[Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part column about cooking while in quarantine by New Milford High School sophomore Alyssa Shelton. See next week’s edition for part two.]

Most high school students are routine oriented.

They have to be, juggling classes, sports, family, homework, and social activities on the side, all of this balanced with horrible sleep schedules.

Life gets busy and other things sometimes sit on the back burner in the busy life of an average teen. One of these includes meals.

On an average school week, I’m rushing out of the house in the morning too fast for more than a granola bar and a coffee.

I eat a lunch that was prepared by my school in a quick 25-minute period while catching up with friends.

I have an easy snack before practice, and then a more formal balanced dinner at home before rushing off to complete the rest of my tasks, hopefully in time to get a solid seven hours in before the next day.

With everything slowing down during this pandemic, there’s only so many times you can clean a room or reorganize the desktop of your computer.

Instinctually, an act of boredom is carrying yourself to the pantry, opening the cupboard and finding a good comfort snack even though you aren’t really hungry at all.

During quarantine, I’ve found myself taking more of these pointless trips to the kitchen, and I decided to spend more time honing my craft preparing foods and trying new recipes.

It's become a rewarding pastime and I’ve also found myself going for healthier more balanced options when I spend time preparing my food than I would just grabbing a prepackaged snack or warming something up.

So, if you, too, have been lacking inspiration in the food world, here are some things I’ve been eating during quarantine that make these trying times feel a bit more productive.

Drinks

I’m a milk and water girl through and through. But lately I’ve played around with bringing some more character into the things I’m drinking.

A tip I have for any food you make for yourself is that aesthetic is flavor! Presentation is just as important as execution and I always feel good about something I made if I go the extra step to dress it up a bit

Iced coffee

Now I like my caffeine. It’s a staple that goes perfectly with not sleeping much.

But oftentimes I’m making it quick just to get the energy I need and the only time I really play with flavor is when I'm ordering it out.

So, recently I’ve been playing with different ways to make it more fun at home.

I start by filling the cup with hot coffee and stopping once it reaches about half an inch in the glass.

This is when I add my sugar. I find it melts better than when the ice is already added after stirring.

I fill the cup with ice and add coffee, leaving a few inches of space at the top for milk.

This is pretty basic, so I’ve experimented and found that adding a few drops of vanilla or substituting sugar with a packet of hot cocoa mix adds a fun twist.

Put it in a cute glass.

You know, we all have that cup that just makes everything taste better.

I add a colored reusable straw, put on some music to set the mood and usually organize my thoughts and make a general plan for the day during this time.

Take advantage of the opportunity to wake up slow before seizing the day.

Smoothies

This is such a good way to bring some color into your day and, if you often forget about daily servings of fruits and veggies like me, it’s an easy project to achieve a more balanced diet.

Smoothies are an especially great way to use produce that’s maybe a day beyond its appetizing prime but not ripe enough to toss.

The banana with about three brown spots starting towards the end that causes you to bypass it, yes that one, or softer strawberry that’s perfectly fine yet unthinkable cause it’s a little mushy.

This is a great way to ensure your produce doesn’t go bad.

The best part about a smoothie is that you almost never make it the same one twice.

At least for me, it’s usually a combination of what I’m feeling at the moment with what I have on hand at the time.

You can lean on the staples, like banana and peanut butter, or mango and strawberry.

Or get more adventurous.

I like to add flaxseed or chia seeds to my smoothies because it’s a great way to get natural protein and fiber into your diet.

I add raw spinach leaves or mint into some smoothies and find that I don’t even taste it, yet I’m still absorbing the benefits.

This is an especially useful tip for picky little ones.

I’ve found it as a great way to experiment with new flavor combinations.

You can add yogurt, milk, water, or just blend up yummy fruits and enjoy your homemade healthy treat.

See next week’s Spectrum for part two of Alyssa’s column - about food recipes.