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Best Lunch Tips for Girlies Without a Meal Plan

I probably don’t have to tell you this, but dining hall food sucks. In your first year of college, you most likely have to have a meal plan, so you suffer through the slop and try and make the best of it. I guess I’m a crazy person because I also chose to purchase a meal plan for my second year. Big mistake. I rarely used it because I just didn’t want to eat in dining halls anymore. Now I suffered through because it’s not like I could get a refund on it, but this year, I did not repeat my mistake. I love to cook, and now that I have a fully equipped kitchen, I have no reason to eat basic or gross food for lunch during classes. There’s no reason that you have to slap together a ham sandwich as you rush out the door. I’m here to help by offering creative, filling, and tasty recipes that you can pack to eat in between classes, so you don’t have to suffer through unseasoned chicken and hockey puck hamburgers any longer. An added bonus is that these recipes won’t break the bank! Everyone wins! (Except the dining halls :P)

-Curry Chicken Salad: I have always been a chicken salad lover, but I have recently created a recipe to elevate it. If you love a good sweet and savory combo: this is for you! Simply cook up your favorite cuts of chicken (I prefer thighs), make sure all bones are removed, then add mayo, celery, chopped craisins, and curry powder, and you’ve got a flavorful chicken salad that’s sure to beat the one they serve at the deli section of your dining hall. Just measure with your heart; I’m usually pretty generous with my ‘measurements’ and I usually have enough for 2 or 3 sandwiches. Of course, your chicken salad isn’t just limited to bread as a vessel; you can throw it on top of salads, eat it with crackers, or wrap it up in a tortilla. Chicken salad doesn’t have to be boring. This recipe is light, creative, and versatile, and it just hits every time.

Elevate Your Veggies: This isn’t a recipe as much as just a tip. I know so many people who just throw a couple baby carrots in a bag, maybe pack a dipper of ranch, and call it a day. Now, I’m not knocking carrots, but everyone needs a little variety in life. Keep your carrots, but add some other veggies in there too! I love little sweet snacking peppers! I also recommend sugar snap peas, sliced cucumbers, or edamame. Really, just throw together a mix of your favorite snacking veggies. Also, as much as I love ranch, there are other dips out there. For a little variety, try some garlic hummus, or make your own veggie dips! You definitely don’t have to ditch the ranch altogether, but there are so many other options out there, and you want to prevent getting bored with your lunch.

-Soups and Pastas: I cannot say this enough: INVEST. IN. A. THERMOS. Especially as cooler weather approaches, this is a must! If you have a thermos, you can wake up a little bit earlier and heat up some soup (I make large quantities then freeze it for easy prep), or the leftover spaghetti you have in your fridge from last night, and you’ve got an easy, filling meal that’ll warm you up. Just be sure to prep your thermos with boiling water first to make sure it can keep your food hot all day long. If you’re like me and you forget about the leftovers you have, this is an easy way to make sure they don’t get shoved to the back of your fridge to mold. It’s much less wasteful, and you’ll have a yummy, warm meal in between classes!

-Ditch the chips: I am not here to hate on potato chips, or shame anyone for eating them. All I’m saying is, plain ol’ potato chips are BORING. Spice it up a little with some Sun Chips, popcorns like Smartfood or Boom Chicka Pop. There are so many more options than plain old Pringles or Lays; there’s nothing wrong with them, but when it’s all you’ve had every day for the past month, it’s time for a change. You could even pack some tortilla chips and salsa! The sky’s the limit! It’s your lunch, you make the rules! There’s no rule saying that the only chip you can take with you is a plain potato chip. The world of chips has so much more to offer.

-Drinks: It’s so easy just to throw some ice and water into a metal water bottle and say that that’s your drink to go with your lunch. And you absolutely should have a water bottle with you throughout the day. But I prefer to have a little something else for lunchtime. Yes, I know we’re grown up now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a Capri Sun with your lunch! Often, I’ll have my large water bottle and I’ll have a kool aid or flavored water with lunch. You deserve a little treat to look forward to at lunch time. If you think you don’t have enough space for both a water bottle and another drink, invest in Mio flavor drops. Then you can have plain water and a punch, without having to carry 2 containers.

-Something Sweet: Life is too short not to pack yourself a little sweet treat in your lunch. Whether it be cookies, chocolates, some Sour Patch Kids, or whatever you prefer, take something sweet with you. If you take nothing else away from this, take this: treat yourself, eat some cookies.

Lunch doesn’t have to be boring, even if you’re in a rush. If you just put a bit more thought and preparation into packing your lunches, you’ll have a more enjoyable, fresh, and filling meal in the middle of your day. Make sure you nourish yourself, and have some fun doing it! Invest in good ingredients and recipes in your lunches, your belly will thank you!

Hi I'm Morgan! I use she/they pronouns. I'm a third year at the University of Virginia majoring in Art History. My greatest passions are studying Buddhist art and raising my 2 cats. My favorite food is a good chicken salad sandwich or an everything bagel. I'm a first gen, low income student living on my own, so if you ever need budget hacks, I'm your gal! Happy to have you here!