There’s no need to be embarrassed.
I mean, sure, it’s only Wednesday and you’re heating up your fifth microwaveable Trader Joe’s curry of the week. And yeah, your “charcuterie board” lunch was just string cheese and seven grapes you gulped down as you ran out the door to your discussion section. Sure, the White Claws in your fridge have more nutritional value than the food you have for the rest of the week. But hey, it’s college.
All jokes aside, this campus does not make it easy to foster healthy eating habits. Short breaks between classes force students to buy into the overbearing culture of “meal prep,” and limited campus grocery options mean if you don’t already have vegetables, you probably won’t get any until the weekend. For students on campus, who now are required to have a meal plan, days that are supposed to be respites from Leo’s can easily turn into a mad dash just to get calories in any form that’s not bread or coffee. If you have dietary restrictions, religious observations, or a challenging relationship with food, this issue is just the beginning.
In college and after, it is so important to know how to prepare food that will energize and satisfy you. Coming from someone who is passionate about cooking, finding the time to do that is tough. Over the last year, I’ve developed some easy go-to recipes that are adaptable, save well (and save money), and still make you think, damn, I made that.
(All recipes are probably an unintentional mix of recipes already published online somewhere).
Extra spicy southwest salad
Vegan and vegetarian.
The fundamental problem with salads is that they are never quite filling enough and then you buy a snack at 3 p.m., which is exactly what you were trying to avoid by making your own lunch. The solution? Black beans! And also tons of vegetables. This recipe is super adaptable and easy to whip up. At Trader Joe’s, the ingredients come perfectly packaged to get three meals out of one shopping trip.
What you need: 3 hearts of Romaine lettuce, 3 red bell peppers, 1 avocado, frozen corn, tortilla chips, hot sauce of your choice, lime juice
What you probably have: Cumin, garlic powder, butter, salt
What to do: Microwave 1 cup of corn until it is soft. Heat 1 tbsp. of butter in a skillet and add the corn once it melts. Sauté it until it is slightly brown (4 min.). Take the corn out of the pan and add in the can of black beans and spices to your taste (about 1 tbsp. each). Cook until warm (10 min.). Meanwhile, wash and tear lettuce, cut 1 bell pepper, cut ⅓ of the avocado, and break up about 10 tortilla chips and put them in a bowl. Add ⅓ of the corn and ⅓ of the black beans. Top with lime juice and hot sauce, then toss.
Leftovers: Two more days of salad, with corn and beans already prepared.
Idea for extra ingredients (chips, corn, hot sauce): Corn nachos! Just add cheese.
Mix and match pasta salad
There are about 1,000 recipes for pasta salad out there. The downside? Lots of carb options to sort through. The upside? You can make one every other week and never get tired. Plus, lots of carbs to eat. For this recipe, choose one pasta and sauce and as many mix-ins as you want every time you make it—they all go well together.
What you need: 16 oz. of pasta (tortellini, or your favorite shape), sauce (pesto, sun-dried tomato pesto, balsamic vinegar, or just oil), mix-ins (1 can cannellini beans, 8 oz. tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, parmesan, 2 zucchinis, olives, basil, fresh mozzarella pearls, 2 heads of broccoli, 1 bag spinach)
What you probably have: Garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, herbs
What to do: Prep the toppings. If using zucchini or broccoli, chop, toss with 1 tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake (at 425 °F for about 30 min.) until cooked. You can also do this with cherry tomatoes, or leave them raw. Drain beans, chop olives and sun-dried tomatoes, grate cheese, wash spinach, etc. Cook the pasta. Toss with toppings and sauce. If using balsamic vinegar, mix 3:1 with olive oil. If using olive oil, mix with some of your favorite dried herbs.
Leftovers: Probably about 6 servings, depending on how many toppings you go for.
Ideas for extra ingredients: Balsamic, sun-dried tomatoes, and cheese can be easy toppings for a house salad with lettuce and olive oil.
The easiest tofu
Vegan and vegetarian.
Don’t be intimidated by tofu. It has literally three ingredients and, like, rice if you want.
What you need: Extra firm tofu, rice, sauce of choice (I use hoisin mixed with chili garlic sauce, but bottled curry or stir fry sauce also works. Or make your own, if you have time)
What you probably have: A skillet
What to do: Press the tofu for 30 min. (I do this by putting it on a baking dish with a cutting board and a few cookbooks on top of it). Make rice. Cut the tofu into cubes. Put them in a nonstick skillet over high heat. Flip them every few minutes, when the side on the pan gets crispy. Do this until all sides are crispy or until you get impatient. Turn heat off and add your sauce of choice.
Leftovers: One block of tofu will be two/three meals.
Save leftover sauce for next time!
Black beans and rice
Vegan and vegetarian.
I say complex, you say protein. Complex!
What you need: 2 cans of black beans, rice, 1 lime, and toppings if you so choose (avocado, sour cream, cheese, tortilla chips)
What you probably have: Cumin, paprika, chili powder, garlic, olive oil
What to do: Sauté 1 tsp. garlic in olive oil for two minutes. Add beans with liquid. Add 1 tsp. cumin, 1 tsp. chili powder, and ½ tsp. paprika. Make rice. Cook beans over medium high heat until they boil, then turn down to low until thick (20 min.). Taste and adjust seasoning. Squeeze in lime juice. Serve with rice.
Leftovers: three servings
No extra ingredients!
For more recipe ideas, check out @amwhatiyam, the author’s online food blog, on Instagram.