For our final post this month, I’d like to share some cooking tips and easy recipes for the busy college student (or really, anyone who’s busy and old enough to use kitchen appliances). Eating balanced meals and keeping snacks on hand for busy days is essential, especially if you’ve just moved away from home and are now relying on yourself to cook some or potentially all of your meals. Getting a meal plan is a great idea for anyone living on campus or who spends large amounts of time on campus (especially during lunch time). But, really, knowing how to make at least a few balanced meals can really go a long way when it comes to staying energized and focused.
But wait! Before we can get to the recipes, we need to stock up on some essentials!
One: A Crockpot
Crockpots are any beginner or lazy cooker’s best friend. You just plug it in, add all your ingredients, turn it on, and go on your merry way without having to check in or stir or worry. Yes, you definitely should not put it on the “high” setting if you leave the house, but that’s basically it’s only limitation, in my opinion. I know some crockpots come with tons of settings and timers, but really all you need is one that has three settings: low, high, and warm. Invest in a crockpot. Just make sure to pick the size that works best for your situation.
Two: Bulk Grains and Legumes
Brown rice, quinoa, lentils. These are the staples of my home-cooked meals. Eating some type of meat and veggies as a whole meal is never enough for me. I need a side of grains or something similar to bulk up my meals and make them actually filling. I tend to prefer quinoa, which can get quite expensive. Brown rice works well, too (tip: stay away from white rice as much as possible). Expense is one of the main reasons I suggest buying in bulk. Costco is great for this goal, but it’s not the only store that sells bulk food items. These foods can last a long time in a pantry, though you’ll likely eat them way too quickly for expiration dates to be a concern. I just bought some quinoa and brown rice in bulk, using ebates so I could get some cash back.
Three: Low Sodium Non-Perishables
Veggie, chicken, or meat broth/stock is always helpful when cooking in a crockpot. They are also great when making quinoa, as they add a bit of flavor to the grain. Canned beans and veggies are also great for easy to make recipes. Just make sure to buy the “no salt” versions when possible, and the reduced sodium versions when you can’t find the better alternative. Rinsing canned beans and veggies before cooking with them reduces sodium amounts, as well, and your handy stock can be used to add any liquid that was removed by the rinse. Frozen veggie packs are great, too, so if you prefer that options to cans, go for it.
Four: A Blender
Smoothies are an easy snack to make at home. All you need is a blender that works. It doesn’t have to have a dozen settings. Even just having one or two settings should work just fine. Blenders have other uses as well of course. Milkshakes, pureed soups and sauces, and crumbled crackers for a pie crust or meat coating, just to name a few. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Just get one.
10 Recipes for Various occasions
Snack: Any Ingredient Smoothie
There isn’t really a specific recipe to include for this snack idea. Mix together your favorite smoothie ingredients in a blender, then enjoy your flavorful drink. Smoothies are good for both breakfast and snacks. Here are a few YouTube videos with smoothie recipes.
1 frozen banana
(a lot of) strawberries
(a few) raspberries
(a few) pineapple chunks
Snack: Home-made Trail Mix
Trail mix also really differs depending on personal preferences. There are many videos about this snack and granola, too, if you’re interested. Basically, though, you just mix together your favorite non-salted or roasted or honeyed nuts (the less salt/sugar, the better). Add in a few dark chocolate chips. Add in some lightly salted pretzel bites. The ratio of ingredients depends on your personal favorites among the snack elements. Once it’s all mixed together, put the mix in a container and snack on it when you need a pick-me-up. This snack is very portable, so you can bring it to campus to munch on between classes and other activities.
My version of trail mix is basically just a nut mix. I combine almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, and pistachios. I don’t like dark chocolate or pretzels enough to add them to my mix.
Snack: Protein Energy Bites
This snack has a few basic ingredients, but can be made with many small changes if you want to add more ingredients (like cinnamon or coconut flakes). Here’s a video of 3 recipes, but you can find others online if none of these appeal to you.
My Version: (makes about 15)
1 cup smooth, natural peanut butter
1 cup old-fashioned oats
¼ cup dark chocolate chips
¼ cup ground flaxseed
Mix all ingredients together with fork. Cover bowl and chill in fridge for 30 minutes. Make little balls out of the chilled mixture. Chill for 15 minutes. Eat. When not eating, keep in fridge or freezer. I prefer the freezer.
Note: These are great snacks for before or after exercising. Just eating one can be enough to keep you going for a while.
Breakfast: Avocado & Eggs Toast
Buy some whole wheat bread and toast a couple slices.
Make a couple scrambled eggs on the stove.
Cut off half an avocado and mash it up with a fork.
Optional: Grab some cheese slices or grated cheese.
Once the eggs are cooked, stack together all the ingredients.
My personal preference of stacking order: Toast on bottom, then avocado mash, cheese, and eggs.
Optional: Adding a bit of seasoning to your eggs and/or avocado. I keep it simple and just put a bit of no-salt seasoning when cooking my eggs. You can also change the way you cook your egg(s). I just happen to prefer them scrambled.
