Cooking on a college budget: put your off-campus kitchen to use
Quick, easy and healthy meal ideas you can make from the comfort of your off-campus kitchen.
September 20, 2020
It can be hard to eat healthy and cheaply in college, all too often we find ourselves stuck between dabbing excess grease off of dining hall pizza and shelling out way too much cash at Nashville’s tasty restaurants. While cooking a gourmet meal in your dorm isn’t always an option, those who are lucky enough to have access to a kitchen can explore plenty of easy and healthy recipes with ingredients that won’t break the bank. Once you get into cooking, there are few things that compare to preparing a meal for friends or family (or yourself), and it’s totally possible to whip something up between classes to power you through your next Zoom.
Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free or total carnivore? No problem. Make modifications—or iffy measurements, if you’re not Type A like I am—to your heart’s content…no one’s telling Gordon Ramsay.
Breakfast: Veggie Omelet
For a quick and easy breakfast, I cooked up a simple veggie omelet with a few avocado slices on the side (I’m basic, so sue me). Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- 2 eggs (3, if you’re feeling extra hungry)
- Mushrooms (I used Baby Bellas)
- Green onion
- Shredded up mixed greens or spinach (I used spinach)
- Optional: soy sauce
- Chop mushrooms into bite-sized pieces.
- Spray frying pan with oil spray or add 2 tbsp oil.
- Sauté mushrooms on low-medium heat, stirring occasionally until lightly browned. Remove from heat.
- While mushrooms are sautéing, chop greens and green onions.
- In a bowl, whisk eggs together. Add vegetables, salt and pepper.
- Maybe I’m weird, but I like to add a dash of soy sauce to my eggs to deepen the flavor. If you vibe with that, add soy sauce to the bowl now.
- Pour egg mixture into frying pan. Cook on low-medium heat.
- When eggs are nearly cooked, use a spatula to flip one side over the other, creating an omelet shape.
- Let eggs fry for a little longer (depends on how crispy you want the outside of your omelet to be), then remove from heat.
- If you love spice like me, serve with a drizzle of hot sauce.
Lunch: Protein Salad/Wrap
For a light-but-filling lunch, I made this simple salad that can easily be made into a wrap if you’re craving more density.
- Protein of your choice (I used shrimp, but you can also use chicken, tofu or tempeh)
- ½ of an avocado
- Mozzarella cheese pearls or slices
- ½ of a sweet onion
- Greens of your choice (I used mixed greens)
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- ½ tbsp honey
- 1 tsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Optional: 1 tortilla, if making into a wrap
- Chop onion into bite-sized pieces (always onion first, because sautéing onions takes FOREVER).
- Spray frying pan with oil spray or add 2 tbsp oil.
- Sauté onions over medium heat until lightly browned.
- Once browned, take onions off of heat. Set aside.
- While onions are sautéing, slice avocado and prepare your protein (my recommendations on how to prepare your protein of choice are at the bottom of this article).
- If not using pearls, slice mozzarella.
- Prepare dressing by whisking lemon juice, honey and olive oil together in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Adjust ingredient ratio if desired.
- Put greens into a bowl and top with veggies, cheese and protein.
Dinner: Rice Bowl
My cooking hack is that whenever I make something—whether it’s roasting veggies or cooking up a protein—I make extra batches to throw in the fridge. Later, I can easily toss a bunch of random crap into a bowl and have a full meal ready to go without turning on the oven. So, for this dish, I used my leftovers from breakfast and lunch and improvised from there.
Ingredients (honestly, whatever you’ve got in your fridge or pantry):
- Rice (I used cauliflower rice)
- Protein (I had a fried egg, but I’d also personally recommend tofu or tempeh. For carnivores, shrimp, beef and chicken will all work)
- Veggies of your choice (you can literally use microwaveable ones if you want), but here’s what I suggest:
- Sautéed mushrooms (leftover from breakfast)
- Sautéed onions (leftover from lunch)
- Frozen edamame
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sesame oil (you can easily substitute another type of oil if you need to, but sesame oil gives the best pop of flavor)
- 1 tbsp honey
- Start by preparing your rice base (I used microwave cauliflower rice, because sneaking in extra veggies and cooking fewer components? Yes please).
- Revive leftover veggies (mushrooms and yellow/white onion) in microwave or a frying pan.
- Read directions on package of edamame. Microwave or steam accordingly.
- Prepare sauce by whisking ingredients in a small bowl, adjusting ratios to taste.
- In a frying pan, fry an egg (or two, for extra protein). Personally, I fried mine for 2 minutes to get that perfect runny yolk (*swoon*).
- Once all ingredients are prepared, scoop your base into a bowl and pile with veggies. Add fried egg to top, then drizzle with sauce.
I didn’t add broccoli to this bowl because I was feeling lazy—don’t make yourself cook on a Friday evening, you’ll regret it—but if you’re feeling motivated follow these steps:
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees
- Chop up your broccoli into bite-sized pieces.
- Cover a baking sheet with foil. Spray with anti-stick spray.
- Place broccoli on a baking sheet, drizzle with 1-2 tbsp olive oil or spray with oil spray, and put the tray in the oven.
- Cook for 18-20 minutes until tender.
We all have different tastes when it comes to the protein in our meal, but thankfully you can use pretty much any kind in the recipes above. For tofu, I recommend dipping in a mix of water and cornstarch and lightly frying. For tempeh, I love dousing it in soy sauce and frying it up in a pan. If you’re getting fancy with some shrimp, I like to pan-fry it with lemon juice, garlic and white wine/white wine vinegar. I’m a vegetarian (who adds in the occasional shellfish), so I don’t have any bright ideas for chicken or red meat, but experiment to your heart’s content.
Balling on a Budget
In total, the ingredients for these recipes should ring up at around $30-45, depending on what brands you buy (generally, I went for the classic Kroger brand) and what type of protein you choose (shrimp will ring up higher than tofu and tempeh). This list includes two different types of oil and way more eggs, spinach, cauliflower rice and other ingredients than you’d ever need for a serving of these recipes—so, you could honestly make double batches of all of these meals for the same price, whether you’re super into leftovers, cooking for a roommate or trying to impress a significant other.
Whether you’ve got Martha Stewart aspirations or just need a break from meal plan food, there are tons of simple and healthy recipes out there. Bon appetit!