During midterm season, the question of what to eat becomes more desperate. It becomes more a question of what to eat when I’m running low on groceries, don’t know what to cook, and don’t have time to think about food right now. And sure, during these hectic weeks, Uber Eats and Asian Ghetto have always been there for me, providing a quick solution to my dilemma. It works for the first few meals, and then slowly I realize my checking account won’t be able to sustain my current eating habits for very long.
I had to find another way, and after lots of practice and experimentation, I did! I figured out some basic principles that can be used to make meals that are not only fast and cheap, but also delicious, and I’d love to share them with you so that you can use your time and brainpower for exams, not for agonizing over what to make for dinner. Here are 5 basic cooking skills you can use to make fast and delicious meals to fuel you through exam season.
TIP #1 “Everything But the Fridge” Pasta
What is more delicious and easy than pasta? The best thing about this is that dry pasta noodles are inexpensive and have a long shelf life, there are multiple servings in one package of dry pasta, and it goes well with any veggies or proteins that you have leftover in your fridge or freezer. Once you decide what ingredients you want to add, you can sautee them and add in the whole package of cooked pasta and sauce of your choice. Then you can pack individual servings in a few containers. Boom, lunch for the week in 20 minutes! Here’s a few ideas to get you started:
- Zucchini Mushroom Pasta
- Pesto Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes and Roasted Asparagus
- Cherry Tomato Sauce Pasta
- Simple Sausage and Broccoli Pasta
- Shrimp Tomato and Spinach Pasta in Garlic Butter Sauce
TIP #2 “Study While You Cook” Oven Roast
The oven is a magical contraption. If you have access to one, it’s possible to make an entire meal on one sheet pan, without having to tend to it as it cooks. You can coat your veggies in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper and lay them flat on a baking sheet. Alongside the veggies, you can add salmon, chicken, or any meat or fish you like. Cover it in lemon, seasoning, or your favorite marinade and let it roast (You can Google baking temperatures for specific meats or vegetables, or find examples in the links below). Then set a timer and go back to the grind until its ready to go! Here are some yummy one-tray dinners for you to try:
TIP #3 Egg-cellent Breakfasts
Why do people say breakfast is the most important meal of the day? About 25% of adults and 34% of kids and teenagers are in the habit of skipping breakfast. When breakfast is skipped, it is difficult to obtain all necessary nutrients from only two meals per day and it is easy to overeat at the next meal. My two personal favorite breakfasts are egg scrambles and parfaits, because they are quick to throw together, they’re filling and energizing, and they’re insanely delicious. To achieve a delicious scramble, it’s as simple as sauteeing any vegetables you have available and adding it to your basic scrambled egg or tofu. Eat it on its own or with toast or rice. For a sweet and filling parfait, add frozen berries or any fruit to yogurt and top it off with granola or cereal! If you need some inspiration, here’s some great recipes:
- Veggie Scramble
- Summer Veggie Egg Scramble
- Tofu Scramble
- Crunch Berry Parfait
- Banana Almond Greek Yogurt
TIP #4 Snack Hacks (This Trick Is Poppin’)
Popcorn is one of my favorite snacks, but I don’t always like the store-bought microwavable popcorn packs which can be expensive and contain other additives and oils. Instead, I buy a pack of brown paper lunch bags and plain popcorn kernels. All you have to do is fill the bag until one layer of kernels covers the bottom of the bag. Fold over top of the bag and tape it closed. Microwave on the popcorn setting until popping slows down to about 1-3 seconds apart. Add your favorite seasoning and that’s it -- a perfect individually-sized snack!
Here’s some great flavor combos to try:
TIP #5 When Time Is Not On Your Side, The Microwave Will Be
Making microwave meals is a great option if you are really crunched for time! It’s shocking how creative people get with homemade microwaveable meals, so here’s an assortment of recipes I found to try out. Most of these recipes take under 10-20 minutes to whip up, can be made with minimal kitchen tools, and utilize basic, cheap ingredients that are easy to find:
- Microwave Soy Salmon
- Microwave Chicken Breast Piccata
- Microwave Steamed Garlic Green Beans
- 7 Minute Southwestern Stuffed Sweet Potato
- 24 Dorm-Friendly Microwave Meals
I hope you found these tips helpful! If you feel that you are experiencing food insecurity at any time or would like to consult with a dietitian about any nutrition or health-related questions, UC Berkeley has many resources available for students, including:
- Financial Aid & Scholarships Office Food Assistance Program
- If you qualify for work-study, you may be eligible for CalFresh (food stamps).
- For immediate, emergency food support you can visit the UC Berkeley Food Pantry to receive 5 food items + produce. Check the location and hours on their website.
- Tips for eating on a budget and a 7-Day Menu for less than $5 a Day.
- Nutrition Services from University Health Services