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5 easy, cheap and (generally) nutritious meals for when you move out for the first time

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Carleton chapter.

I get it — navigating a kitchen when you first move out is not easy. I ended up eating noodles with butter and cheese for the first month. However, if you learn a few recipes and you’re willing to get creative, I have found that I can generally make decently healthy and filling meals, all on a budget. I spend about $75 on groceries every two weeks and fill my cabinet and fridge with staples. Opt for frozen or canned veggies when possible, and look through the flyers to see what is on sale this week at your local grocery store.

Below you will find five recipes I use every time I cook. All of which follow some easy cooking principles which can get you comfortable in the kitchen until you are ready to get creative and follow your taste buds. For each idea, there are links to more thorough recipes and instructions. But if you ask me, don’t get too caught up in what other people are telling you to put into the oven — it doesn’t truly matter what vegetable or what shape of noodles you choose. Cooking is all about having fun, trying new things, and being willing to go with the flow based on what you have and what tastes good to you.

Fried Rice

Fried rice is probably one of the easiest and favourite of my meals. By no means authentic, I instead opt to “kitchen sink” it — any produce or protein sources in my pantry are fair game. My roommates and I will typically make a big batch and eat leftovers for as long as possible.

What you’ll need:

  • Leftover rice
    • If I have no leftovers, I’ll put the rice cooker on and after it’s done let it sit with the lid off for about an hour to harden a little bit
  • A protein source
    • I typically use tofu if I have some, but I’ll also use any assortment of beans. Chicken, beef, or pork are also great options!
  • Vegetables
    • Pepper, onion, bok choy, squash, green beans, garlic and any other produce are totally fair game. Use whatever canned or frozen veggies you can get your hands on to save costs
  • Egg
    • Hot tip: eggs are cheaper every Sunday (for some unknown reason) at Shoppers Drug Mart, but you can also opt for a carton of eggs or eggs whites
  • Oil
    • Sesame oil is ideal, but olive oil and others work too
  • Soy sauce
  • Any other sauces like hoisin, siracha, or chili garlic

How to:

  1. Bring the pan to medium heat with oil
  2. Cook protein source if it requires cooking – precooked or leftover works too!
  3. Add veggies and sauté until soft, add the hardest veggie, like peppers (which takes the longest to cook) add softer veggies that will wilt quickly closer to the end
  4. Push everything to one side of the pan and crack an egg into the other half. Scramble – I like it very dry
  5. Add in leftover rice
  6. Mix while adding in soy sauce, and seasonings like chilli, pepper, and paprika. Add any other sauces to taste.
  7. Enjoy!

Soup-can Pasta

Sometimes, literally, the only vegetables I have are in the form of a canned vegetable soup. If I’m looking for something hearty, sometimes the soup just doesn’t do it. Vegetable soup however has a tomato base – it’s basically tomato sauce if you ask me.

What you need:

  • Canned soup – I use Campbell’s vegetable soup, but you can use any condensed can (which means they require adding water), or even cream of mushroom
  • Dry pasta
  • Seasoning
  • Optional: protein sources like beans or meat
Peanut Noodle Salad
Alex Frank / Spoon

How to:

  1. Cook pasta
  2. While that boils, add a can of soup to a large saucepan, and let warm
  3. Add any other vegetables or protein you would like
  4. Add boiled pasta with a small amount of pasta water (this helps the soup stick to the pasta)
  5. Add a splash of table cream or coconut cream to make it a cream sauce
  6. Add any cheese or toppings you would like!

*This recipe works best in large batches for me

Breakfast burrito

This one is super easy to meal prep. Just individually wrap and store in the freezer until morning and microwave until hot.

The linked recipe goes into more detail, but here you will find the way I cut costly corners and modify based on what is in my fridge.

What you need:

  • Eggs (or tofu)
  • Flour tortillas
  • Pepper
  • Onion
  • Hot sauce
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Avocado
  • Desired seasonings
  • Olive oil

How to:

  1. Julienne pepper and onion, sauté in oil and add any desired seasonings (I add salt, pepper, chilli flakes, paprika, and a little bit of lemon juice)
  2. Scramble desired number of eggs. If using tofu, after pressing, use a fork or cheese grader to shred the block – fry in the pan just as if it’s a real egg. Add any desired seasoning (I just add salt and pepper with this one)
  3. Assemble burrito: spread avocado onto wrap and add egg and vegetables. Sprinkle some cheddar and drizzle with hot sauce
  4. Roll together and wrap in tin foil for the freezer or enjoy immediately

Gigi Hadid’s Pasta

I literally make this every time someone comes over. It is super cheap, easy, and a huge crowd-pleaser.

What you need:

  • Olive oil
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Tomato paste (buy in the tube, not the can – its resealable and then you don’t have any extras that have to be thrown out)
  • Dry pasta (penne supremacy)
  • 1oz Vodka
  • Table cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste

How to:

  1. Mince garlic – I use anywhere from 1-3 pieces, but your heart will truly tell you how much to use
  2. Dice onion – depending on how much you’re making, half in onion should suffice for 1-2 people
  3. Boil water and add pasta to cook
  4. In a large saucepan, drizzle some oil over medium heat
  5. Add garlic and onion, and sauté until fragrant and soft
  6. Now is your chance to add any other vegetable and protein sources, if wanted. If I have produce that’s almost due, it goes in.
  7. Add about 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  8. Let that cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomato paste changes colour. It should darken a little bit, but it will still taste good if you’re impatient
  9. Add a shot of vodka – this is highly recommended, but if you’re out and can’t do another LCBO run this week, I have omitted it in the past and it’s still been delicious.
  10. Allow the vodka to cook for about 2 minutes, this cooks out the alcohol content and just leaves the flavour
  11. Add cream – this is up to preference, add as much as you want, but at least enough to make the sauce more orange
  12. Add cooked pasta and about a quarter of a cup of the water it cooked in, this helps the sauce stick to the pasta
  13. Stir together and season to taste
  14. Top with parmesan and serve

Stir Fry

Stir fry is my ultimate kitchen sink meal – you can use up literally any vegetable in your fridge, and as far as getting a protein source, it’s entirely up to you.

Protein options: chicken, beef, steak, shrimp, tofu, black beans (pair with corn if you have it for a hearty vegetarian protein)

Serve with tortilla chips, in a corn or flour tortilla, or over rice.

Instead of giving you a step-by-step tutorial, which can be found here, I’ve listed a few options for different ways to season and garnish:

  1. Oil and garlic
  • Douse in melted butter or olive oil
  • Add basil/sage/thyme or any other herbs you like
  • Salt and pepper
  • Tip: add an extra drizzle of olive oil after serving – olive oil has different flavours while cooked vs straight out of the bottle
  • Best with veggies like sweet potato, Brussel sprouts, and squash.

2. Tex Mex

  • Season with salt, pepper, paprika, chilli flakes, cumin, lemon juice, and oregano
  • You can also buy premade seasoning in the aisle that sells taco kits – fajita, taco, chilli etc all work
  • Top with avocado and cheddar cheese

3. Other ideas

  • VH has plenty of premade stirfry sauces that you can use
  • You can also follow the same flavours in the fried rice recipe for an Asian-inspired stir fry. Serve over vermicelli noodles.

Hopefully, you’ll be able to save a bit of money while also enjoying great food through some of these recipes! Going to try any of them? Send us a photo of the finished product @hccarleton on Instagram to be featured!

Ashley Hermalin is in third-year studying Journalism and History at Carleton. She is a proud Swiftee, lipgloss enthusiast and perfume lover. She spends her time watching the latest fashion trends, video essays, and writing for HerCampus and Jewish on Campus.