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By Goods to Grow

Creative Cooking for College Dorms and Other Small Living Spaces

You may have heard the term "starving student" when people speak about eating and college. This is mainly due to the lack of resources and knowledge of how to make the most of their limited funds, space and time. Well, open your eyes and take note as you take this journey with me to discover things that you may have ever imagined that will turn that lonely protein into not just a meal and the same old leftovers, but a world of delicious, healthy and creative meals that will delight and excite while staying within your budget.

$5 BLD (Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner).

So your meal budget this week is only $25. How are you supposed to survive on that? Well, that is easier said than done. Or is it? Follow the rules in this section and you will be surprised at how far it will go. If you are shopping for the first time because you just moved in, then you will want to also get things not included in this budget like spices, sugar, flour, mayo, mustard, ketchup, etc.

Getting Started

First decide what proteins you want to eat this week. I am going to use canned tuna, canned chicken, steak and ground turkey, beef, pork or chicken.

The Essentials

Every small, limited budget kitchen should always have condiments on hand like ketchup, mustard, mayo, and various herbs and spices that you like. The following list of items is highly recommended. They can turn something ordinary into something festive and flavorful.

  • Ramen Noodles

  • Rice

  • Pasta

  • Canned Tuna

  • Canned Chicken

  • Loaf of bread, flat bread or tortillas

  • Pasta Sauce

  • Cheese

  • Butter

  • Cooking oil

  • Frozen or canned veggies

  • Brown Sugar

  • Honey or Agave

Your Shopping List

On Sunday, or whatever day you do your shopping, you will pick up the following.

1 – 4 to 6 oz cans or packages of tuna. $1.00

1 – 12 to 16 oz can of canned chicken – $2.00

1 pack of steak, pork chops or boneless/skinless chicken breasts or thighs. Number of pieces in your package will depend on your choice of meat. Keep the price to no more than $5. You can typically get ground turkey or chicken for $1.99 to $2.99/lb. Chicken breasts/thighs can usually be found on sale as well between $0.99 to $3.99/lbs.

1 dozen eggs $1.00

2 – 16oz packages of pasta – choose two different types. i.e. spaghetti and elbow – 2/$1.

1 – head of red leaf, green leaf, romaine or butter lettuce. – $1.00.

1 – loaf of your favorite bread or a package of Greek flat bread. $2.00

*The flat bread can be used for sandwiches and making homemade pizza.

1 – pack of sliced cheese or 8oz pack of your favorite cheese. $1.75

1 package of medium to large tortillas flour or corn or pita bread – $1.00

2 packages of Ramen noodles – $0.50

1 box of your favorite cereal/ granola or oatmeal. $2.00

1 Jar of peanut butter – $1.50

1 Jar of jam (not jelly) – $1.50

1 quart of milk – $1.50

1 bell pepper – $0.50

1 onion – $0.25

1 jar of pasta sauce $1.00

1 pack of crackers. Ritz, Townhouse or saltines. Whatever you like. $1.50

Making the most of what you have

Day 1 with your $25 budget, assuming that you have the above listed items, let's start with a breakfast.

Breakfast – Eggs, sausage and French toast or buttered toast

2 eggs

homemade breakfast sausage

(1/2 lb of ground meat seasoned with Italian seasoning, black pepper, garlic powder/salt, onion powder and honey.) Mold into little sausage patties or meatballs. Cook them in the oven or skillet. Depending on size,you will eat 2 to 3 and save the rest for dinner.

2 slices of bread for toast.

Fruit of your choice

Lunch – garlic bread grilled cheese

Take 2 slices of bread and butter them.

Next, sprinkle garlic salt/powder on them.

Toast the dry side in a pan, or toaster oven.

Flip one slices of bread and add 2 slices of your favorite cheese.

Take the other slice of bread and place it on top with the toasted side down.

Flip as needed.

Tomato soup is a great add-on that you can dip the sandwich in. You can also use pasta or pizza sauce. Even more amazing is adding pepperoni or mushrooms to your sandwich. It is quite tasty.

*If you have a sandwich maker, these make great homemade hot pockets.

Dinner – Spaghetti with sausage meatballs

1. Boil noodles

2. Warm the sauce from the can or jar and season to liking.

3. Ad leftover meatballs and let simmer on medium to low for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring as needed.

4. Drain and rinse noodles.

5. Place noodles on plate and add desired amount of sauce. DO NOT mix all sauce and noodles together, as they will be used again in other meals.

*You can also add garlic bread or a salad to this meal if you like.

This is just one example of how you can take a few simple ingredients and create a fulfilling menu for the entire day. In between meals, fresh fruit or PB&J Crackers make an amazing snack.

Some other great meals made with the items on the list include the following.

Grilled chicken with rice and veggies.

Oatmeal with honey and fruit

Homemade pizza made with pita bread, pasta sauce and cheese.

Chicken Salad (made with leftover grilled chicken)

Chicken lettuce wraps (made with leftover grilled chicken, and other desired ingredients)

Chicken and pasta with a butter garlic sauce (made with leftover pasta and grilled chicken)

Cheese omelet or breakfast scramble

Steak with rice and gravy.

Chicken rolled tacos (made with canned chicken)

Chicken enchiladas (made with canned chicken)

Shredded beef quesadilla (made from leftover steak)

Soft tacos (made with any leftover meats)

As you can see, there are a variety of options with the limited list of items that are on the list. Since there are item on the list that you will not need to buy every week, you will be able to indulge a little on other items. For example, PB&J will last 2 to 4 weeks depending on how often you use it. Eggs will last up to 2 weeks, crackers may also last a couple of weeks, etc.

Last but not least are the utensils. I am sure that you all have been wondering how to make all of these meals with limited space and resources. Well the answers are simpler than you think. I am sure that most of you are expecting the hear the words 'Crock Pot'. Well if you were thinking that, you are somewhat correct. Having a Crock Pot is key for tight living quarters. Even better though is a multi-cooker. This is like a Crock Pot, however, it can also serve as a rice cooker, deep fryer, steamer, etc.

Personally, I love Crock Pot cooking. But I recently found a device that does it all. As a single mother of 4, I am always on a tight budget and my Black Friday shopping is done at the Salvation Army. Well this Black Friday was especially rewarding when I found a Cuisinart multi-cooker. It came with a roasting rack too. The best part of all is that it does not take up any more space than my Crock Pot or rice cooker and it was only. I immediately thought of my Daughter who is a freshman in college. The great thing about this cooker is that you can slow cook, roast, steam, saute and fry in it. While it was not necessarily intended to brown meat and saute vegetables for spaghetti, that is exactly what I did with it. I used it to create every part of my spaghetti dinner accept for make the noodles. However, it can be used for that too. I also a few days later cooked some tomato basil chicken using the slow cook function. This weekend, I will be testing it out to see if I can deep fry in it.

Another great option is a multipurpose rice cooker. I have one that has a steam basket. So, while my rice is cooking on the bottom, I steam vegetables on the top.

As you can see, I could go on and on about how to save space, money and time while enjoying great deals, good eats and healthy living even on a shoestring budget. But for now, I think that I will close with this thought in mind. Don't be discouraged and feel overwhelmed, because, you can do so much with limited funds and limit resources. If you just think outside of the box and get creative you can do it all.

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