WRITTEN BY: GABBY BELLOT
The world of cooking, filled to the brim with fancy techniques and lengthy recipes, can be daunting for a beginner — especially as a college student that may be struggling to afford all the outlandish ingredients some of these recipes call for.
Cooking from scratch can feel too complicated. Taking all of this into consideration, general meal ideas feel a lot more approachable and easier to navigate.
Before you explore, know that the most important tip is to make it work for YOU; if you don’t like kale, for example, don’t go out and buy it for a recipe just because everyone is going on about its health benefits. Find the green that works for you.
Also, stick with what you know. If you always buy a specific set of pantry staples, work your meals around that. Make an effort to try new things but also make do with the ingredients you already love.
With all of this in mind, here are some easy meal ideas you can incorporate into your week when you’re struggling with inspiration.
Oats are a grain that you can often buy in bulk for pretty cheap and are an essential pantry staple. They are extremely versatile and you can play around with different flavors for a filling breakfast or brunch to start your day.
An easy example is overnight oats. You can place your oats in a glass jar or container, add your favorite milk (such as coconut milk), any sweetener (maple syrup or brown sugar are my favorites) and top it with any fruit you have on hand.
This is a simple meal that you can prepare the night before so you can bring it with you on the go in the morning.
One of the most nutritious lunches/dinners you can start incorporating into your home cooked meals are grain bowls. These have been all over food blogs on the internet, often under a wide range of names like nourish bowls or buddha bowls, but they all follow a similar formula.
In the most basic sense, grain bowls are a base of any grain (let’s say quinoa, rice, farro), a handful of whatever greens you like (kale, spinach, lettuce), a serving of your protein of choice (beans, tofu, chicken, beef), all topped with any other veggies you have on hand, any nuts or seeds you like and the dressing of your choice.
This is a perfectly balanced meal that is filling and incredibly versatile to your needs and what you have in your fridge!
Feel free to play around with different flavors from other cuisines. An Asian-inspired grain bowl could include some white rice, spinach or cabbage, chicken or even tofu and can be topped with sesame seeds, edamame beans, carrots and a peanut and soy sauce dressing.
You can use one part peanut butter to one part soy sauce that can be sweetened a bit with your sweetener of choice — I like maple syrup – and can have a bit of heat with the addition of your favorite hot sauce. Sriacha often works well here, but if all you’ve got is a packet of red pepper flakes from a pizza you ordered earlier in the week, make use of that, too.
An easy way to experiment with cooking is to try your hand at other cuisines from around the world. All you really need for tacos is some flour or corn tortillas, and the options are endless from there.
Typically, you can fill your tortillas with a protein (black beans, chicken, ground beef or even fish), add some greens for some added nutrients and top it with whatever you have on hand.
Toppings can include shredded cheese, avocado or guacamole, pico de gallo and if you ever have some frozen corn in the back of your freezer, add it as well.
Sandwiches can seem boring at times. I remember the sad mayo, turkey and cheese on soft white bread from my lunches in elementary school. While that can definitely hit the spot sometimes, elevating the average sandwich can be way more filling and nutritious.
Take that mayo, turkey and cheese and add in all the veggies you have (a crisp lettuce and tomato, for example). If it’s hard for you to get an adequate amount of vegetables in your day, hiding it in your sandwich makes it easy.
Playing around with your sandwich bread can make a huge difference as well – decide if you like yours toasted or not and maybe pick up a whole grain bread if you’re wanting a bit of a more nutritious choice.
A veggie sandwich, although not everyone’s first choice, can be so delicious if done well.
Take a nice, seeded bread and slather on your favorite hummus or avocado spread and pile on any veggies you have on hand. Even adding a slice of your favorite cheese or a runny fried egg can take a veggie filled sandwich to the next level.
One of the heartiest and most versatile dishes is pasta. Like tacos, playing around with a different cuisine expands your palate and dinner choices. You can do a million different things with pasta.
Narrow down a few of your favorite pasta types; spaghetti, rigatoni and fusilli are some of my favorites and are often some of the cheaper options. Try out different sauces too: meat sauces are classic (if you’re vegan, substituting cooked lentils in for ground beef in marinara sauce is a game changer) and even take a stab at an olive oil based sauce that can be flavored with garlic, red pepper flakes and lemon juice.
If you want pasta at lunch but don’t want a decadent bowl of meat sauce and spaghetti, try a cold pasta salad. Take the basic idea from grain bowls, making pasta your “grain” of choice. Your dressing is one of the most crucial aspects here – one of the easiest is a simple mix of olive oil and lemon.
Recipes on the internet can feel like a bit much at times so taking these meal ideas and incorporating ingredients you already have makes homecooking feel a lot easier.