OPINION — Meal planning is important if you want to save money, eat better and waste less food, and that’s great. But I live in a dorm with a mini-fridge shared between three girls and a microwave. So that makes it a bit more difficult.
With COVID-19 shutting down the kitchens in the dorm, cooking has become nigh on impossible. However, I have managed it by combining a few meal planning tips and tricks. Hopefully you enjoy microwavable meals.
The first thing I have noticed is that using your meal plan you bought through the university is not such a bad idea. Personally, I do not like the food all that much — I am not a fan of spicy spaghetti and solid pancakes — but it is really useful when it comes to lowering costs. For example, my meal plan covers 14 meals a week and gives me $300 of declining balance to spend. But you have to be careful not to spend it randomly, and to see how much you have for the semester. For example, if you buy an extra-large coffee every day, you’re going to run out of money very fast.
This also pertains to you if you don’t have a meal plan. Buying fast food and coffee will eat through your budget very quickly. It looks worse, but it’s better to go grocery shopping every two weeks, or even every week, as opposed to going to Starbucks and McDonald’s.
So what can you buy that’s healthy when you only have a microwave? Oatmeal is a great option. You can put a multitude of different ingredients in it and you can buy different flavors for different tastes. It also lasts a long time, which is great. Personally, I like to use cinnamon, butter and salt. A couple of other good things to get are cereal, bagels and trail mix. They aren’t very diverse, but they can be a healthy snack.
Foods meant for microwaves aren’t your only option, however. There are many filling meals you can make in a microwave that you might not have considered. For instance, a baked potato takes minimal ingredients and is cooked in seven to ten minutes (remember to flip it over halfway through the cooking time). The potato itself doesn’t need to be refrigerated prior to cooking, and the potential toppings you might add — sour cream, butter, cheese or bacon bits — won’t take up much space in your refrigerator either.
There are plenty of other recipes for you to take advantage of. Good Housekeeping has an article dedicated to this concept with 20 recipes free to view. There are so many more websites that have tackled this big problem, and they’re all just a quick Google-search away.
The big takeaways with meal planning are there is a lot of trial and error to see what you like, how much money you have to spend and the kind of space that you are working with.
You have to create a list of what you are going to eat for that week and stick to it. That is my biggest issue, because I don’t know what I am going to want. However, if you don’t overestimate the amount of healthy food that you are willing to eat, you should be okay.
For example, if you think about buying broccoli and tomato soup that you assume you will fall in love with later, picture eating it in the moment to see how you feel. It’s more of a waste of money to buy things and then not eat them. I am not speaking from experience. Not even a little bit. It was really bad soup.
If space is an issue, try to find things that don’t need to be refrigerated. A lot of meal prep websites will talk about using leftovers or making one meal for five days, but I can’t fit more than a small pizza box in my refrigerator. So instead, I will make or buy food that can be stored in bags or containers outside of the fridge.
Meal planning is difficult, but I hope I helped some college students eat a little bit better.