Realistic Recipes for College Students

Midlife Sentence | Reality Based Recipes for College Students

It’s mid-summer and time to face facts: we have a kid bound for college in the fall, and I have some things to do to prepare.

He’s not going to be close, either. He won’t be coming home on weekends to eat home-cooked meals or do his laundry. In fact, he won’t be able to come home at all for more than a couple of weeks at Christmas.

He’ll be living in a dorm that isn’t unlike those here in the US, except he won’t have a cafeteria with a range of meal plans to choose from. He’ll have his own kitchenette to share with a few other roommates and have to be responsible for shopping for groceries and cooking his own meals. This has me a teensy bit worried, I’ll be honest.

He asked me the other day if I could jot down a few recipes for him, and for the first time I started wondering if we’ve adequately prepared this kid for adulting. How will he fare if they don’t have Hot Pockets in Austria? And what about his other favorite foods? I know from experience shipping a box of Cheetos overseas is far more expensive than the Cheetos are actually worth (granted, I’m not a Cheeto aficionado).

Don’t get on my case, you guys. I’ve spent a lifetime foisting as much healthy food on this kid as I could. But left to his own devices he swings toward Hot Pockets and Cheetos. And Taco Bell. He’s an adolescent male, there’s only so much I can do.

So, I’m trying to put together a set of reality-based recipes, knowing he’s not going to keep a lot of chopped produce on hand for quick salads, or broil up a sheet pan of marinated chicken and vegetables for a healthy dinner.

Here’s what I have so far:

Comfort macaroni et fromage – Prepare macaroni pasta according to package directions (adding the pasta to the water after it starts boiling, or you’ll end up with a gummy mess). Watch the pot and turn it down when it threatens to boil over, because you’ll probably forget to clean that up and have a group of angry roommates on your hands later.

Toss that packaged cheese powder. It’s some sort of gross, petroleum-based “cheese product” that’s not real food, and you don’t want it in your body. Instead melt a tablespoonful of butter over medium heat in another pot. Stir in a tablespoonful of flour with a fork until it’s mixed, then whisk in a cup of milk and keep stirring until it starts to bubble and then thicken. Sprinkle a handful or two of shredded cheese and let it melt while you stir. Pour the sauce over the macaroni and mix.

Eat it straight out of the pot because this whole thing just took so long you thought you were going to have to chew through your own arm. Next time don’t wait so long to make dinner, dummy.

Too-poor-to-order-takeout fried rice – Chinese take-out is not cheap. Make your own. Prepare regular, long grain white rice according to the package directions (if you refrigerate it overnight, it actually works better for this dish). Warm some oil in a skillet, scramble an egg with some chopped green onions (the whites and some of the green area). Add a small, drained can of peas that you stole from your roommate because he’s the only one you know under the age of forty who buys actual canned vegetables (you can owe him a beer or something) and stir until warm. Add the rice and mix it all up.

There’s probably an extra packet of soy sauce or two in the junk drawer. Add that. You can eat this warm or cold. Just save some for the roommate whose peas you stole.

Procrastination Grilled Cheese – Butter the outsides of a cheese sandwich and warm it slowly in a skillet over medium heat, first one side, then the other. You want to keep the heat low enough that the cheese melts properly while the bread toasts to a golden brown without burning. This takes time. You can’t rush it. I know you have a bunch of homework to do, but you gotta eat and you’re no heathen. You’re going to sacrifice a perfect golden-brown toasted cheese sandwich because you’re rushing to do math? Are you a MONSTER?

No sir. You’ll get to that damn homework …. Right AFTER you get something to eat. Eat an apple, too, since it’s probably been a while since you had any actual plant food and those were just the canned peas you stole from your roommate.

Date night nachos – Sprinkle some grated cheddar/jack cheese blend over corn chips and microwave for just long enough to melt the cheese. If you want to impress a date, open up a can of beans, rinse and drain and spread them on top first (under the cheese). Throw on some canned, shredded chicken, and then a little more cheese and some chopped green onions. If you’re really going for a good first impression, broil your nachos on a cookie sheet under a broiler instead of using a microwave (extra points for not starting a kitchen fire).

Set out a bowl of salsa and light a candle to set the mood. Spoon on a few pickled jalapeños before serving for just enough spice to remind you how things will burn later if you get too hoochy-koochy with your date and you haven’t taken the kind of precautions I know we’ve talked about.

Hangover Chili – You’re going to want to eat this straight out of the can: cold, congealed, and with a spoon you fished out of the sink and aren’t 100% certain it’s clean. Then you sit there and contemplate what happened last night, where your life might be going and what could possibly have happened to your shoes. Take a B-complex vitamin, drink a little orange juice and go back to bed.

No, it’s not the flu. Nobody who saw you streaking through the quad is going to believe it’s the flu. You’re still a good person and I love you. Don’t ever do that again.

Grown up Ramen – This is like regular Ramen, but healthier. Prepare the ramen as normal but leave out the foil packet of pre-hypertension. Replace that with a little salt, a pinch each of cumin, ground ginger, pepper and maybe a few chili flakes. Drain a small can of peas (you’ll owe your roomie another beer), and stir it in, maybe with a handful of chopped green onions and a sliced hard-boiled egg for protein.

For a little extra flair, cook up a couple pieces of bacon until crispy and crumble on top. Serve it up on a plate with a place setting and an actual napkin at a bonafide table, and then sit there for a second and marvel at what a grown-ass man you’ve become, you with your silverware and stuff. You’ve got cumin in the cupboard. Impressive.

Mamma Loves You PB&J – Emergency rations when you miss home and don’t feel like getting out of your jammies all day. Slather peanut butter and strawberry jelly on bread. Cut sandwich into triangles and aim it at your mouth, making airplane noises as you’re about to take a bite. Wash it down with a cold glass of milk. Then get your butt out of bed, put a load of laundry in the wash, and start plucking away at that homework. It’s not going to do itself.


Okay, this little collection needs work. Hit me up with your best reality-based recipes for the young adult who has yet to develop proper knifing skills, probably can’t tell when an avocado is ripe, and will assure me he’s doing fine on nothing but Corn Nuts and Cheerios – or the Austrian equivalent of his favorite junk food – until he comes home for the holidays. I could use an assist.

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  1. Heat a can of Sloppy Joe meat in microwave or in skillet. Pour over hot macaroni pasta. Sprinkle cheese (any kind) on top. Our son’s favorite.