I've become obsessed with a new term. It's bounced around the halls after a student goes home for the weekend.
How does one simple phrase make me go weak in the knees? The idea of a plethora of food made by loving hands makes me feel faint. Truly, a single dinner made by Mom or Dad can make your week a hundred times better.
Sadly, this is not an option for many of us. Those who have family less than an hour away get to return with a full stomach while the rest get to enjoy whatever option the mess hall cranks out for us.
Now, like most schools, there are other options here. You can spend the virtual money on your account for the odd chicken tenders or California Roll, but that's normally a great way to run out of money before the fourth week of school rolls around. And forget going out every night, that's the same as setting your wallet on fire.
Therefore, you need to look inside and find your own cooking abilities. If there's a kitchen in your dorm use it. There's plenty you can make in just a microwave, but a stove or an oven can make the difference inedibility.
Now let's do a meal time run-down.
It's the most important meal of the day, of course, but getting up for an 8am class is hard enough without making time for a stop by the mess hall. Here are my tips:
Load your coffee the night before. If you're like me and have a one-touch coffee machine, make sure there's enough water in it. If you like to use grounds and a classic set-up, pour in your tablespoons of ground Heaven and a few cups of water. This way, when you wake up you can just flip a switch and run to the bathroom. While you shower or wash your face, the glorious, dark liquid of sustainability will fall into your mug and bring happiness, like that scene at the end of Holes when it rains after a long drought.
Buy some fruit. The hardest thing about mornings is getting your sugar intake without just gobbling down some Oreos. I know college kids are broke and buying food that expires way to quickly doesn't seem like a great investment, but your body will thank you for those apple slices smeared with peanut butter.
Cereal. Lots of cereal. Not just the ones with marshmallows, mind you, but the fiber rich flakes that taste like dirt. If you manage to choke down a few spoonfuls with some fresh milk you'll have a good balance of nutrients to start the day. Normally, cereal is a 24/7 option in the campus cafeteria, so grab a Ziploc baggie and fill it up with whatever suits you best.
Frozen food. This might only be something to do if you have your own refrigeration unit (don't trust people not to steal out of a communal fridge) but it really is a great way to start off in the morning. Buy, or even better make, some frozen waffles, pancakes, etc. and go to town! Throw them in a microwave for a minute, maybe put some strawberries or syrup on top, and you've got a meal fit for a king. Also, invest in yogurt. The taste and texture may not blow you away, but if you throw in a handful of nuts or some chopped fruit you can truly enjoy it.
From what I've gathered, lunch is the best meal on campus. You normally get the most options and it's the freshest made food too. This is where Tupperware comes in handy.
Box it up. If you end up going to eat in your cafeteria, throw a Tupperware container or some baggies in your backpack. That way, if something is especially good, you have leftovers for the night (or breakfast the next day). Also, a lot of veggies pop out around lunch and yes, you need your greens. Put that steamed broccoli on your plate and put extra in a container to take back to your dorm. Your immune system will thank you.
Ramen. By far the unhealthiest thing the average college attendee will eat Ramen has sodium levels through the roof with very little nutritional payoff. Now is when you get to be creative. Boil your water, make your soup, but only use half of the flavor packet included. A majority of the worst bits for you are in that small 2"x2", sealed packet so you definitely don't want to use it all. By using half, you cut out a lot of the unhealthy parts but you still get all of the flavors if you drain the excess water out before hand. Now your unhealthy meal is... still pretty bad for you actually. Which leads me to...
Ramen: Part 2. Add to your noodles! Cracking an egg into your bowl adds a whole lot of protein and healthy fats that can sustain you through the rest of the day. If the flavor is too bland you can add some chopped peppers, dried spices, or some Sriracha for a kick! Finally, you know that broccoli you brought back with you from the dining hall? Add that to the mix! You can get a wonderful mix of healthy components into something that was once a heart-stopper (in a bad way.)
The Classics. You absolutely can't go wrong with the stuff your mom put in your lunch box. A PB&J (in my case I had Peanut Butter and Lettuce sandwiches, definitely worth a shot), microwave mac n' cheese, or even a Lunchables. All of these can make for a great main meal and you can have a GoGurt or some Goldfish crackers on the side.
This is a meal you don't want to go heavy on. At night you only want enough food to keep you awake until bedtime. Food eaten after 8 or 9pm don't get metabolized very well if you're not being active. It's more important to load up on food during the beginning and middle of the day, then only eat enough at night to keep you from snacking on corn chips in your bed.
Quesadillas. For me, this is just an excuse to eat one of my favorite things: cheese. Now, don't think some overloaded creation spilling over your plate, but also don't think Taco Bell. A simple, plain quesadilla can fill you up quickly and lets you also eat some snack food as well to round out the meal. For cooking, you can throw your flour tortilla in the microwave, yes, but I recommend a stove top and pan if you have one. If you don't but you have a coffee machine with a pot warmer, wrap the folded, cheese filled tortilla in some aluminum foil and put it on the heater, applying pressure above. Flip over a few times and check to make sure you have that perfect melted quality. Boom. You can add any veggies or spice to your cheesy creations for a delicious dinner... as long as you don't use too much cheese.
Mug meals. Especially great if you only have a microwave, food made in coffee mugs gives you the feeling you accomplished something as well as the satisfaction of a good bit of food. There are entire recipe books full of ideas for mug-based dinners, but I recommend a Pizza Mug Cake. Mix flour, olive oil, an egg, tomato paste, baking powder, and mozzarella cheese together. You can add anything else you want too: pepperoni, black olives, mushrooms, etc. Microwave for about a minute and test to see how cooked it is. Add some more cheese on top and finish it off for an additional 15-45secs.
Guac. A personal favorite of mine, guacamole is really simple to make and only needs as many ingredients as you want to add. An avocado, half of a tomato and some salt and pepper will easily get the job done. Adding lime juice helps a lot too, along with some dried spices. Cut up the fruits/veggies and mash the avocado into a bowl, incorporating the other ingredients. Serve with chips of any kind and you're good to go.
Mama Mia, that's some pasta! Yes, good ole noodles are a great way to end the day, especially if you need to carbo-load for a sport the next morning. Boiling pasta is so easy you can do it in a coffee pot filled with hot water. The best way to know it's done? Throw some noodles at the wall. If they stick pretty well, they're good to go. Toss in any veggies or pizza topping you can think of with some tomato sauce and life is good.
College is supposed to be the best time of your life. That doesn't mean it'll be the best dining experience of your life, though. Take some time to figure out a few recipes that really work for you that are quick and tasty, That way, if the dining hall is filled with inedible choices, you can head back to your dorm, head held high, knowing you'll be eating well.
Next week, we can tackle desserts.