Tips for Healthy Eating in College Part 4: Easy Meal Ideas

While the meal options you choose depend on your personal tastes, cooking options, and budget, having a list of ideas to refer to can help you avoid decision fatigue in your busy schedule.

By Mari Whitmore — January 4, 2023


Tips for Healthy Eating in College Part 4: Easy Meal Ideas

When I left home and started making my meals in college, I suddenly felt as if I'd forgotten every meal I'd ever eaten. College can be hectic and overwhelming, and having a list of meal ideas to refer to is immensely helpful for those busy days. If you're wondering why you can't remember any of the meals you've enjoyed for your entire life, consider calling home for reminders, making a list of your favorites, and referring back to this article if you find yourself hunting for meal ideas in college and beyond.

Breakfast Ideas

On busy mornings, sometimes, it's all you can do to collect your textbooks and get to class on time. However, eating a balanced meal or snack in the mornings is important to fuel your brain and body for your busy day ahead. Fortunately, many simple breakfast options can be prepared ahead for busy mornings. Make smoothie kits by combining your favorite frozen vegetables and fruits and dry ingredients in a jar (or blender cup to minimize dishes and save time!). Store in the refrigerator or freezer and prepare the next day by adding yogurt, milk, non-dairy milks, juice, or water and blending. Experiment with overnight oat recipes, which don't necessarily require any cooking and are a great way to combine food groups. Add protein powder, peanut butter, and milks to make the oats filling and flavorful.

Hot Breakfast Options

If you like hot breakfasts but can't cook in the morning, try making egg bites or tiny crustless quiches. You can make a big batch of egg bites in advance and store them in the refrigerator! Combine eggs with your favorite vegetables, cheeses, and protein, and bake them in a mini muffin tin. My favorite egg bite combo is eggs with chopped spinach, crumbled feta, diced tomatoes, and some thinly sliced salami. You can also keep it simple with ham and swiss or broccoli and cheddar cheese. Heat egg bites in the microwave or air fryer for a quick, protein-rich breakfast or snack. Make breakfast tacos or burritos with eggs, cheese, bacon, sausage, and any vegetables you like and store them in the refrigerator. Alternatively, make and freeze pancakes, french toast, or mini waffles to reheat for breakfast. If you struggle to eat a big meal first thing in the morning, pack a light meal and eat it while you study or on your way to class. Apples, peanut butter, yogurt cups, bananas, muffins, hard-boiled eggs, and bagels are easy to snag on your way out the door. If you don't like traditional breakfast foods, don't eat them! There aren't any rules that say you have to eat eggs or oatmeal in the morning. Warm up a mug of soup, make a grilled cheese sandwich, or eat that leftover burrito if you want to. Just make sure to combine a carb and protein for long-lasting energy.

On-The-Go-Lunches

Since lunch is most likely sandwiched between classes and studying, it can be difficult to fit in if you don't plan. I like to prepare cold lunch foods over the weekend to have all week. Lunch is the optimal meal to throw all your favorite ingredients into a bowl and call it a meal. One of my favorite cold lunches is whatever fresh produce I have, a nutrient-dense dip, a protein source, and some crackers or pretzels. For example, pack cheese and crackers, apple and peanut butter, carrots, and hummus for an adult "lunchable." Pack a yogurt bowl or the aforementioned breakfast options for an unconventional, delicious lunch.

Cost and Convenience

Sandwiches and salads are great make-ahead options you can pack when you leave your dorm in the morning. To save money, consider remaking your favorite restaurant salad for an easily packable and nutritious meal. Keep the dressing in a small, separate container to keep your salad fresh until you eat it. Copy restaurants for sandwich and burrito ideas as well! Sandwiches encompass far more than the classic PB&J or ham and cheese: try buffalo chicken wraps, curried chickpea salad, or Thai chili tuna. Making sandwiches on frozen bread can keep the fillings cold until lunchtime. I love to prepare burritos or burrito bowls with beans, rice, meat (if desired), cheese, and my favorite salsa and toppings (such as lettuce, pico de gallo, cilantro, sour cream, etc.) for Chipotle vibes at a fraction of the cost. Plus, you can save time by using canned beans, quick-cooking rice, shredded cheese, pre-cooked protein, and bagged vegetables. While prepared ingredients may not be quite as cost-effective as their raw counterparts, they are still far more budget-friendly than take-out and can save you valuable time for studying and socializing.

Dinner

I love making bowls for dinner as well. Try Mediterranean bowls, sushi bowls, or any other flavors you like. The premise is simple: combine a cooked starch or grain, such as rice, quinoa, potatoes, sweet potatoes, or pasta, with a protein, such as chicken, beef, pork, fish, eggs, tofu, or beans, and customize it to your taste! Add sauces, vegetables, cheese, nuts, and other garnishes to make it your own. I like making tuna bowls with rice, canned tuna, and avocado. Season with soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, lime juice, or other sauces. Another of my favorites is sauteing sliced pre-cooked chicken sausage with whatever fresh or frozen vegetables I have on hand. Spicy sausage combines with earthy-tasting vegetables such as potatoes, riced cauliflower, diced tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and carrots. Season with your favorite chili and garlic, and serve over rice or pasta for a quick and nutritious meal.

While the meal options you choose depend on your personal tastes, cooking options, and budget, having a list of ideas to refer to can help you avoid decision fatigue in your busy schedule. These meal ideas are all interchangeable; if you prefer hot lunches, try the hot breakfast or dinner ideas for lunch and plan something lighter, like a "lunchable" or smoothie, for dinner. Above all, be adventurous with food! While making family favorites is a comforting way to combat homesickness, being away from home for the first time is a great chance to try different foods and expand your palate. Take college cooking as the perfect opportunity to explore new recipes and cuisines!

Mari Whitmore

Mari Whitmore

Mari Whitmore recently graduated from a tiny private college in the middle of beautiful Wyoming. She spends her time traveling, adventuring in nature, writing, and working as a barista and bartender. Recently, Mari relocated to the gorgeous hill country of Central Texas. In her free time, she loves to hike, paddleboard, read, paint, watch movies, and gather with friends and family.
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