I am looking for some inexpensive, nutritious meals that are easy to prepare for college students or other young people living on their own for the first time.
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One great item is the george forman grill for cooking any kind of meat. If they want to prepare food from scratch, this takes just minutes to cook a burger, chop, chicken breast, or fish filet. You can't go wrong once you learn how quickly the food gets done. Add a baked potato (10 minutes in the microwave) or minute rice, or pasta; and a box of frozen veggies with easy-to-read instructions (boil in small amount of water).
Vary the starch, veggie, and meat every day and you have a variety of healthy, well-balanced meals for the whole week that makes the cook feel like an accomplished chef (just have to work out the timing so everything is done at once) :)
For special occasions (ie company or a date) add a salad for a starter and fruit cup (or fruited jello) for dessert.
A crock pot is great! You can get little ones farely inexpensive, and besides cheap cuts of meat and any kind of veggies, there is also a lot of recipes and some of those ready made kits. The only problem with cooking the meat too long is that it will fall apart, so watch your liquids, unless you love soup! You can make so many different things, and great for when you have classes ALL DAY!
Check your grocery store deli, too. They have alot of take and bake, or heat and serve, that are just like homemade. My fave grocery store, Winco has take & bake pizzas for $3, and they are the 16" real pizzas! Every wednesday, a take & bake store has lasagnas for 2/$10, so we grab a couple pairs and store in the freezer. These are for super quick meals, and they have higher fat, but still like healthier than other restaurants!
The book "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen!" is a great resource for first time cooks. The recipes are easy, the directions are helpful, the writing is funny and you feel quite accomplished at the end of the meal. And I agree with the crockpot thing! When I was in college, I ate things like top ramen with frozen veggies and chicken added (precooked chicken, which I often poached in the broth before adding the noodles), Stove Top with chicken, spaghetti, cereal, scrambled eggs, soups and grilled sandwiches (cheese usually, but sometimes with luncheon meat added for variety).
Something I've started doing is buying a large veggie tray from Sam's Club every couple of weeks. It has cut up broccoli, celery, cauliflower, carrots and grape tomatoes with the best dip I've ever tasted. It's $10.00 but will last a week. All my kids eat from it each day.
There's a book called something like, Where's Mom now that I need her? that is full of good yummy recipes. There's also a Dad one for handyman type things.
Most college campuses do not allow anything BUT a microwave and hot pot in the dorm rooms. Foreman grills, sandwich makers, crockpots, electric skillets, toasters and hot plates ARE NOT allowed except for in the floor kitchens. Be sure to check with your college before purchasing such items for your students. ... View related article.
Check out your school's library for cook books. You might never expect to find them at a university or college library, but they just might be there. I found a great one at my university last year about cooking for post-secondary students. It had lots of recipes for low-budget, quick and easy preparation using minimal appliances (if you're living in a dorm room) and healthy too!
If you have a kitchen already, I have a good idea. I am a Nutrition minor here at Arizona State University and my roommate and I are pretty awesome, and cheap, cooks. My personal favorite is my Tomato Basil Chicken Pasta, and it is as amazing as it sounds. It's easy too! All you'll need is a chicken breast, Penne noodles, basil seasoning, and your favorite spaghetti sauce (try the Newman's Own, you won't regret it). First, defrost and cook the chicken breast (usually about 20 minutes at 375 in an oven when thaw). While the chicken is cooking, boil some water and make a good portion of penne noodles in a medium pot.
I am also a college student and I sympathize with your situation. Here are some recipes that are inexpensive, fast (rushing between classes etc), and relatively healthy.
Small piece of boneless skinless chicken
(I use frozen chicken breast strips which I buy when they are on sale $7 for 3.5 pounds)
Frozen Broccoli, Green Beans or Asian Mix veggies ($1.50-$1 on sale)
Brown the chicken in a little oil add onions and garlic until translucent. Then add frozen veggies until they are cooked all the way through. Serve over rice then add soy sauce. Or if you have time add the soy sauce to the chicken and let it marinate in that or teriaki sauce if you have it on hand.
This whole meal will cost you and your boyfriend about $3.50 depending on what's on sale and how much chicken you want. Depending on how much you eat you should have left overs for lunch!
Variations: Add noodles (linguine or fettuccine, or add ramen noodles that you cooked without the seasoning packet)
One piece of boneless skinless chicken breasts
Cooked Rice (brown or white)
Frozen peas and carrots
Frozen Broccoli (if desired)
Cook cut up chicken with onions and garlic in about 3 tablespoons of oil, add frozen veggies, once they are cooked add the rice. Then scramble the eggs with a little pepper and add over the mixture and begin stirring the mixture until eggs are cooked through (about 2 minutes) serve with soy sauce and/or asian hot sauce/chili paste.
