancy kitchen to have Kitchenability.
What has your own Kitchenability journey been like? Did you always know you wanted to become a chef?
I got into cooking mostly from my mom's side of the family. At a young age I cooked alongside them during all the holidays and get-togethers. I loved cooking because it was something that brought people together. I didn't always know I was going to be a chef. I initially was interested in the medical field and went after becoming a nurse. After taking many sciences and math classes, I realized I was not enjoying the path of nursing as much as I thought. What I loved most was the aspect of taking care of people. When I came to this realization, I was nervous. "What should I do?" I asked myself. I did what I always did to relive my stress. I cooked, I cried, and cooked some more. Then my boyfriend saw me cooking like a maniac and said "Why don't you do this? You love to cook." I thought about it and took the plunge, applied to culinary school, fell in love with it, and enjoyed every minute.
What prompted you to found "Kitchenability, Inc." and write your cookbook?
I wanted to write a book that would help my demographic. No one really addresses the college demographic in the cooking world. Usually we focus on the home cook, the fast and busy mom…but where are we? I am passionate about reaching out to students because I was so recently in college myself. I knew college students would benefit from Kitchenability and its easy, simple, and delicious recipes. Giving students the basic skills and knowledge of cooking without being afraid of their cooking space is what I wanted to achieve. It all started when my girlfriends left for college and one moved all the way out to Seattle. I started to get calls and emails asking, "Nisa what should I make? You were always the cook..." I started getting more and more requests from friends for quick easy meals to make at college, so I started a blog called "Nisa's Cooking," which later became Kitchenability.
How can someone expand on or discover their Kitchenability?
Discovering your Kitchenability is easy. Everyone's exposure to cooking is different and expanding your skills and cooking techniques might seem scary, but it's not. Start small and simple and expand off of that. Begin with simple recipes that you can be proud of. Gaining a sense of confidence is huge when developing your cooking skills, and by having confidence in your Kitchenability you will want to learn more, cook more and try more!
How do you think the Food Revolution has affected the way students today think about food and cooking?
We're more aware of what's going into our bodies. Overall, students today are more aware than ever about what they eat and where their food comes from.
Fending off the Freshman 15 is on many minds this time of year. What tips can you offer for establishing healthy habits in college?
My first tip: Don't skip breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and skipping it can make you groggy and feel extra hungry later in the day (that's when you tend to overeat). Eating breakfast kick starts your body. Another tip: keep healthy snacks on hand. A great snack is my homemade trail mix -- it's a great snack when you are running from class to class. Also, buying the ingredients in bulk and then mixing them yourself is much less expensive than buying it pre-mixed from the store.
Did you personally go into college with a "healthy eating" mindset, or is this something you realized/integrated into your college lifestyle as you went along? Why is healthy food important?
Healthy eating was something I grew up with. As a child we ate very healthy, no sugar cereal, soda, etc. I grew up with a mindset of how important my heath was at an early age. I like to know what I'm putting in my body. Plus, healthy foods have so many benefits to you, unlike processed filled foods. In my opinion, they are even tastier!
Between classes, student jobs, and social events, many students feel they don't have time for cooking. What's the secret to cooking healthy and on-the-go?
Planning ahead is essential to have time for cooking. Making weekly menus, like I say in Kitchenability 101, can help you budget and plan. Cooking doesn't have to take a long time, either. Cooking on-the-go can be healthy by making the right choices. A secret to cooking on-the-go is, again, planning ahead. Many of the recipes in my book, like the banana cinnamon waffle, can be made in less than 5 minutes, and the lettuce wraps take less than 15 minutes. Make the time and you will eat healthy!
In your book, you feature recipes specifically for dorm dwellers. What kinds of appliances can students have? And what kinds of food can they cook with them?
First off, a rice cooker is an appliance every student should have. You can use it to prepare soup, pasta, steamed veggies, and more! This appliance can cook more than just rice!
Another great appliance to have is a toaster oven. You can make multiple dishes in my book with the toaster oven, including the banana cinnamon waffle (one of my faves).
A microwave and blender are also great for things like the tomato soup and pesto recipes in my book.
What about campus dining halls? Any tips for students when it comes to making healthy choices there?
See what your options are…there may be a good salad or sandwich. I'm not saying cut out pizza for life, but if you know you're going out with friends later or having a late night study group with not the greatest choices, try to go for something healthier at the dining hall.
What's the inspiration for your recipes? Is there a particular chef whose recipes you especially enjoy or draw from when making your own meals?
The inspiration for my recipes mainly came from family but, I'm also a huge Rachel Ray fan and have been watching her since I was a kid. She inspired me in many ways with my cooking career.
What would you say to students who argue that healthy food is more expensive? Why can students find satisfaction in cooking for themselves (what about stressed students who think they'd be better off saving time with a drive-thru run)?
Healthy food doesn't have to be expensive if you budget accordingly. It can be done. I would stress to students that saving time by running to fast food doesn't save money or time. But again, if you make menus and budget, you can shop smart! Healthy choices are not hard to make or expensive to buy!