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Simple Budget Meals for the Beginner College Chef

Coming up with meals for yourself after living at home or in the dorms can sometimes be a challenge, especially if you’ve never cooked for yourself before. My parents made sure that I was involved in the kitchen so that I was not helpless in feeding myself, but others might not have been as lucky. While I saw and ate what my parents cooked for me, my own personal tastes altered from theirs as I got older and I knew I had to find ways to satisfy my own cravings while also getting the nutrients I needed. All of the recipes you will see here are meant to be a baseline, or guideline, so add or take away as much as you want. That is the beauty of getting to cook for yourself, sometimes we just need a place to start. With that in mind, here are some of my easiest, but tastiest, meals!

Chicken Salad

I like to use Wheat Thins to scoop the chicken salad, but you could also add it to a sandwich or on top of a bed of greens, too!

2 cans of chicken *strain as much water from the cans as possible*

½ cup of Greek yogurt

½ cup of celery, diced

1 cup of green apples, diced

¼ teaspoon of garlic

Salt and pepper to taste

Breakfast Bites

I prepare these on Sunday so I can have a quick and easy breakfast in the mornings before class. This recipe requires a muffin tin, and some olive oil or Pam to spray it down beforehand. All of the ingredient amounts vary depending on how many you want to make! Place the ham into the muffin tin to act as a cup, and then carefully crack one egg into each slot. Break your cheese slices into four mini squares, and place it directly on top of the egg. Then, sprinkle your green onions on top along with some salt and pepper and bake at 350 degrees for at least eight minutes. After eight minutes, I like to set my oven to broil to get the cheese on top bubbly. Let them cool and dig in, or package them to heat up and enjoy throughout the week!

Thickly sliced ham

Eggs

Sliced cheese (This week I did gouda, but you can use any cheese you please!)

Diced green onions for garnish

Salt and pepper to taste

Corn Salsa with Chicken or Steak

For this meal, it is best to marinate the meat for about 30 minutes before cooking, but not detrimental to the dish if you don’t. I like to just marinate the meat while I put the corn salsa together. I based the ingredients in this recipe on one-to-two servings.

Corn Salsa

1 can of corn, strained and rinsed

½ of a red onion, diced

As much cilantro as your heart desires

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and pepper to taste

Chicken or Steak Marinade

After marinating, pour contents into a preheated skillet and cook on each side until your desired temperature for the steak, or until 165 degrees for chicken. (I bought a digital thermometer from Target for $8, and it has made my life a whole lot easier.)

Juice of 1 lime

1 tablespoon minced garlic (you can buy a jar of minced garlic from most grocery stores)

1 teaspoon of cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

As much Cilantro as your heart desires

Dash of salt and pepper

Chicken Balsamic Pasta

This recipe was one of my very first concoctions, so I am very proud of it and have made it once a week for almost two years now. Start by boiling water for pasta. Don’t forget to salt and olive oil your pasta water! Next, dice your chicken and add it to a skillet with olive oil and season with Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Next, add your diced cherry tomatoes and cook those down so they’re edible (I am one of those people who won’t touch a raw tomato but eats ketchup, pasta sauce and roasted tomatoes.) While those are cooking in your skillet, start adding balsamic glaze so that the chicken and tomatoes almost begin to caramelize. It’s important to not let the pan get too hot, so keep it on low-to-medium heat. Once your pasta is finished cooking, use a glass to save about a tablespoon of pasta water and add the pasta and pasta water directly to the skillet. Add in some more Italian seasoning and balsamic glaze. Let that sit for a minute or two, and enjoy!

1 chicken breast, diced

Handful of tomatoes

Balsamic glaze (It is important to get the glaze, NOT balsamic vinegar)

Pasta of your choosing

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 tablespoon Italian seasoning for chicken and tomatoes

Salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to taste

Whether or not you follow the recipes or just take some ideas from them, these offer up a great place to start. Growing up is all about learning who you are and what you enjoy, and one of the biggest aspects of that is what foods we use to fuel our bodies. Never feel bad for the meals you enjoy, whether it’s chicken and vegetables or a big bowl of ice cream. Balance and moderation are key, but be patient with yourself because it is a learning process and it is most definitely not linear.

Kaitlyn Peppler

Illinois State '23

Hey! My name is Kaitlyn Peppler, and I am so excited to be with Her Campus. I am all about self-love, self-care, and the bittersweet truth, so if you need a little bit of that, I'm your girl!
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