Skip the ramen, try these easy meals

Things like chicken, pasta, vegetables and pasta offer healthy alternatives to instant foods for off-campus cooking. Sarah Pinkerton | Photographer

By Mallory Harris | Staff Writer

We’ve all been there—the last food in the house is a package of ramen noodles—dinner for the third time that week. Just because you live off campus, or have limited funds or cooking skills doesn’t mean your taste buds and stomach should suffer.

While cooking has endless tips and tricks, there are a few easy meals that have become staples of a college student’s diet that aren’t labeled “instant.”

The first meal to get you out of that noodle phase, ironically, is pasta. Pasta is versatile and pairs great with meats, vegetables and sauce. There’s spaghetti with meat sauce, chicken alfredo, cheese ravioli and so many more options students can accomplish in about 30 minutes. Even though the meat takes the longest to cook in most pasta dishes, it’s worth the wait when ramen is the alternative. The best thing about these meals is the leftovers, as they typically make enough for the next day’s lunch.

The second round of meals still rely on the basics of flavor and convenience, but with another endless supply of options, baked chicken can change the way you view dinner. While baked chicken can seem like a family meal, if you find the right pick of seasonings or an easy marinade, it can become a quick and easy meal for one in 30 minutes. I think building foundational meals with baked chicken can allow someone to continually find new ways to prepare the dish or expand it to make it more interesting. Personally, I pair my chicken dinners with a strong side or mix it with a vegetable to make it more filling.

Finally, the last set of meals focuses on ease and sticking to what you know. For example, I grew up making tacos with my mom about every other week, and so I’ve learned how to make them easily with leftovers without a mess. By taking small meals like those from growing up you can add new ideas and meals to your menu for the future. With ease in mind, there is nothing wrong with making boxed dinners like Hamburger Helper or using cooking sauces to help build your dish. It’s helpful to have one meal where everything is already laid out for you, and you just have to add and stir.

Besides meals, I highly recommend finding strong side dishes and vegetables that are on constant repeat. For me, I consistently use rice as a side because it’s easy to make and doesn’t require too much seasoning. I also have found frozen broccoli to be a contender in at least one meal a week. Finding different sides can help add to a meal and bring it from good to great.

While it can be daunting to decide what to eat every day, it’s important to get in the habit of fending for ourselves when there is nobody to do the work for us. Cooking isn’t meant to be scary or hard, and having fun with it can grow into a useful skill. From now on, only fall back on the ramen packets if the fire alarm goes off.