With tight budgets and busy schedules, it is easy for students at MSU to find themselves trapped in a kitchen filled with Ramen noodles and frozen pizza. After long days in class and at work, the last thing many want to do is slave over the stove preparing a gourmet dinner. Without microwave directions, recipes are often discarded and replaced by boxed noodles and canned soup. Even when students do have the time and desire to create a nutritious concoction, it can sometimes be too stressful to fit the ingredients into a lacking grocery budget. Some students, however, have been able to fight the temptation of the typical college cupboard by thinking outside of the box and finding simple alternatives and additions to the fast and affordable favorites.
[Doyle]Caitlin Doyle, a hospitality business senior, has been experimenting in the kitchen since the seventh grade and has worked in a cafe and restaurant since high school. So for her, finding new combinations of foods comes naturally. Still, that does not mean she does not appreciate simple directions and near-instant results. “When I know I’m going to have a busy week, I’ll chop up vegetables on Sundays and prepare meals ahead of time,” she said. “My Crockpot is my best friend sometimes.”
Professor Sharon Hoerr of the department of food science and human nutrition said that cooking soups on the weekends with a slow cooker is a convenient solution because it saves time during the week and the food can be frozen and saved for later dates. “The big problem facing students is getting whole foods like fruits and vegetables,” she said. “Make a meal colorful.” Simply adding frozen or canned vegetables to macaroni and cheese or soups add a lot of nutritional value. Hoerr explained that it is important for students to choose whole grain breads for more fiber. Most often, students are missing calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, vitamin A and potassium.[veggies]
But when Doyle does not feel like cooking, her stand-bys include salads, sandwiches and yes, frozen dinners and canned soups. “Sometimes I’ll get cravings for Kraft singles for a grilled cheese and Campbell’s tomato soup” she said. Doyle explained that sometimes she will doctor up salads with her own dressings made with different vinegars. One of her favorites combines apple cider vinegar, apple jelly and extra virgin olive oil. “It’s nice to have foods around that are ready to cook too,” Doyle said. “Frozen foods can’t go bad, and even canned tuna is good to make tuna salad.”
Sometimes, even fast food restaurants can offer healthy alternatives to big, planned meals. “Subway is great,” Hoerr said. “Most fast food restaurants have salads with three cups of lettuces and half cups of other vegetables.”
By choosing bananas and granola bars over cookies and potato chips between classes, Dipti Arya, a secondary education senior, makes a conscious effort to eat nutritiously. “It takes a while to make a healthy meal,” Arya said. “But you can’t be lazy about it either.” She will often make extra so there will be leftovers throughout the week. “I’ll make four chicken breasts at a time because they last for days,” she said.
[Pacek]On the other hand, there are still many students that are content with the stereotypical college diet. Finance junior Brett Pacek only takes a break from Chef Boyardee and Hot Pockets a couple times a week for breakfast and an occasional hamburger or steak dinner. He will usually have a bagel or eggs for breakfast and will vary between frozen pizza and Ramen noodles for lunch and dinner. “I’m not healthy at all,” he said. “I don’t really worry about it. I’m young.”
Eli Sussman, a 2007 MSU graduate, and his brother Max put together a cookbook called Freshmen in the Kitchen specifically for college students looking for an affordable escape from macaroni and cheese. “We wanted people our age to save money and eat more healthy,” he said. “When the ideas come from their peers, students are more receptive.” Sussman recommends every aspiring chef, or student ready to break from Hamburger Helper, have a ready supply of olive oil, salt and pepper, various dried spices and fresh garlic. Pastas dishes are usually the most basic of meals and usually very simple to make, he said. With cheese, lunch meat and fresh vegetables on hand, sandwiches can also be really easy and healthy options.
[pots]Living on campus limits eating options to an even greater extent. Beyond a meal plan, students’ can merely chose snacks, take out and microwavable options. “I try to eat healthy,” no preference freshman Zach Bianchini said. “I try not to snack, but I’ll take apples from the cafeteria on my way to class.” He mixes up his menu options by leaving Holden Hall and traveling to other cafeterias like those in Snyder Philips and Brody instead of getting food delivered. “A lot of people order in, but it adds up to almost 10 bucks a meal with the tip,” Bianchini said. “Money has its effect, so you have to be creative.”
Sussman suggested homemade trail mix as a snack option for on campus students because it is quick and cheap. “You can choose exactly what you like,” he said. “Go to the bulk aisle in the grocery store and get anything you’d want in it.” He also recommended cheese and crackers or a baguette to dorm-living students. Sussman explained it’s not that expensive and a lot better than a bag of chips.
[fruits]But where would one find inspiration to kick start a college-styled menu? “When I do go out to eat, I study the menu,” Doyle said. She’ll often recreate her favorite meals at home. Sussman’s cookbook is filled with step by step instructions for a variety of tastes. “We took our favorite dishes and tweaked them to fit the budget and the palate of the college student,” he said. Hoerr recommended branching off of Mediterranean foods like lentil soups and hummus. Eating outside of the box doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting the box; sometimes the slightest additions to the quick comforts of frozen, canned and boxed foods make a world of difference.
So maybe with a little help and encouragement, more college students will find the confidence to branch out from the blue box and explore the other options available to them. With a little bit of extra time at the grocery store, it really is not so difficult to stock the cupboards with real food that would make moms and grandmas proud. Brainstorming with peers combined with advice from some cooking veterans can turn a freezer full of pizza and cabinet of canned soup into a busy stove and a refrigerator filled with fresh produce and tasty leftovers. Giving the microwave a rest and breaking out an old cookbook may not be so hard after all.
Quick Tasty Chicken Quesadillas
About 2 thinly sliced green onions
1 small habanera or jalapeno pepper, diced
1 cup shredded cooked chicken (frozen chicken breasts are quick and keep for weeks in freezer)
1 cup chunky salsa
3/4 cup shredded cheese (Monterey jack or cheddar)
4 (8 inch) soft tortilla rounds
Combine first three ingredients together and spread evenly on half of each tortilla. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of salsa and three tablespoons of cheese on top of the chicken mixture. Fold each tortilla in half. Heat flat nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Spray with non stick cooking spray and place quesadilla in pan and cook each side for about two minutes. The tortilla should lightly brown and cheese should melt. Use remaining salsa for dipping.
Quesadillas are great accompanied with a light green salad, stir fried vegetables (bell peppers, onions and mushrooms sauteed with olive oil), or a chilled black bean and corn salad (black beans, red onions, yellow corn, wilted spinach, some chunky salsa, green onions and lime juice).
Seductive Sari Shrimp with Cooling Yogurt Sauce
2 tsp olive oil
2 Tbs minced garlic (you can find minced or chopped garlic in bottles and it lasts in the fridge for months instead of fresh garlic)
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, deveined and peeled (if frozen, defrost under cold water before cooking)
2 tsp Garam Masala (Indian spice mix that usually includes cardamom, coriander, cumin, fennel and black pepper)
Salt to taste
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
Heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and let saute for one minute to let flavors infuse. Add defrosted or fresh shrimp to pan and sprinkle all spices over shrimp. Cook shrimp for about six minutes or until completely cooked.
3/4 cup plain non fat yogurt
2 tbs fresh chopped cilantro
Mix yogurt and cilantro together to make a fresh cooling yogurt sauce.
Serve shrimp over instant brown rice (about 10 minutes to cook) and with a dollop of yogurt sauce.
2 Thick slices of whole grain bread, slightly toasted
2 tsp mayo or mustard- spread on toast
Pick favorite vegetables to layer on bread- ex. lettuce, tomatoes, sprouts, avocado, cucumbers, onions, garlic, artichoke hearts, olives, and bell peppers
Then place a slice of cheese (Swiss, provolone, cheddar or gouda) on top of each stack and place under broiler to melt
Serve with carrot sticks, green salad or a cup of vegetable soup.
Cook couscous for about 5 minutes in boiling water.
Add frozen peas, cooked carrots, mushrooms and onions to add flavor.
8 oz. of firm or semi-firm tofu
2 cups vegetables- onions, mushrooms, broccoli, snow peas, cherry tomatoes, carrots or asparagus tips
Saute vegetables and toss in tofu at the end to warm and soak up flavor.
Serve with rice for a stir fry or with toast or an English muffin for breakfast.
Recipes contributed by Caitlin Doyle.