A challenge facing all college students, and GW students especially, is meal planning. For GW students, going without a kitchen is hard enough. But once you have a kitchen, your dining plan gets cut in half. And for those of us living off campus, cooking for ourselves is a skill that takes a lot of learning.
My roommates and I devised a system that works for us and, hopefully inspires other students unsure of how to manage their dining money or account for groceries into their budget. On a budget of $60/week, we split our groceries between shared foods and individual snacks. Based on our class schedules and extracurriculars, we were able to formulate a meal for each day of the week.
Sundays are our comfort meals. This is usually a good night to cook pasta because it’s a low stress meal that we can spice up each week. Recently, we made butternut squash and spinach pasta and watched “The Dark Knight” together. Sunday’s are usually homework days, so an easy, customizable dinner is a must.
During the beginning of the semester, my roommates and I would dedicate Monday dinners as designated roommate bonding time as we cook, watch “The Bachelor”, and avoid homework for the night. We like to cook something we can all participate in. This week, we are challenging ourselves to kabobs.
Tuesdays are an average dinner night. Usually splitting up to do homework, we like to make something low key. Poké bowls have become a favorite in our apartment especially because it’s easy ingredients to keep in the fridge: avocado, carrots, cucumber, lettuce. We spice it up with imitation crab and sauce you can get in any condiment aisle. Investing in large rice bags is our biggest apartment staple, as well.
We’ve adopted “protein nights” to accommodate our different eating habits: one roommate that doesn’t eat meat and another that doesn’t eat cheese. As the resident pescatarian, I usually make myself salmon (which I buy fresh and keep in the freezer until I’m ready to eat it), rice, and whatever vegetable that’s in the fridge, my favorite being steamed broccoli.
We refer to Thursday as “DIY” dinner, as in, make your own dinner. It’s nice to have a break between cooking and just having a typical college meal, like mac and cheese, or another protein night.
Friday and Saturday
For the weekend, my roommates and I like to challenge ourselves to new recipes. We’ve gotten great at making paella, which is honestly so much easier than it seems to make. (At Whole Foods, we get their frozen seafood medley which has shrimp, scallops, muscles, calamari, and octopus. Also, we get 2 boxes of spanish rice and follow this recipe, give or take a few steps.) These are also the nights we may have friends over for dinner, so we want to make something interactive. We’ve made tacos and made our own pizzas.
Once we make a plan for what we are going to cook, it’s easy to write a grocery list; and then we split the list between the roommates. For the meals mentioned above, our shared grocery list may look something like this:
- Pasta (we debate over the best shape)
- Butternut squash (cubed, unless you like to struggle)
- Spinach (doubles for salad lunches)
- White rice
- Romaine lettuce
- Poke sauce (or any preferred sauce, check condiment aisle or international aisle at Whole Foods)
- Imitation crab (we went to Safeway)
- *personal protein*
- Side of choice: potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.
- *on your own*
- Friday and Saturday
- (for paella)
- Seafood medley
- 2 boxes spanish rice
From this list of 18 items, each roommate would be responsible for 6 items, saving us all a good amount of money.
Cooking meals together is more than just meal prepping to save money — it has also brought us closer together. We started as roommates and grew friendships from there, as random freshman year roommates. Cooking dinner together and sitting together feels like a family tradition that none of us would ever trade, at least I don’t think they would. And even if we have our computers open working on homework, it’s comforting to be with friends we consider families. Food brings us all together.