If you’ve clicked on this article, you’re probably a college student who’s familiar with the feeling of stressing out about food. You also probably understand why the cliche of eating ramen every night for dinner exists — you’re a college student and your options might seem limited.
Luckily, when you start living on your own, you’re granted a little more freedom because you have a kitchen! But as they say, with freedom comes responsibility. One could easily graze the aisles of Trader Joe’s, picking up everything that looks good (trust me, I’ve been there.) But, that’s usually not a good idea; you’ll find that this a.) takes up lots of room in your fridge and b.) can cost you some serious coin.
So how do you avoid this issue? You plan in advance.
By planning what you’ll be eating for the week, you can avoid that inevitable stress that might come around 5 P.M. when you realize all you have in your fridge are some slices of cheese and frozen waffles.
“OK, planning meals sounds easy enough, but where do I even start trying to look for easy and cheap ideas?” Look no further, we’re here to help.
A word to the wise: don’t trust a person who doesn’t like quesadillas. These tex-mex treats are a perfect meal for an easy lunch or dinner. One of the best things about quesadillas is that they can be as plain or complex as you want them to be, and you can even change up the ingredients to make it suit a different taste.
You can also choose from a variety of protein options to stuff them with, which will keep you fuller longer. On a vegan diet? Sub regular cheese for vegan cheese and add all of your favorite veggies. Don’t forget to add your favorite dipping sauce on the side to add some extra flavor. (We recommend mixing ranch and sriracha, trust us on this one.)
All in all, making a good a$$ Quesadilla shouldn’t cost you more than about $10, and you can save any leftover protein/ beans/ veggies for another meal.
You might think stir fry has too many components to classify it as a cheap & easy meal, but we promise this is a meal you can make at home that’s affordable, easy and will have all of your friends coming to compliment you on your “cooking abilities.”
Assemble some of your favorite veggies (we recommend mushrooms, bell peppers and string beans, but you can add more!), get a protein of your choice and cook it all in a pan with some rice.
We know rice can be a little *challenging* to cook. Not to worry though: Trader Joe’s has microwavable rice that literally could not be any easier (or cheaper!) to make. Put your favorite Asian inspired sauce (we like soy sauce or Thai chili sauce) and voila! Stir fry a la Her Campus Hofstra.
Adult Grilled Cheese
OK, we don’t mean adult in the sense that you’re simply eating a grilled cheese paired with an *adult beverage.* Au contraire, we really just mean that you can spice up your grilled cheese to make it a little more gourmet and a little less “there’s nothing in the house so this is what we’re having.”
Like a Quesadilla, grilled cheeses are so customizable. If you look up “gourmet grilled cheese” on Pinterest, we guarantee you’ll find a plethora of options, from a French-inspired Croque Monsieur (look it up, you won’t regret it) to an Italian-style sandwich with pesto, cheese and tomato. The options truly are unlimited here, so don’t be afraid to get really creative.
At-Home Protein Bowl
You know when you walk into a restaurant, and there are industrial pipes hanging from the ceiling, and all of the tables are wooden, and all of the employees have round-framed glasses and nose rings and you realized you just stepped into an Instagram-ad of an eatery? And then you end up ordering a quinoa bowl and you try to pronounce “quinoa” as best as you possibly can and you feel a *little* out of place but ultimately you’re proud of yourself for making a healthy choice? You can recreate that experience in your home (sans the shamefulness and mispronunciation of quinoa.)
The theme of this article is customization: pick your base (something like rice or quinoa), pick a protein, and literally just add whatever else sounds good. When all is said and done, you might have something like: rice, grilled chicken, arugula, avocado, corn and sriracha to top it off — but that’s just one example. All of these ingredients that you use can be kept as leftovers for another meal, or you can just go ahead and make a second bowl for yourself. We’re encouraging everyone to find their path here.
Fried Rice & Dumplings
Fried rice is a really great option for a meal for a couple of reasons. 1.) it’s delicious. 2.) you don’t even have to go out and buy a whole bag of rice, because you’re supposed to make it with day-old cooked rice. All you need to make fried rice are some eggs (which you’ll scramble into the rice), veggies, soy sauce and rice. That’s it. As for the dumplings, you can get frozen dumplings at almost any grocery store, and they’re so easy to make.
Honestly, Gusteau from Ratatouille was onto something when he said, “Anyone can cook.” With a little planning and creativity, you can make some really tasty meals that satisfy your stomach and your bank account.