Anything but Ramen: Say goodbye to summer food

Food Columnist Aaron Pellish on why he needs to change his diet if he wants to survive the school year.

Summer already seems like a long, distant memory. The endless, balmy days of July have turned into the scorching, miserable evil that is late August.

Gone are the days filled with water parks, barbecues and baseball games, only to be replaced by the much less appealing combination of school, responsibilities and alarm clocks. The transition also means that we can no longer live off two hot dogs and a bag of chips from the local concession stand every night for dinner — we need some true, honest nutrition in our lives.

It took three long school days for me to finally realize that my summer diet would no longer be adequate. I could no longer consider a bowl of Frosted Flakes and a bucket of grilled meat as a way to provide myself with enough energy to sit through three 75-minute lectures in a row.

Maybe that diet would have worked on the days when I would golf in the morning, take a four-hour nap and then go to the beach at night, but those days are dead. I finally realized that when I came home from class on Wednesday and fell asleep for six hours like a sickly toddler. School had worn me out, and that was only halfway through syllabus week. I was doomed.

Luckily, my roommates proposed that we cook some of the chicken breasts that we had been saving in our freezer for when we were feeling especially hungry. Or for a rainy day. Or if we were feeding lots of people. I can’t remember why we were saving the chicken breasts, but I do know that ever since we had bought them I had dreaded cooking them, so I made up a lot of excuses to save them for as long as possible.

Cooking a chicken breast always seemed like an especially tedious job because it was never just the chicken that had to be cooked. Every time I had eaten chicken it was always fried or baked or mixed with something else that I had to cook, so I was afraid that there wasn’t an easy way to cook only chicken breasts.

But my roommates decided that we should cook chicken, so I searched for an easy recipe online. After a while, I was still coming up empty. I found lots of recipes for chicken jambalaya and chicken tikka masala and chicken parmesan, but no recipes for just plain old chicken. Just as I had feared.

But right before I was about to quit searching for a recipe and about to try to wing it (pun heavily intended), I found a recipe that seemed so simple that I thought it was a hoax or something. Since I didn’t have any better options, I used the fake-looking recipe on the chicken breasts.

Twenty-five minutes later, I had a perfectly good, perfectly cooked, perfectly regular-looking chicken breast. I was shocked. I cooked the rest of the chicken the same way and the same thing happened. I was still shocked. I did not think that the fake-looking recipe would actually work, nor did I think I had the culinary ability to cook real chicken breasts.

What shocked me the most, however, was how much more energy I had when I ate chicken breast instead of sloppy joes. I know this is something we all intuitively understand, but I had never actually experienced it until I ate natural, healthy chicken after weeks of eating processed, saturated garbage and bags of Cheetos. I had no idea that eating more responsibly could make so much of a difference in my energy level.

The next day, I was more awake and attentive than I had been the day before. Maybe it was because I had gotten more sleep or I was more familiar with the idea of going to class or maybe somebody slipped something into my drink that morning, but I’d like to think that eating something good for me is what made the difference.

If the choice between chicken with rice and a burger with fries determines whether or not I fall asleep in class, then I probably won’t eat another hamburger until next summer. I’m still not sure I can say no if someone offers me some Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, but I’ll start off with baby steps.

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