Let’s face it: Eating at a dining hall everyday, while an immense privilege to be fed and cooked for, is not the most exciting culinary experience. Even though many elite colleges and universities are upping their food game with menus boasting dishes like Vietnamese pho and Maine lobster, the food served at dining halls across the country can often get monotonous and mediocre. Grilled cheese or pizza are great every now and then, but having one every day gets old for even the most enthusiastic cheese-loving college students.
To combat the urge to resist dining hall food, cooking your own meal every now and then — this may mean one meal a day, week, two weeks, it’s up to you — can create options for you and bring a great deal of gratitude for your school’s amenities in the dining department. For students who have apartments, cooking regularly is probably not a new practice, but those residing in dorms can make use of the shared kitchens that most dorms offer students to cook every so often as well! Take control of what you eat and learn how to cook while you’re at it — here are a few ideas and recipes for a campus lunch to get you started on a journey towards self-sustenance and (hopefully) a love of cooking.
Upgraded Instant Ramen
This classic college meal is a great (and affordable) place to start honing your cooking skills — incorporating a few extra steps and ingredients will make you never want to eat plain instant ramen ever again.
- 1/2 Tbsp cooking oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1 handful sliced mushrooms
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 1 cup water
- 1 package instant ramen (seasoning discarded)
- 1 handful fresh spinach
- 1 large egg
- 1 green onion, sliced
- Sriracha to taste
- Add the oil, garlic, and ginger to a small sauce pot and sauté over medium for about one minute.
- Add the sliced mushrooms and sauté for about a minute more.
- Add the broth and water, and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, add the uncooked ramen noodles. Boil for about 3 minutes, or just until they are tender. Do not overcook the noodles.
- Stir in the spinach until wilted. Turn the heat down to low, crack the egg into the broth, and let sit for about six minutes, or until the egg whites are cooked and the yolk is still runny.
- Transfer the soup to one or two bowls, then top with sriracha and sliced green onion.
Recipe courtesy of Budget Bytes.
Easy Chickpea Salad Sandwich
This vegetarian (and vegan with simple substitutions) salad also works well over simple mixed greens for a stellar salad.
- 15 ounce can chickpeas or 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
- 1 rib celery
- 3 green onions
- 1 to 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, vegan mayonnaise, or cashew cream
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon celery seed
- Kosher salt & fresh ground pepper
- 4 slices bread
- Lettuce, spring green mix, or sprouts
- Hummus, optional
- Thinly slice the celery (if it’s a large rib, cut in half lengthwise first). Thinly slice the green onions.
- Drain and rinse the chickpeas. In a medium bowl, smash the chickpeas with a fork.
- Combine the chickpeas with the chopped celery and green onions, mayonnaise, lemon juice, and celery seed. Add about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, depending on your chickpea brand and taste preferences, and fresh ground pepper to taste. Taste and salt until the flavor pops! If the salad is dry, add more mayonnaise (cooked chickpeas have a drier texture than canned).
- Assemble the chickpea salad sandwich: If desired, spread the bread with hummus (this amps it up a bit but not required). Top the sandwich with lettuce or greens and chickpea spread.
Recipe courtesy of A Couple Cooks.
Microwave Minestrone Soup
Yep, you read that right. This classic soup is made in about ten minutes thanks to the modern wonder that is the microwave.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 2 carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise
- 1 red bell pepper (ribs and seeds removed), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 8 ounces green beans, stem ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch lengths
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/3 cup couscous
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 can (15.5 ounces) navy beans, drained and rinsed
- Coarse salt
- Flat-leaf parsley leaves (optional)
- Shaved Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)
- In a 3-quart microwave-safe dish, place oil, carrots, bell pepper, green beans, and garlic; stir to coat. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes.
- Add couscous, broth, tomato paste, navy beans, 1 cup water, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt. Cover; microwave on high until vegetables and couscous are tender, 5 minutes. If desired, stir in parsley, and garnish with cheese.
Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart.
Ground Turkey Lettuce Wraps
Make the turkey filling a day or two ahead to make assembly the only thing you have to worry about on a busy school day.
- 2 tablespoons sriracha
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound ground turkey
- Butterhead lettuce leaves
- Sliced red onion
- Julienned Persian cucumber
- Tender herb leaves (i.e. mint, basil, parsley, and cilantro)
- Mix together the sriracha, soy sauce, and molasses; set aside.
- Put the oil in a (preferably nonstick) skillet over medium to medium-high heat; add the garlic and cook until it starts to brown, 30 to 60 seconds.
- Add the turkey and cook, breaking up with a spoon, for 2 minutes. Add the reserved sauce mixture and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce is reduced, about 5 minutes.
- Arrange the lettuce, red onion, cucumbers, herbs, and ground turkey on a platter. Serve.
Recipe courtesy of The Hungry Hutch.
Sheet Pan Nachos
Chips and cheese are a match made in heaven, and this recipe elevates the college classic to an even more divine level.
- 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound of ground beef (or turkey or chicken)
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 bag of restaurant style tortilla chips
- 1 can of black beans, rinsed
- 2 cups of shredded Colby jack cheese
- 1/2 red onion diced
- 1 jalapeno, sliced
- 1 large tomato, diced
- 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, stems removed
- 1 jar of salsa
- 1 lime cut into wedges
- (Other topping options: corn, pinto beans, avocado slices, black olives)
- In a medium saute pan, over medium-high heat, add olive oil and ground beef. Cook beef and crumble while cooking. Once cooked through, drain grease and return to heat. Add seasoning, salt, and pepper. Cook for another 2 minutes and remove from heat.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread tortilla chips onto a sheet pan. Distribute cooked meat and beans evenly over chips. Sprinkle cheese evenly over meat and beans. Place sheet pan into the oven for 5-7 minutes to melt cheese.
- While cheese is melting, make avocado crema and pour into a condiment bottle.
- Remove sheet pan from oven. Top nachos with red onion, jalapeno, and tomato. Squeeze crema across nachos then top with cilantro leaves. Place lime wedges and salsa on the side to use while eating.
Recipe courtesy of Tanorria's Table.
Hear us out — this quick method of cooking salmon is a fitting choice for college students with limited cookware available to them.
- 1 – single portion salmon filet
- Salt and pepper
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1-2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
- 2-3 fresh cut lemon slices
- 1 tablespoon parsley
- Rinse salmon filet with cold water and pat dry. Place the salmon skin side down in a microwave safe container. Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise and sriracha sauce. Generously spread the mayonnaise mixture on top of the fillet. Add lemon slices and parsley.
- Cover the dish tightly with microwave safe plastic wrap. Microwave the fish for 3.5 minutes. Check the center of the filet for doneness with a fork. If there is any uncooked fish, microwave for another 30-45 seconds. Garnish with additional parsley and lemon wedges.
Recipe courtesy of Savory Sweet Life.
Love pasta but hate all the pans that come with making it? This recipe is for you.
- 12 ounces linguine
- 12 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
- 1 onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
- 4 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
- Coarse salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 4 1/2 cups water
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
- Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red-pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet (the linguine should lay flat).
- Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs or a fork, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil. Serve with olive oil and Parmesan.
Recipe courtesy of Food52.
Hopefully one of these recipes inspires you to cook a little more when you’re at college, and who knows, maybe you’ll find a new favorite meal to show off to your friends!