If you're a new college student preparing to enter dorm life, you may be asking yourself: what's the meal situation gonna be like? Well, good news - most of your meals will be simple, easy to prepare, and cheap! The bad news is....you won't be getting your mom's cooking or eating out as often. Also you better learn to like ramen.
1. Ramen with TWO flavor packets
Sure, ramen is the go-to staple of cheap dorm meals - it costs nothing, is pretty easy to prepare, and tastes pretty decent (and gives you roughly 10,000% of your daily recommended sodium intake). But there is one way to spice up the standard dish even more - by DOUBLING the spice (well, "flavor packets"). Want your beef or chicken or shrimp to really EXPLODE with flavor? Just steal another flavor packet from another packet of ramen. Sure, that one will come out bland and flavorless whenever you get to it, but you're sacrificing something that cost approximately half a quarter, so no major loss. And in the meantime, you've got a one way ticket to Flavortown.
2. Peanut butter (plus something, if you're lucky, although usually not bread so don't get your hopes up)
Peanut butter is a solid investment for anyone in the dorms - it keeps well no matter the heat situation, it lasts for a LONG time, it's a good source of protein, and it tastes GODDAMN DELICIOUS. Seriously - you can eat it as a snack or as a meal and you'll probably never get sick of it. If you're REALLY lucky, you can find some bread and make yourself a sandwich (and maybe even find some jelly? Although you shouldn't count on it), but who has bread in dorms? More likely, you'll be spreading it on some crackers and enjoying it that way.
...or, when you run out of crackers, just straight up scooping it out of the jar and eating it right off the spoon. Don't pretend you're above it.
Hot tip: ALWAYS steal jelly packets when your parents take you to Denny's for parents weekends. Your peanut butter supply will thank you.
3. Ramen with some meat you cooked on your George Foreman Grill
Let's say you want to turn your ramen into something more resembling an actual meal - what do you do? Ramen is nice 'n all, but it's not exactly filling, and you can feel your body getting weaker every day you subsist on these noodles. There is a way to make it a lot more substantial - cook some meat on your George Foreman grill, chop it up, and put it into the ramen. Sure, that hamburger patty or single chicken breast you bought will be kinda dry, underseasoned as hell, and not particularly well-cooked - but at least it's meat, and now you've upgraded your ramen a ton.
Hot tip: make some for your roommate too, on the condition they clean out the grease trap.
4. Cold Chef Boyardee
No one's ever proud of it, but cold Chef's Boyardee ain't bad. Maybe your microwave's on the fritz, or you're out of bowls, or some other reason why you can't cook up that sweet sweet ravioli - the end result is the same. You've gotta eat some room temperature ravioli, and it's actually not that bad! Plus, you get to eat straight out of a tin can, which complements your "chic hobo" aesthetic.
5. Incredibly Sad Nachos
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Actual quaity nachos will be far outside your reach in the college dorm system - corralling that many ingredients together in a satisfying way requires both money and some actual kitchen space, neither of which you have. But you know what can KINDA scratch that itch? Sad Nachos! By which I mean, taking some oversalted tortilla chips, putting them on a paper plate, and sprinkling them with some shredded cheddar (if you're lucky - in many cases, I was doing torn up slices of American cheese). It's never very satisfying, but it should tide you over until you can scrape together enough money for a Taco Bell run.
6. Dry ramen
It is a dark, unpleasant inevitability, but you will probably face it at some point - your microwave's on the fritz, it's late at night (so you can't wake up someone else on the floor to use theirs), and you REALLY want some ramen. But you have no way to cook it, so what do you do? It's the only food in your dorm and you're starving and broke, so you have only one option: eat it dry. Break up the chunk of ramen into smaller chunks and just eat it that way (occasionally adding in some flavor packet dust). It's way too crunchy, doesn't taste great, and you'll begin regretting your decision about 10 seconds in - but at least you got SOMETHING in your stomach before taking another 4 shots of vodka with your roommates.
