Life without a meal plan

With JMU’s food being ranked the 5th best in the country, it’s hard to come by students who don’t have a meal plan. But that’s not the case for Ame Wood, a junior SMAD major who chooses to cook all her food on her own.

It all started when Ame had a summer job lined up after her freshman year at the JMU Help Desk. Since she was staying in Harrisonburg for the summer, she needed to learn how to do her own cooking because no meal plans are offered at JMU during the summer months.

“Rather than have easy mac and PB&J sandwiches every day, I decided to start cooking by recipes and just see where it went. I ended up finding I was pretty good at it,” said Wood.

Her first successful recipe that she made was a simple spaghetti dish. But through experimentation, Ame’s perfected this dish so that it’s a step above bland pasta and marinara sauce.

“Spaghetti with Italian sausage and green pepper has become my favorite food in the entire world. It is always going to make me smile and I could eat it every single day.”

Ame’s come far from spaghetti. By trying out new recipes, Ame says that she’s seen her cooking improve since she started. She’s now able to figure out what works and what doesn’t and knows how to get creative with different ingredients.

One time, Ame’s roommate had a giant tub of leftover spaghetti sauce but no pasta noodles. Ame decided to experiment and make a soup from the spaghetti sauce by adding a bunch of extra vegetables and some broth. She said the soup turned out being very good and was a big hit with her roommates.

“Sometimes weird food combinations surprise you and turn out to be quite delicious. You just have to be adventurous and be able to take risks with your food,” said Wood.

But not all of Ame’s cooking experiments have been a success.

“The worst thing I ever made was when I tried to make garlic knots, which you’d think is one of the easiest things ever to make. But I really screwed them up and they tasted like really bad biscuits. I couldn’t understand how I could mess up dough with garlic and parmesan!”

Ame seems to be her toughest critic though, because the people who eat Ame’s cooking never seem to complain. Morgan Galea, a freshman SCOM major and one of Ame’s friends, always knows she’s in for a treat whenever she eats over at Ame’s house.

“Ame’s food is delicious! Since I’m a freshman, I’m always eating on campus so it’s so nice to have a home cooked meal every now and then,” said Galea.

Morgan isn’t the only person Ame cooks for. Whether it be for her boyfriend, roommates, co-workers, or friends, Ame loves making meals for others.

“I really like to have people over and cook for them. I prefer that over sitting and eating alone,” said Wood. “When I grew up with my family you all ate dinner together, so it’s always been a very family or friend oriented thing, not just a get-food-in-my-mouth type of situation.”

By cooking her own meals, Ame’s also been able to save money. She said that she calculated the cost of JMU’s dining plans, and in order to get your money’s worth, you’d have to eat every meal at either E-hall or D-hall, the all-you-can-eat dining buffets on campus.

Ame says it’s easy to save money as long as you can be a smart shopper. For example, doing simple things like buying a head of lettuce instead of buying bagged salad. Ame says she spends about $1.50 less on a head of lettuce compared to a bagged salad and you get about three times as much lettuce for half the price.

“Anybody who tells you that you have to either keep to a budget or eat healthy is not looking in the right place because grocery stores have weekly specials and you can buy produce that’s in season and not from far away tropical places,” said Wood. “You can easily eat healthy foods and stay on your budget; I have a very tight budget and I keep to it.”

On top of constantly improving her cooking skills, Ame has recently started writing her own food blog, where she posts about the different recipes that she makes.

“My food blog surprisingly started out of boredom; I created it this past summer when I didn’t have much to do,” said Wood. “I’ve always been a decent writer, I’d like to think, and I thought that starting up a food blog would be fun.”

Friends of Ame are avid readers of her food blog, like Megan Burks, a junior Kinesiology major.

“I love checking out Ame’s blog and reading about the different recipes that she makes,” said Burks. “She even inspired me to start writing my own blog which focuses on having a healthy lifestyle.”

Once she leaves JMU, Ame’s not quite sure if any culinary plans will be part of her future. But she does say that it is her dream to open up a small restaurant or bakery at some point in her life.

For now, Ame’s more than content with making her own healthy meals while saving money and blogging about her cooking experiments.

“I love the variety I have by making my own food and knowing what goes into it. I’m able to know what goes into my body and know that I’m eating healthy.”

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