Breakfast: Omelette Bites (Makes About 8 bites)
So for this recipe, we finally need an oven. Other than the basic omelette ingredients, you can add whatever veggies and/or meats that you like. Check online for other recipes like this one.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit)
Cut up ingredients to put in muffin tins (like tomatoes, ham, spinach, etc.)
Mix them together in a bowl
Grease the muffin pan (I use olive oil spray)
Place ingredients mixture in muffin pan holes
Scramble and season 5 eggs in the now empty bowl
Pour eggs over ingredients in muffin pan
Bake for 25-30 minutes
Once you make these bites, you can eat them immediately or put them in the fridge to heat up whenever you want a quick snack. This breakfast idea is great for anyone who needs to eat on-the-go. Just make them the night before and heat them up when you wake up the next day.
Lunch: Quinoa Soup
My go-to easiest meal recipe ever. If you’re in a rush to go to class or get home late and don’t want to spend too much time cooking, this recipe is for you.
Cook a cup of quinoa (or brown rice).
Once you only have about 3 minutes left for the quinoa to finish cooking, heat up a can of your favorite soup (I use Amy’s soups because of their low sodium).
Mix together the cooked quinoa and heated soup. Eat.
This might sound like a really boring meal, but it’s a filling one that only takes 25 minutes to cook and contains tons of protein to give you energy and/or fill you up. If you want to spruce it up a bit, slice some avocado for a small side or toss together a salad from any produce you have in your fridge.
Lunch: Veggie Wrap (Optional: Add Meat)
Buy your favorite type of tortilla when you hit the grocery store. I usually get spinach or whole wheat.
When you’re in the mood for a wrap, lay a tortilla flat and smear some hummus on it. Pile up your favorite veggies on top along with a bit of cheese and your favorite salad dressing. Roll the wrap up. Eat and enjoy.
Optional: Add some shredded chicken or pork along with the veggies. Also, hummus makes it more filling, but leaving it out is fine if you’re not a fan.
Dinner: Veggie (and Bean) Stew
Basically, pick out your favorite canned or frozen veggies (fresh veggies would obviously work, too). If canned, rinse them out. Put the veggies in the crockpot along with a good amount of broth (I add enough to just cover the veggies in the pot). You can add beans to the pot, as well, which I usually do. Then, add in whatever seasonings you want. The easy option is to just add seasonings like garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, and some sort of seasoning pack (I use a non-salt seasoning mix for my recipes).
If you’re willing to do a bit more work, chop up some garlic and onion, some bell peppers, some fresh herbs. Add them to the pot instead of just dried seasonings. Experiment with how much seasoning you use along with their combinations. Once you have all the ingredients in the crockpot (don’t forget the broth!), cover it and turn it on low. Let it cook for 4 hours and you’re good to go. Letting it cook longer isn’t a problem. You can also just put it on the “warm” setting once it’s finished cooking, if you’re not ready to eat yet.
Optional: I sometimes add thin chicken breasts to my stew. Four hours is long enough for them to cook along with the veggies and beans they’re surrounded by. Another option is making some quinoa to go along with the stew. Just make some on the stove and mix the two together once they are both cooked. I usually cook 1 cup of quinoa, since I’m cooking meals for one person. That leaves me some leftovers for the next day or two. Plenty of stew will be left for a second or third meal if you’re the only one eating it.
Dinner: Chicken, Potatoes, & Asparagus
This final meal takes the most time of all the options listed. Still, if you have the time or the interest, this meal is pretty easy to make, as it involves very few ingredients and kitchen appliances.
If I’m not cooking my chicken breasts in the crockpot, then I bake them in the oven using parchment paper. It only takes about 35 minutes for the chicken to cook using this method. Here’s a basic recipe for the chicken.
For the potatoes or sweet potatoes, you can boil then in a pot of water or bake them in the oven. If you use sweet potatoes, definitely add some cinnamon once you’ve opened them up to eat. Making mashed [sweet] potatoes is also easy, once the potatoes are cooked through.
Asparagus is an easy veggie to cook in the oven. It just requires some olive oil and seasoning. Here’s a simple recipe.
These are some easy meals and snacks to make if you’re a beginner cook or just not interested in making anything too complicated. Most of the recipes vary greatly depending on personal preferences, which is why I didn’t get too detailed with my descriptions. The amount of easy recipes just waiting to be found online is pretty incredible. If you want more places to explore than the ones linked in this post, make sure to check out last week’s post about YouTube channels for a more balanced life. If you’d like a couple more recipe tips, check out this post.
So, that’s the end of Back-to-School Month on this blog. I hope you found plenty of helpful tips these past four weeks! I wish all students and teachers reading these post a wonderful new school year. I’ll see you in two weeks, as it’s back to business as usual now that September is just a week away.
If you have any particular recipes you want to share with readers, make sure to leave them in the comments section below!