Sprucing up Meals on a Budget

By Kaitlin Hurtado on February 2, 2017
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College is hard, and coming home after a long day of classes, work, internships, or extracurriculars and having to feed yourself is even harder. While your starving stomach begs for you to go pig out on anything and everything, your college budget and fatigue beg to differ and have most resorting to the simplest meals to get by.

At first thought, making meals on a budget may seem difficult and lead to unoriginal meals. However, even with a tight budget, you can alter a simple meal or ingredient, like a grilled cheese sandwich and potatoes, into something that feels much more than a last resort meal on a budget. Sprucing up a meal can be as simple as adding your choice of protein or whatever vegetable is in season.

Image via pexels.com

Grilled Cheese

A grilled cheese sandwich is one of the simplest meals you can make without breaking your bank; all you really need is two slices of bread and cheese. The simple recipe of bread and cheese gets old after a few tries, and there are various ways to make your grilled cheeses look and taste like something you could pay money for at a restaurant.

Adding meat — like grilled chicken breast or honey baked ham — to the sandwich makes the meal more filling and adds protein that college students tend to skimp out on. The cheese often melts faster than the meat can thoroughly warm up, so try heating the precooked meat in the microwave before adding it to the sandwich. If you love barbecue, try slathering the meat with barbecue sauce, fusing a grilled cheese and BBQ pulled pork sandwich.

Another more vegetarian-friendly option is to change up the butter and/or spreads you use in your grilled cheese. Instead of using regular butter on your bread to give the sandwich a golden crispiness, try adding herb-infused spreads, such as apricot garlic butter. Consider adding basil pesto to the inside of the grilled cheese, adding more flavor to each bite.

Ramen

Ramen is the infamous g0-to option for inexpensive and convenient dining for college students. Add hot water, wait a few minutes, and you have something to hold you over until your next meal. However, after multiple meals consisting of ramen out of a package, the single packet of seasoning will get boring.

The best option to making ramen more filling is to add protein, whether it be chicken breast, beef, or an egg. Make the unhealthy meal a little more healthy by adding fresh vegetables to the ramen; just use whatever is in season or cheapest, like mushrooms, spinach, or green onions.

Enhance the seasoning packets — or forgo them altogether — by adding your own seasonings. For a spicy kick, there’s gochujang, red chili flakes, sriracha, or Tapatío. For a more savory flavor, there is Japanese curry powder, miso paste, or fish sauce.

There’s also the option to skip out on the “traditional” ramen preparation method by using the packaged noodles for a variety of recipes, including pad thai.

Image via pixabay.com

Potatoes

Potatoes are a personal favorite and staple to a grocery shopping list. They can be bought in bulk and can be prepared in various ways. Dice potatoes and toss them in vegetable/olive oil and a mix of garlic salt and pepper, and leave them to bake in the oven. These are an easy side to baked/grilled chicken and steamed vegetables.

Avoid dropping a few dollars on fries; several visits add up and leave you unaware of how much money you’re putting aside for something as simple as an order of fast food fries. Instead of dicing your potatoes, slice them to your preferred length and width to make french fries.

Trying picking up chorizo during your next shopping trip to make papas con chorizo. Complete the quick meal with a sunny-side-up egg and a tortilla.

Spam

Meat packaged in a can may be suspicious at first glance, but the price and the convenience are enough to overcome any beginning suspicions. The precooked and preserved meat is easier on a college budget as it can be bought in bulk and used over an extended period of time due to the prolonged expiration date.

One of the most common ways of incorporating Spam into a meal is making spam musubi – a slice of spam, rice, and sauce wrapped in seaweed. Spam musubi is convenient for students that are on the go; make it in bulk and you will be set for several meals and be able to take said meals to class, study sessions, or work.

Another way to add Spam into your meals is to replace it with other forms of meat, which are often more expensive. Add diced Spam into your scrambled eggs or omelets, or use it as another ingredient for your fried rice.

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By Kaitlin Hurtado

Uloop Writer
Hello! I'm Kaitlin, a second year Literary Journalism major at UC Irvine. I'm a writer on Uloop's national team and a campus editor for UCI.

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