When living without a meal plan, how can I find time to make cheap, healthy, and quick college meals?

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Answered by: Kathleen, An Expert in the Life Off Campus Category
Living off campus with no dining hall in sight can feel like either the best thing or the worst thing in the world. Yes, there are three Chinese restaurants in a two block radius that all have killer Sesame Chicken, but what about the salad bar that always had fresh broccoli or the soup station that always had chicken soup that tasted like mom’s? All is not lost—there is hope. There are several ways to make quick college meals that not only taste good, but will keep relatives from gossiping about the “freshmen fifteen” you gained when you were a junior.

1.)     Plan ahead of time. On weekends, make it a point to go to the grocery store or farmers market to load up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Figure out what fruits and vegetables you are likely to use a few times during the week, and load up. Carrots can be used in broths or snacked on casually, while bananas can be used in smoothies or eaten with peanut butter for breakfast. Shop around at different stores to find out what produce is on sale and where.

2.)     Cook in bulk on the weekends. When you get home on a Wednesday night after a full day of class, the last thing you will want to do is cook. On the weekends, try cooking in larger quantities and freezing leftovers for later in the week. Soups, pasta sauces, and casseroles will stay in the refrigerator for 3-4 days and with stay in the freezer for up to two weeks. Heating up a bowl of soup or boiling some pasta for your homemade sauce will take only ten minutes, time you can kill by checking your email.

3.)     Stay away from frozen meals. Let’s be honest, the ones that are healthy taste like moldy cardboard and the ones that taste good have four sticks of butter in every bite. Cooking ahead of time will give you the ability to control what goes into your meal and what goes into your body.

4.)     Salads are your best friend. A bag of lettuce is not expensive, and by adding a few pieces of chicken and your favorite low calorie dressing, you have a quick and healthy meal. Cooking a few chicken breasts over the weekend and keeping them in the refrigerator will make this even easier.

5.)     Read labels. Recently companies have been more calorie conscious with packaged foods. There are now many cereals and canned soups that have fewer calories than their predecessors. These can be great quick meals, so long as they are not overloaded with sugar and sodium. Be leery of serving sizes as well.

Off campus living should be an exciting venture. Use this new found freedom to experiment with cooking on the weekends so that you have some quick college meals for the rest of the week. Try new foods and invite friends over for a dinner and drinks. Cooking for yourself is not only rewarding, but it gives you the ability to control what goes into your body. Buy a cookbook, invest in a spatula, and go wild.

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