Since back-to-school time is quickly approaching, I thought I would dedicate a post to it. I am going to discuss cheap and easy foods for college students and others on a tight budget, and with limited kitchen access…..There will be ramen noodles. And meat that comes from a can. My friends and readers in the culinary business, or die-hard foodies, may want to avert their eyes for this post.
My sisters and I were fortunate growing up, in that my parents could afford both to send us to college, AND to feed us while we were there. Bonus!
We were also fortunate in that we got to live off campus in nice apartments, with actual kitchens, and full size refrigerators. I know that we all took this for granted, because in fact, we didn’t see much of what was going on behind dormitory doors.
We did see dormitory life, but usually only late night glimpses when we were picking up our friends, or crashing in their dorm rooms. There was party hopping at the Dobie Dormitory on the University of Texas Campus, and I am pretty sure I saw bras and boxers hanging from the hallway light fixtures at Jester. Any movie you have ever seen around parties in college dormitories could easily have been filmed at, or based on life therein.
Usually, we weren’t around during study time or dinner time, when the realities of sharing a 12 foot by 12 foot living space with another person were more apparent. Hot plates were forbidden, but most people had one anyway, hiding under the dirty clothes in their closets, where no prefects were likely to look. Only microwaves and mini refrigerators were allowed.
I spent the night one time with my high school friend Andrea at her barely air-conditioned campus dorm. She was so excited to prepare a meal for her first guest. It was popped rice cakes, topped with peanut butter and sliced bananas. It was tasty, but it was dessert. Or breakfast. I was hoping that something hot and meaty would follow for dessert. It never really occurred to me at the time that it was one of the few things to eat, given the lack of cold storage or heating mechanisms.
Over the years, I heard how the other half was living. Some of them subsisting on monthly meal plans from the commissary. At Texas A&M, one such student dining hall was Sbisa (s-bees-uh), which my friends called S-grease-a. I never had the pleasure of dining there, so I can’t say for sure, but I am sure my friends must have been over-exaggerating. Or not.
My friend Lance went to Texas A&M at Kingsville. I remember him telling how, while on Spring Break at the coast, they lived mostly on ramen noodles and beer. I do not doubt the voracity of that for one moment. He also said that if one of the guys failed to do his daily chores, such as taking out the beer cans from the night before, his punishment was that he would lose his flavor packet from his ramen noodles the rest of the day. That would be difficult to bear. Death by hanging might have been a more compassionate choice.
Over the years, though, I have seen more closely how people, not just students, struggle to pay for food. I see people at work who live on spaghetti-o’s, bologna sandwiches, and ramen noodles every day, because they are cheap and filling.
The recipes given today will not appear at the top of any haute cuisine favorites lists. Hopefully they offer some tasty, cheap, and easy alternatives for college students and others without the equipment or financial resources for more. Each includes microwave options for those without heating equipment.
Please quit eating spaghetti-o’s and canned soup cold, out of the can. My little heart can’t take it.
Chopped Barbecue Beef Sandwiches
Serves 4– $1.00 per serving, 5 minutes prep time
- 1 can corned beef, without potatoes ($2.30)
- 1 small bottle barbecue sauce (8-10 oz), your choice ($1.00)
- 4 small hamburger buns ($.70)
In a small skillet over medium heat, fry corned beef until heated through and getting a crust on it. Add 1 cup of sauce, and heat through. Add additional sauce if needed, for flavor. Place on buns and serve. Top with sliced onions and pickles, if desired.
**if using a microwave, place corned beef in a microwave safe dish, cover with paper towel and heat for 4 minutes. Stop every minute to stir. Add sauce, and heat through another 2 minutes. Stir and serve on buns.
5 Minute Pad Thai
Serves 1–$.54 per serving, 5 minutes prep time
- 1 packet ramen noodles (oriental or pork) ($.15)
- 1 T peanut butter ($.08)
- 1 T plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce ($.10)
- 1 egg, beaten ($.15)
- 1 green onion, green and white parts, thinly sliced ($.06)
- Optional add ins: chopped cilantro, cooked shrimp or chicken, chopped peanuts, bean sprouts
Mix egg with one teaspoon soy sauce. In a non-stick skillet, cook the egg until done, disturbing as little as possible to make a “sheet” of eggs, rather than fluffy little scrambled eggs. Remove from heat, cut into strips or 1” pieces and set aside.
In a small bowl or cup, mix together peanut butter and soy sauce.
Cook ramen noodles according to directions, but drain completely before adding the seasoning packet. Stir in the peanut butter mixture, then toss in the onions and eggs. Add any of the optional additions, if using. Enjoy.
**if using a microwave, cook eggs in a small glass bowl, covered with a piece of plastic wrap for 1 minute, or less, until done.
Broccoli Cheese Rice Casserole, With or Without Chicken
Serves 2—$2.52 per serving, 10 minute prep time
- 1 can condensed broccoli cheese soup ($1.00)
- 1 12 oz can evaporated milk ($.89)
- ½ cup water (free!)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (basically free)
- 2 cups instant rice ($.75)
- 1 12 oz can white chicken meat, drained, if using ($2.39)
In a small saucepan, or microwave safe bowl, combine soup, milk, and water until boiling. Remove from heat, and add rice and chicken (if using). Cover with a lid, a plate, or plastic wrap, and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Stir again, and enjoy!