7. Easy Mac
Who needs Difficult Mac (my name for regular Mac & Cheese) when you have Easy Mac? For those moments when ramen flavor packets are starting to taste a littttttttttttttle too weird for you, but you still want something with basically no health value in your body, look no further.
Here's a tip to everyone - if you have a microwave in your dorm room, you should CONSTANTLY have as many bags of popcorn hidden away somewhere. Popcorn's insanely easy to prepare, tastes great, and is always kinda fun for anyone visiting your room (no one is EVER upset to see freshly popped popcorn). And best of all, it's SO EASY TO STORE (since bags are basically flat in the pre-popped kernal stage).
Beer is BASICALLY liquid bread, right? And bread is the base of the food pyramid, so you should be eating a lot of it, right? Also, hey, alcohol's nice. Therefore, drinking a lot of beer is very important to your diet - and realizing you're out of food but do have a six pack of lukewarm Miller Lite under your bed isn't ACTUALLY an issue. It's like eating a baguette for dinner! Except with more urinating and falling asleep at 9pm.
10. Pizza-adjacent frozen food (Pizza Rolls, Bagel Bites)
Pizza is universally amongst the most beloved foods, but it's not super easy to get in a dorm situation. Frozen pizzas have a hard time fitting in mini-fridges and getting ACTUAL PIZZAS from a restaurant can be expensive. Luckily, the world of frozen foods came up with a solution - bite-sized snack foods that are ALMOST KINDA LIKE PIZZA (but not quiiiite pizza). We're talking Pizza Rolls, Bagel Bites, and everything in-between. Sure, none of them are EXACTLY pizza, but they capture the SPIRIT of pizza.
And burning the roof of your mouth. Every time.
11. An entire bag of sour cream & onion chips
Warning: typically this does not happen ON PURPOSE, but it does happen nonetheless. You're on your futon, you're watching old episodes of Rick & Morty, you're eating some chips....then suddenly the bag is empty, you don't feel hungry for dinner, and you have an inexplicable stomach ache for some mysterious reason. Also your roommate is pissed that someone ate all of their sour cream & onion chips.
12. Dry cereal
Even if you HAD the foresight to buy milk (which you absolutely do not), would that really be the best way to eat cereal? Involve milk in the process, then you also need a bowl and a spoon (plus you need to remember to throw out the milk once it turns sour, which you will definitely forget to do). Luckily, there's a much simpler way - dry cereal. You can eat it straight out of the box in handfuls and you never have to worry about doing dishes or throwing away rancid milk. Frosted Flakes, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Frosted Mini Wheats - the possibilities are endless! No Applejacks though - SCREW Applejacks.
13. Endless dining hall leftovers
Here's the real secret to eating well in the dorms - YOU KINDA CAN'T. You are way too limited by lack of utensils and dishes and appliances and storage and money and time to truly produce anything THAT good. But there is another option - it's called "stealing as much food from the dining halls as possible." All you need is a dining hall pass, some tupperware, and skills gained by years of watching Supermarket Sweet. Maybe you can't afford to go to the dining hall that often, or maybe you have friends that can't. It doesn't matter - even if you just don't want to walk all the way to your dining hall, this is a worthwhile venture, because you can be eating chicken fingers for DAYS.
I should warn this only works in buffet-style dining halls, but I know that DOES make up a lot of them. Bring a backpack stuffed with tupperware and start loading up your tray with food that won't immediately turn to waste once it's held in a fridge or in a container - that means no tater tots, french fries, and basically any fried potato product (also lots of salads and breads). Instead, focus on stuff that can keep well - pasta, stir fry, various meats, cookies, soups, stews, chili, etc. If you do it right and manage to not get caught stuffing your backpack filled with food, you'll be sitting pretty with tons of excellent snack and meal options for the next few days, after which you'll need to re-up your supply again.