Cheap Eats: How To Make Your Dining Hall Work For You

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Eating cheap and eating healthy can be a challenge for college students, particularly those who are living away from home for the first time.

School dining plans represent a relatively good value, but the food’s not always great, and calling it “fresh” would be an… interesting usage of the word.

What to do?

We enlisted our resident chef at Frank to share some slick meal prep tips for the culinary and financially challenged college student.

She gave us some fun ways to put your school’s dining hall to better use.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

1. Turn ramen into Pad Thai.

Ramen is a longtime staple of the broke and inept college student and for good reason — it’s cheap, easy, and filling. But it no longer has to be a stereotype of the college experience.

Here’s how to convert it into a trendy dish:

  • Take peanut butter from your school’s dining hall and mix it with the extra soy sauce from your most recent Chinese food delivery.
  • Next, prepare your ramen as you normally would.
  • Once your ramen is ready, drain the noodles and add the Pad Thai sauce.

Ta da! You’ve just created Thai street food in your dorm room.

2. Make your own soup (almost) from scratch.

Yes, we know, it’s easy enough to just buy a can of Campbell’s Soup and heat it up. But college is a place for personal development, and this is a good starter dish to practice your skills.

All you need is vegetable stock, rice (brown or white), and your favorite veggies. This is the best part: just throw them all in a pot and heat until warm. And you’re done.

3. Don’t throw that extra rice away! Turn it into a fried rice dish.

The problem with your school dining hall is that the choices become redundant. You eat the same things on the same schedule day after day, week after week. It’s boring. Let’s change it up.

Step one: Take peas, red pepper, corn, onions and carrots from the salad bar.
Step two: Cook some rice, and then throw all your ingredients into a frying pan.
Step three: Top it off with soy sauce.

4. Pasta Carbonara (Seriously!)

If you’re feeling confident with your skills, you can raise the stakes and try this for your next date. We call it the “college student’s pasta carbonara.”

First, get cooked pasta (without sauce) from your dining hall, and then grab some bacon bits and parmesan cheese from the salad bar. (Also make sure you have eggs and Romano cheese from the supermarket.)

Mix together the eggs and cheese to create a sauce, then heat up your pasta.

Once the pasta is hot, mix in the sauce (the hot pasta will cook the raw egg), and then throw some bacon bits on top.

It’s not quite fine dining, but it is significantly cheaper, and it’ll be sure to impress your date.

5. Homemade popcorn.

You don’t need to buy brand name microwaveable popcorn. Instead, buy just the kernels and grab some brown paper bags from your dining hall.

Throw the kernels into the bag, fold the top of the bag and put it in the microwave. Heat until there are more than three seconds between pops.

Pro tip: if you have any parmesan cheese packets from your last pizza order, add some to your popcorn for a cheesy treat!

What dorm room dining creations have you come up with?

Do you have any resourceful meal prep techniques to share? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter!