Heading off to college can be a big adjustment for anyone: there are new people to meet, new enrollment systems to figure out, and too many social opportunities to count. However, one important thing can get lost in the shuffle—where are you going to eat when you have to fend for yourself? Whether you’re on a meal plan or cooking on your own for the first time, here are some tips and tricks to make your food experience a little simpler, healthier, and cheaper.
1. GET A REUSABLE WATER BOTTLE.
Okay, so this isn’t technically a food hack, per se, but staying hydrated is an important element of dorm eating. For one, the mild hunger you get for afternoon (or midnight) snacks is often caused by dehydration, so you can cut back on your snack budget by drinking enough water. Many universities offer filtered water stations and even free water bottles, making a habit of keeping a water bottle in your backpack even easier. Plus, hangovers are made drastically worse by dehydration, so plan to drink up all day if you intend to party at night.
2. DRESS UP YOUR RAMEN.
Ramen is an obvious college student staple, but it’s not all that filling or healthy. However, if you add a few extra ingredients—an egg, some fresh veggies, a little meat—and some flavorings beyond the included packet, like Sriracha, soy sauce, or peanut butter, you have a full and filling meal without a hefty price tag.
3. GET CREATIVE WITH A KETTLE.
Regulations on cooking equipment in a dorm room can be pretty strict, but almost all colleges allow an electric kettle. While you might not have considered getting one if you don’t drink tea regularly, they have plenty of other uses. You can make a quick, hot breakfast by keeping instant oatmeal packets on hand, and many soup mixes and noodles only need boiled water as well. And, speaking of tea, many also release caffeine slower than coffee, so they provide a longer lasting and more gentle burst of energy, all without being dehydrating.
4. MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR MEAL PLAN.
If you have a meal plan, take advantage of all the benefits. Hard boiled eggs, individual servings of peanut butter, fruit, and dry cereal are all easy to carry out with you to stave off the munchies until your next meal. This only works if your dining hall charges by meal, as opposed to per item, unfortunately. Shoplifting from the hand that feeds you is never a good idea, but if you can grab an apple to go, it's a healthy habit to get into.
5. TAKE THE TIME TO GO TO A REAL GROCERY STORE.
Convenience stores are, as the name implies, convenient—there’s one on every campus. However, the prices there are ridiculously inflated [PDF], so taking the time to hop a bus or hitch a ride with a friend with a car to visit a legitimate grocery store can really benefit your wallet. Stock up on dry goods you can prepare in your room, and a few fruits and veggies that you can reasonably finish off before they spoil.
6. KNOW A FEW STAPLE MEALS.
After classes, extracurriculars, and long study group sessions at the library, you'll likely be exhausted and starving when you make it back to your room at the end of the day. The last thing you’ll want to do is make something complicated for dinner, but if you take the time early on to lock down a few easy recipes, like spicy dragon noodles, eggs and toast, or even just beans and rice—ones that you can throw together without thinking—and you’ll thank yourself later.
7. MICROWAVE MORE THAN FROZEN FOOD.
If you’re lucky enough to have a microwave in your dorm room, you’ll probably be tempted to live entirely off of frozen food. But put down the Pizza Rolls—there’s a whole world of fresh foods that can be cooked in a microwave. Omelets, muffins, and even salmon dishes can all be made in a microwave, and with surprisingly little effort.
8. KNOW HOW TO MAKE A GOOD DESSERT.
Mug cake recipes are everywhere on Pinterest, but most of them turn out terribly spongy and gummy. It turns out, the culprit is the egg. Most full sized cakes call for two or three eggs, so a single-serving cake recipe that has a whole egg throws the texture completely off. But find a good recipe for a microwaveable, egg-free mug cake, and your post-dinner chocolate cravings won't have to compete with your need to Netflix binge with your roommate.
All images via iStock.