About $3 for two people. It's very filling.
You could also add left over beef or pork cubed. If you don't have meat you can just add more eggs.
Bean and Rice Burritos
There is a reason they are on the dollar menu at your favorite mexican place. They are very cheap to make. Here is how...
One Can of Black Beans or re-fried beans
One cup of cooked rice (or 1/2 cup uncooked and prepared)
4 flour tortillas
(these can be expensive depending on where you live, you can also use 6-8 corn tortillas and make them into tacos)
(or whichever salsa you prefer a small can in the hispanic food section of the grocery store is about 60 cents)
Cheese if desired
Veggies if desired (peppers and onions are my favorite!)
Combine cooked rice with beans in a pot and heat slowly add cheese if desired of veggies (honestly even broccoli works here). Scoop into tortillas which you have heated over the stove (if you have gas) or in the microwave add salsa and/or hot sauce.
This will keep you full for hours and is very portable if you are running late for class. If you want double this recipe and keeps some burritos in the fridge that you can take with you to class or have for a quick dinner.
Also about $3-$4 for two people with lunch left over.
Add left over chicken or whatever you have to get in more protein but the rice and bean combo should give you enough protein. You can make it fancy if you entertaining by placing the burritos in a baking dish and covering them with red salsa or enchilada sauce and cheese.
Staples to have on hand
The grocery store can seem scary especially when you are cooking on your own for the first time. You should try to stock up on these things when they are on sale. Even when they are not on sale they are inexpensive. They are something that you should always have in your house since they are so versatile and allow you to make food in only minutes.
Frozen Chicken (in small portions)
Even though you are two people chances are you are not going to go through a multi pack of chicken in a week (and for the sake of your budget you shouldn't!) When you get home from the grocery store freeze the chicken in individual zip lock bags write the date and type of meat with a Sharpe) Oftentimes the butcher case has better deal on meat then the pre packaged meat so make sure you check it out.
We have all seen veggies languish in the bottom of the fridge. Frozen veggies are always ripe and never rotten they can be stored in the freezer for a about a year. Don't buy the veggies with sauce on them they are more expensive and unhealthy. Get broccoli florets, frozen peas and carrots and green beans. Trader joes has a good frozen peppers and onions mix. Try to buy them on sale but even if there not on sale the store brand is normally $1.50 a bag.
I like brown rice but it is a pain to cook. So make about 6 servings at once and then keep the left overs in your fridge. Brown rice and beans is a complex protein. It's only slightly more expensive then white rice and keeps you fuller longer. You can buy it in bulk at health food stores etc.
A can of beans is around 90 cents and can act (coupled with rice) as a meat substitute. Make sure you rinse the beans well because often they are covered in salty bean water. You can make these yourself by soaking them over night and then boiling them but for me it's not worth the effort to save a couple cents. This way you always have them in your pantry ready to go. You can use black beans, kidney beans, etc for chili as well.
A college stable I prefer whole grain pasta because it keeps me fuller longer. I buy it when it goes on sale. You can get it for $1 a pound. But if you love white pasta you can use it just be aware that you shouldn't have it for every meal! It's fast to make and can be used for asian as well as italian meals.
A great addition to any Asian meal! I get the low sodium kind don't get a name brand if you have a trader joes near you their soy sauce is only $2.50 for a large bottle.
That bright red sauce in the asian food section of your market. It spices up any dish and can be added with soy sauce if you don't want it that hot.
You can buy it cheap in the HISPANIC section of a normal grocery store or even better at a mexican market (they also have cheap produce) get the cans to start off with to see what you like then invest in a jar.
When in doubt add hot sauce! That is my mantra. You can get tapatillo for 60 cents a bottle. You can add it on eggs, mexican food, mac and cheese, the possibilities are endless!
Salt, Pepper, etc.
I highly recommend that before you go to the spice section of your grocery store you check out the hispanic food section. They have packages of pepper for very cheap. As well as entire and crushed oregano for 60 cents. Cheaper then the Italian spice blend. But even if you have to pay full price for store brand it's a good investment to get some chili powder (for chili), salt, pepper, and if you want taco seasoning envelopes to make ordinary dishes more exciting.
Learn to love them they are cheap (aprox 67 cents a pound) and portable. Have one for a quick breakfast or a snack in class. You'll still need variety so get whatever other fruit is on sale make sure you weigh it first and calculate the cost so that you don't get surprised at the check out.
I hope that helped!
I have to run to class but if you want feel free to contact me or comment on this and I will write more ideas.
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