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How to Cook Easy (and Healthy) Meals in College

Just because you're in school doesn't mean you have to eat junk. Avoid spending a ton on fast food and try these simple meal ideas instead.

Let’s be honest. Eating meals in the campus cafeteria can get a little old after a while. And maybe you don’t even want to get that meal plan this semester—after all, it’s not always the cheapest option, especially if you’re not living right on campus every semester.

Obviously, nothing beats a home-cooked meal, but it can be difficult to create your own culinary masterpieces in a microwave in your dorm or apartment. There are solutions to this dilemma, however. You can cook delicious meals using inexpensive ingredients and a frying pan or soup pot.

Read on to get some ideas for easy, tasty meals that any college student can make—and on a budget too.

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Breakfast

It’s the most important meal of the day! Yet you may be tempted to skip it for a few extra minutes of shut-eye. Instead, whip together an easy meal (or make something the night before), and you’ll find you’re more awake than if you’d had those extra minutes. I promise!

And be sure to skip the cereal. You’ll be better off with something hot and hearty!

Easy Omelets

Eggs are a great go-to for a morning boost. They’re chock-full of protein to keep you full and get your brain fired up and ready for the classes ahead. You can do better than just scrambled or fried, though. Experiment with omelets to keep things exciting. For an easy omelet, scramble up two eggs with a some salt and pepper—and a splash of milk, if you like. Pour the mixture into your lightly oiled frying pan and allow it to set. Once the eggs are almost cooked through, add cheese, diced meat, veggies, or any other tasty additions, and fold the omelet over. Cook it until the cheese melts, then remove and eat.

World’s best oatmeal

Oatmeal is cheap, delicious, and healthy. That’s right—I said delicious! Oatmeal doesn’t have to be bland and boring. Make your oatmeal on the stove top with milk for extra protein, and add fresh fruit, cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla, or jam to jazz up your oats and energize your day. As an added bonus, a large container of oats only costs a few dollars and will feed you for at least a week.

Super-quick pancakes

Snag a pancake mix from your local supermarket, and you can whip up a batch of pancakes in just a few minutes. You can add flax seed, oats, or fresh fruit to the batter to pack in some nutrients and variety. Be creative with the toppings. Skip syrup in favor of honey, powdered sugar, or peanut butter.

Lunch

Got a few minutes in between classes? Don’t settle for fast food or Cup of Noodles. Instead, head back to your room, whip up one of these recipes (or make ahead of time!), and in no time, you’ll have a filling, inexpensive lunch that leaves you satisfied.

Quesadillas

Cheese, tortillas, and salsa—that’s all you need to make a winning quesadilla. You can also use whatever you have on hand: chicken, beef, olives, onions, or other veggies. Heat some butter or oil in your frying pan over medium heat. Add a tortilla, cheese and other fillings, and top with another tortilla. Let the cheese melt and the bottom tortilla brown, then flip and let the other side brown. Cut it into wedges with a pizza cutter, top it with salsa and sour cream, and you’re ready to eat.

Hot sandwiches

If you’re getting tired of plain sandwiches, try them hot. You can make delicious panini-esque sandwiches in your frying pan, or you can buy an inexpensive panini press if you want to get fancy about it. Add deli meat, cheese, tomato, and some ranch or other dressing to your sandwich, then grill it. There’s nothing better than a toasty sandwich to amp up your afternoon.

Dinner

Impress your roommates and friends by having them over for dinner and actually cooking for them. After all, you can’t order pizza every night and what better time to work on your cooking skills?

Chili and soups

Chili and soups are easy ways to make a lot of food with just a few inexpensive ingredients. You don’t even need a recipe. Throw together a soup out of leftover meat and veggies by simply adding some chicken or beef broth with some herbs and spices. Toss in some potatoes or pasta, and presto! A hot meal that’s far better than canned ravioli.

Chili is just as straightforward. Brown some ground beef in your soup pot, add some chili seasoning, beef broth, and tomatoes, and you’re good to go. Let it simmer for a good long while so that the flavors blend. Jazz it up with beans, veggies, and noodles, if you like. If you want to invest in an inexpensive slow cooker, you can even start your chili before you leave for classes and come back to a fully prepared meal.

Salmon burgers

Salmon is high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s packed with healthy nutrients, and it’s flavorful and easy to prepare. Unfortunately, it can also be pricey when purchased fresh. Instead, pick up a can of salmon and make burgers. Drain the salmon and add an egg, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and rosemary. Mix up the ingredients, shape them into patties and fry until browned. Serve on buns with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, tartar sauce, or pesto. Delicious!

Authentic ramen

Ramen doesn’t have to be a boring, dirt-poor college student meal. Traditional ramen is usually accompanied by sliced meat, hard-boiled eggs, and vegetables to create a fantastic noodle dish that’s robust and still budget-friendly. First, sear a chicken breast or a pork chop in the bottom of your soup pot. Remove it from the pot and slice it thinly. Then make a broth out of beef bouillon, water, soy sauce, and a touch of brown sugar. You can also add a couple of teaspoons of vinegar to give it a little tang. Add in your ramen, and boil until tender, then serve it into bowls. Top it with the meat and vegetables, and you’ll never go back to plain ramen again.

Just because you’re in school doesn’t mean you have to eat junk. Avoid spending a ton on fast food, and keep yourself from filling up on unhealthy food with these simple meal ideas. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to stay fed and healthy and still have cash left for fun.

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