Finding the willpower to cook for yourself is a tall order when you’re living in the dorms.

Why not just go to the dining hall? At the dining hall you can get a warm meal after about ten minutes of waiting in line with just a swipe of your Wiscard — which doesn’t even feel like spending real money.

Opposed to spending well over an hour — going to the grocery store (where you must spend your own money), preparing your ingredients, cooking and finally eating — the dining halls are by far the more convenient option.

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Living a full life isn’t about doing the most convenient thing though, it’s about making the most of everything you’ve got. You know what most of the dorms have? A kitchen. Here is my experience making the most of it.

I’ve cooked three times so far in my first semester at the University of Wisconsin. It starts out with a trip to the local Fresh Madison Market. Then once I get back to the dorms with the ingredients, I check out the kitchen key and any pots, pans, spoons, etc. that I need.

Even if you don’t have anything but some ingredients, cooking is accessible to everyone on campus with a swipe of your Wiscard at the dorm’s front desk.

My first experience cooking was with some floor buddies from Sellery, we spent just under $20 total on pasta, tomato sauce and sausage meat. Using the salt and canola oil already in the kitchen, we made a pasta with meat sauce.

Courtesy of Harry Quick

It ended up being half meat, half pasta, but it was 100% delicious. In fact, it smelled so good that some people came in to chat with us. And just like that — after a personal contribution of an hour and a half and $5 — I had a full belly and some more buddies.

Since then I’ve tried my hand at mac and cheese and chicken soup. The mac and cheese cost our group of aspiring chefs $3 each and there was enough for everyone to have two bowls worth.

Compared to that tiny bowl you get at Gordon’s for a similar price it is by far the better deal. The chicken soup ended up costing $25 total, but once we got all the ingredients in the pot we didn’t have to do anything besides eat it when it was finished. I took all the time waiting to study for midterms.

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Cooking can be easy, or more involved, it can be cheap, or expensive, it can be a social event, or a quiet night in — at the end of the day cooking is what you make it.

Cooking provides a variety of food that is usually more nutritious than dining hall options — while also being cheaper than going out to eat — and it’s fun to do with friends you already have. It’s a great way to meet people, too. If you find yourself with some downtime in the evening, grab some buddies and get cooking!