Every food blog and culinary influencer has a video touting “easy college cooking hacks,” but how many of those recipes are really applicable to college life? Most college students, especially freshman and sophomores, live on campus in dorms, which come with a whole list of challenges and limitations, culinary or not. What a lot of these content producers don’t seem to think about is that keeping a fresh bag of spinach or a carton of eggs in your mini fridge is just not possible, and no amount of microwaved omelets is worth the cost of buying fresh ingredients each week. Let’s be real here, nobody is cooking in their dorm room, and if they are, they’ve already worked around the limitations of a dorm room and therefore don’t need a video to help them. But this article is different, and that’s why you’re here. This isn’t a series of recipes tailor-made for your microwave or toaster. This is just a bunch of creative food hacks to help you save both money and sanity when you first start to feed yourself.
Yogurt is a universal superfood. It may not always be super filling, but it is super versatile, and it can add a lot of added flavor to your day. If you’re living somewhere with a stovetop and can make your own pancakes, consider buying the individual yogurt cups (averaging around 50 cents apiece/less than a dollar apiece) and pouring one into your pancake mix. These individual cups can come in a variety of classic and eccentric flavors, from strawberry cheesecake to Boston cream pie, and mixing one into your pancakes is a cheap and efficient way to flavor your breakfast without the hassle of cutting up fruit or drenching them in sugar. And if you’re like me, you love a cold, creamy treat every once and while. Instead of reaching for the Ben & Jerry’s, ease your sweet tooth and your guilt by pulling a yogurt cup out of the freezer. Yoplait Whips seem to work the best because of their aeration, but any flavor will do. Quick and easy sherbet at an impossibly low price, way more compact and already portioned out, so all you have to do is open and enjoy!
Whether it’s a Christmas present or a housewarming gift, consider investing in a matching set of Tupperware or reusable containers. Heck, even the sealable plastic takeout containers will work! It’s important to have a variety of sizes so you can find the right sizes to fit the situation and save you the trouble of taking up too much fridge space. The only setback for these is cleaning, but most can be easily rinsed out in a bathroom sink once emptied, making clean up a whole lot easier. Don’t fear your leftovers, use them to your advantage, and spread your takeout meals out!
If you’re worried about keeping and using a whole loaf of bread, fear not, these round bois can do so much more. They’re not just for tacos anymore! Take a page out of the mommy-blogs books and turn your sandwich into a roll! PB&Js, ham and cheese, fluffernutters, you name it. If you’re feeling crazy, throw some cheese on it and pop it in your microwave for a quick quesadilla. Feeling like chips? Toast ‘em! If you’re worried you won’t make full use of that loaf of bread before it gets moldy, consider swapping for a package of taco-size tortillas.
Worried about getting enough fruits and veggies in your diet, but too scared to buy fresh and risk decay? Don’t be afraid to turn to the freezer section for answers. Frozen veggies come in both steamable bags and bulk and throwing a big bag of mixed greens into your freezer is a recipe for future success. You don’t have to worry about them going bad before you can use them, because you can simply pour out the amount you need at the moment, without thawing the whole bag. These bags are great for portion planning too, and they can be thrown into just about anything! Making ramen? Pour in some veggies when you start the water, and by the time it’s boiling, they’ll be thawed AND cooked. Making mac & cheese? Same idea! Easy to microwave, sauté and simmer, their only limit is your creativity. Frozen fruit can be a bit trickier, but if you’re planning on throwing some fresh fruit into your bulk yogurt, leave a cup of frozen strawberries in the fridge overnight and run them under cold or lukewarm water in the morning, and voila! Good as fresh.
You can save your wallet and your waistline a lot of grief just by looking at the nutritional facts on the back of the box. You don’t have to understand all of the percentages and ingredients listed, but when it comes to cooking, it can be really helpful to pay attention to the serving size per container. It might surprise you to know that foods you might have been eating whole like a whole box of mac & cheese or a pint of ice cream, are packaged for 3 or 4 people. You don’t need to be afraid of eating what you love, just being aware of how much you’re consuming and the numbers of calories attached can make a world of difference. This can also make meal planning easier. If you’re going to make a box of mac, you aren’t going to portion out the noodles or sauce before you cook them, but once it’s all made, you can scoop out what you need and separate the rest into smaller containers for easy, conscious leftovers.
Have you ever made a pasta dish and noticed that there’s an awful lot of sauce left in the jar when you were done, despite your best efforts to empty it? Before you throw it out, consider saving it for later and throw it into the fridge instead. A single packet of ramen noodles (strained and sans seasoning packet, if you’re not into that) can fit neatly inside an almost empty jar of Alfredo sauce, and if you put the noodles in while they’re still hot, you can close the lid and shake the jar to heat the sauce while evenly distributing it. Ramen Alfredo may gross some of you out, but they’re noodles just like any other, and not using the seasoning packet has the bonus of providing you with seasonings for future dishes.
So, don’t be afraid of using your tiny kitchen to its full potential. There are easy workarounds to getting your daily grains and greens without breaking the bank or stuffing your fridge, and it never hurts to change things up once and awhile. Learn to get creative, and the kitchen is your (metaphorical) oyster.
Sarah Nowack is a senior professional writing major who is minoring in graphic design. Her days are spent haunting the local library, consuming copious amounts of coffee, playing unpopular video games, and making terrible puns. She can be found at @battlerouge on Twitter and @shiverbound on Instagram.