You’ve moved into the dorms, classes have started, and college is officially in full swing. You’re probably loving all that homework and new-found freedom, but you’ve probably already grown tired of the food offered in your dorm cafeteria. Sure, it’s not bad, but you probably don’t want to subsist on the fast food chains and greasy dorm fare that your pricey meal plan pays for.
Most dorm setups don’t allow for much cooking, and you probably don’t have regular, constant access to a stovetop or oven. Fortunately, there’s plenty of healthy meal options that you can prepare with an occasional hour in front of the community stove or just the microwave that you hauled from your parents’ house. These five beyond-easy and budget-friendly recipes will get you started, even if you don’t have much time or inclination.
This recipe might sound humble, but even the New York Times has recognized the glory of eggs scrambled with a little pasta. Scrambling a couple of eggs with freshly cooked pasta couldn’t be easier, and it’s perfect for cash-strapped budgets. If you happen to come across some fresh herbs or a small chunk of Parmesan lingering in your refrigerator, throw those in there, too. If you’ve got nothing but the basics, a good glug of olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic are all you’ll need for a healthy (and delicious) dinner.
This recipe is technically cheating, because it involves no actual cooking. Swing by a grocery store and pick up a rotisserie roasted chicken for around $5, and you’ll have enough protein to feed everyone on your floor. Frozen corn, black beans, and rice are excellent substitutes for vegetarians, and you can dress your tacos with whatever condiments you have in the refrigerator. For an Asian flavor, drizzle with sriracha and a few drops of sesame oil, or go Mexican with guacamole and salsa swiped from the dorm cafeteria.
Finding a place to cook meat can be tough if you live in a college dorm, especially if you’re sharing a kitchen with dozens of people. Vegetarian chili can be quickly made with frozen and canned items, which means that you should probably splurge for the low-sodium stuff if you’re trying to stay healthy. Steam quinoa or rice, add a can of black beans, corn, tomatoes, and other veggies that you like with a little low-sodium taco seasoning, and you’ll have a massive pile of food that will easily feed you for the rest of the week.
At the beginning of the week, plan a little time to head to your community or dorm kitchen and you can prepare a batch of soba noodle salad that will last you all week long. After you boil the noodles (on the stove or in the microwave), toss them with a little olive or sesame oil to keep them from sticking together. Leftover grilled chicken or tofu, cucumbers, and celery are pretty much all you’ll need to round out a balanced, healthy meal. From there, you can mix an easy vinaigrette with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar, or stir a little sriracha and mayo for a creamy dressing.
It just wouldn’t be college without ramen noodles. These cheap little sodium-laden packets might be a last resort, but you can actually turn them into a decent meal in a real pinch for time and cash. Substitute the seasoning packet for sriracha, soy sauce, and rice wine vinegar if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, or just top your bowl off with a fried egg and some freshly-sliced scallions for an easy combo of protein and carbs that will help you party and study at your best. (Bonus tip: if your college town has an Asian market, look for Korean ramyun, which is generally better quality and tastier than Top Ramen. Non-fried instant ramen is also common and much healthier.)
Amy McCarthy is Paste’s Assistant Food Editor. She still eats too much ramen.
Image: Su-Lin, CC BY-NC-ND