Your best friend at college is not the fast food restaurant down the street offering two for one burgers. Nor is it the ready-made section of the supermarket with its tantalizing fat and sodium entrees costing big bucks in extra packaging. Instead, your allies in making healthy, affordable meals are a rice cooker, a steamer, a crock pot, and the determination to nourish your body instead of stuffing it.
With a 10 pound bag of rice and a rice cooker, you can concoct interesting, tasty meals for pennies. Cook enough rice for two days and make a simple stir fry of seasonal vegetables. Onions, mushrooms, broccoli florets, sliced carrots, and celery all add texture and nutrition. Add almonds, tofu, or cubed meat for protein. Simply saute the protein and veggies together in a little olive oil. Mix soy sauce, ginger, and two tsp. of cornstarch with a cup of water (or more depending on the amount of food). Add the liquid mix over the sauted items and then serve over a helping of rice.
Use the leftover rice the next day for a hearty Asian salad. Steam a chicken breast and cut into cubes. Add chopped celery, green onions, cilantro, mandarin oranges and toasted almonds. Mix with a dressing of rice vinegar, olive oil, and ginger. Salmon works nicely in this salad, also. Or, you can simply heat up the second-day rice as a side dish to a piece of broiled chicken or fish.
Nothing smells better than a simmering pot of soup or chili when you return home at the end of the day. With just a few minutes of prep time and a medium-sized slow cooker, your delicious meal can await you. For a bean, pea, or lentil soup, soak the legumes overnight. Then add onions, garlic, other spices, and chopped carrots and celery. A ham hock adds wonderful flavor to peas and lentils. Chili can be made quickly with sauted ground beef and onions added to canned kidney beans (if you don’t have time to soak and simmer them), canned tomatoes, and packaged spices. You can leave this mixture on warm in the slow cooker or even make it up in a few minutes in a large skillet. Tomato-vegetable soup is as easy as emptying a 32 oz can of tomato or V-8 juice into a slow cooker and then adding chopped veggies, meat (if you wish) and a packet of chili or taco mix.
Cooking foil-wrapped packets in the oven is a quick and mess-free way to a healthy meal. Place a fish fillet or chicken breast in the middle of a piece of foil. Drizzle with olive oil and spices. Add sliced onions and mushrooms or any veggie you wish. Wrap tightly in foil and bake in the oven longer for chicken than fish. If you have some of that leftover rice, it would make a great side dish.
Everyone loves pasta. It’s easy, cheap, and filling. Mix up a rich tomato-based sauce with fresh or dried herbs. Add chopped veggies or sauted meat. Mix, simmer, and pour over the pasta of your choice. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top and enjoy with French bread. This is a quick meal worthy of sharing with a friend.
Instead of heading for the local taco stand, make your own at home. By microwaving fat-free refried beans and using shredded lettuce, tomatoes, salsa and whole-wheat tortillas, you can enjoy a low-calorie and low-cost Mexican meal. Add meat and cheese if you wish. While the tortillas are still warm, roll up a couple with beans and cheese and spices and wrap them in foil or plastic wrap for a quick take with you lunch for the next day.
The secret to making healthy low-cost meals at home lies in having lots of ingredients handy. On the weekend shop for bargains for in-season fruits and veggies. Buy your protein choices. You can even cook up meat and then chop it and freeze in small baggies to be added to your meals during the week. Always have pasta and rice in the cupboard. Having milk, flour, butter, and shredded cheese on hand make adding a cheese sauce to pasta a snap. Potatoes are a nutritional treasure. Simply bake one and topped with some of your saute mix and serve with a green salad.
Eating healthily will make your waistline thinner and your wallet fatter. Plus, you’ll be amazed at how much more energy you have once your new routine becomes habit. Later on, when people ask you what you learned in college, you can add eating healthily on a budget to your list of accomplishments. In the long run of your life, that may turn out to be one your most valuable lessons.