The key to eating well while living that uni life is not constant takeout. The key is to get really good at making meals that require very little to no cooking, and using the microwave to heat things other than two-minute noodles.
Feeding yourself in a university situation is a little like camping — you have to be prepared. Foods you can mix and match to create a variety of meals will keep you happiest, meaning you’re less likely to order fast food out of sheer, soul-crushing boredom.
First of all, outsource your meat. You don’t have the resources to sear, roast, or grill and there is no shame in letting someone else cook some animal protein for you. The pre-cooked rotisserie chicken is a convenience food icon for a reason.
For a vegetarian option, get yourself some fully cooked lentils, along with some canned black beans. If you need eggs in your life, I have good news: you can poach them in the microwave. You can also purchase pre-hard boiled eggs, which are very convenient if you do not have access to a stove.
For carbs, keep some good sandwich bread, a stack of tortillas, and some instant noodles around, as well as crackers. If you want to really get fancy, get some Vietnamese summer roll wrappers, which need nothing more than warm water to prep.
Microwavable, single serving packets of rice may seem like a lazy choice, but you are in uni, my friend, and you should be thinking about your studies and parties, not how to MacGyver a pot of rice in a sad communal kitchen.
Fruit and Vegetables
Produce that doesn’t need to be coddled or handled with care is your friend, as are plant parts that taste good raw or lightly steamed (which you can do in the microwave). A large bag of oranges will last a long while, as will a container of cherry tomatoes.
I also recommend onions, as they pack a lot of flavour and keep for quite some time. Have a bag of frozen, chopped vegetables at the ready, so you can toss them into meals as needed to ward off any scurvy. If you get a salad craving, buy lettuce the day of.
Never let anyone tell you that you can’t eat cheese for dinner. You can. Get some sliced cheese for sandwiches, crumbled cheese if you like bowls and salads, and some cottage cheese if you’re into that kind of thing. Though it is not cheese, I would also recommend you get some sour cream, because my love for sour cream is strong and true.
Condiments and other extras
Here is where you can inject some real light into an otherwise bleak kitchen. First, get a seasoning blend that’s good on everything and then put it on everything. (We have a lot of recommendations here.) Invest in a good salad dressing, or some oil and vinegar if you prefer.
Find a hot sauce that brings you utter joy, and never let it get away.
Assemble and Eat
Once you have all the pieces to your culinary puzzle, you are ready to build your meals. Part of the fun of being in uni is playing around and discovering what you like, and this extends to food, but this will not prevent me from telling you what to do.
Rice bowls: Cook one of those servings of rice in the microwave, then shred some rotisserie chicken, heat it up, and mix it with your favourite hot sauce. Drain some black beans, heat them if desired, and mix with the chicken. Top with your favourite cheese, some pickled onions, olives and sour cream. You can also make a deconstructed California roll by taking cooked, chilled rice, and tossing it with rice wine vinegar, sliced cucumbers, avocado, crumbled nori, pickled ginger, and pieces of fake crab. Serve with soy sauce and spicy mayo (just mix plain mayonnaise and Sriracha together).
Lentil bowls: Crumble some pre-cooked lentils into a bowl, and toss with olive oil, vinegar and your favourite all-purpose seasoning. Take a carrot, and slice it into pretty ribbons using a y-peeler. Toss those in with the lentils. Add some cherry tomatoes, a bit of crumbled feta, give it a taste, and season more if needed.
Salad wraps: Prawn summer rolls are great, but you can actually make any salad into a roll — even the unwieldy wedge — and we can show you how here.
Ramen (duh): You do not have to use the super-salty seasoning packet if you don’t want to — you can mix it with sour cream to make a dip instead! — but ramen is a great base for a filling, cheap meal. Boil some water in the microwave, and add a handful of frozen vegetables and some thinly sliced mushrooms, along with the noodles. Stir in some shredded chicken or spoon in a microwave-poached egg, and enjoy. You can also remove the noodles from the broth entirely and coat with butter, parmesan, and lots of black pepper.
Tacos: Again, that rotisserie chicken will come in handy, but don’t sleep on canned refried beans or black beans. Pile on some crumbled queso fresco, pickled onion, and whatever other fixings you like, and chow down.
Chilli cheese potato: Pierce a potato with a fork a few times and microwave for about seven minutes. Nuke your favourite canned chilli, split the potato, and fill her up. Top with cheese, sour cream, and chives.
Fancy cheese plate: Get some cheese bits from your favourite grocery store, arrange them artfully on a plate, and eat your fromage with some high quality crackers, honey and olives.
It’s also worth noting that you should never feel shame about eating a bowl of cereal, a peanut butter and jam sandwich, or an un-doctored bowl of shitty ramen. Besides education, the whole point of going away to uni is learning how to make your own (questionable) decisions, even if those decisions mean eating popcorn for supper.