With Fall right around the corner, students will be heading back to school in the coming weeks. For many college students, the task of cooking can be a challenge, especially with financial and time constraints. In fact, these days, most of us are faced with those same challenges when it comes to cooking healthy, quick and cheap meals. So, I wanted to toss out a few vegan meal ideas to get your school year started off on the right foot! These are also good ideas for younger students to try out or for those of us who just need something cheap and fast on those busy weekdays.
It can also be helpful to think about your budget when it comes to food. You can eat fresh food on the cheap if you just do a little planning. Produce can seem expensive when compared to processed food, but if you plan to make larger batches and eat leftovers, it’ll really help. Plus, fresh(er), nutritious food will make you feel much better during a time when you’re already putting your body to the test with sleep deprivation, academic stresses, and the “occasional partying”!
Beans and Rice
This was my personal staple food in school and got me through countless long nights of studying.
- Cooked rice (I like brown rice, myself)
- 1 can diced tomatoes (drained)
- 1 can black beans (drained)
- 1 small can whole kernel corn (drained)
- green or red pepper (optional), cut into strips
- red onion (optional)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Optional spices: dash thyme, dash (or more) cumin, salsa
- The quickest version of this involves mixing the brown rice, diced tomatoes, black beans, corn and cumin together. It’s great when topped with salsa!
- For a slightly more complex version, saute the garlic, red onion and pepper strips in the olive oil in a deep pan on high heat for a quick few minutes.
- add tomatoes, corn and black beans along with the thyme and cumin. Cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- spoon the mixture over cooked brown rice and top with salsa. Enjoy!
I know ramen noodles are the quintessential collegiate food, but there are easy ways to make it much better. First, make sure to check your label for ingredients to make sure it’s vegan-friendly. You mostly want to check the noodles, though, because I highly recommend tossing that seasoning packet in the trash.
Standard veggie ramen: Toss noodles, frozen or fresh veggies (peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, etc) into a large pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove. Boil for 2-3 minutes, or until the noodles are cooked. Drain water (or keep, if you want a soup) and top with soy sauce and/or sriracha sauce. Done!
Curried veggie ramen: Same as above, but instead add some red thai curry paste to the water while boiling (no soy sauce). Check ingredients on that curry paste for fish sauce.
Italian veggie ramen: Same as above, but just top with spaghetti sauce or fresh tomatoes and basil.
Optional ramen toppings: canned black beans (drained), sesame oil, green onions, tofu cubes, etc.
Potatoes are nice to have around because they’re cheap and keep a long time. There are different ways to cook them, but a quick way is just to use the microwave. There are also lots of different kinds of potatoes, so experiment with different ones. Sweet potatoes are also very healthy and easy to make.
Basic baked potato: Prick the washed potato with a fork and place it on a microwave-safe dish in the microwave on high for 5 minutes. Turn it over and microwave again for 3-5 minutes and add 1 minute bursts if it’s still hard.
Baked potato topping ideas:
- avocados, black beans, salsa, cumin, green onions
- Steamed cauliflower, curry and cumin
- Sloppy joes (see recipe below)
- Red pepper, spinach, black olives, olive oil and ground black pepper
- Pizza sauce, green peppers, mushrooms and black olives
- the possibilities are endless!
This is a no-brainer, but they’re easy to carry with you or eat in a hurry. I always liked the “comfort food” feeling of a nut butter and banana sandwich on wheat bread!
Hummus sandwich: Spread some hummus on wheat bread, ciabatta roll or bagel and top with lettuce, cucumber, shredded carrots and purple cabbage (can be bought in bags), tomatoes, and/or red onion. You can find hummus in most stores or make your own.
Veggie burgers/dogs: If you want a fast source of protein and don’t mind meat substitutes, veggie burgers and dogs are really easy to microwave and are filling. There are a million different kinds out there, so shop around and find one you like. Try adding avocado slices or other veggies to the burgers for some extra nutrients.
Vegan Sloppy Joes: I will often make up a big batch and eat it on rolls or with crackers when I’m in a hurry. It’s a little extra prep time, but make a lot and you’re set! Also good with dill pickles. The full recipe is here.
It’s so easy to sleep until 5 minutes before you have to be out the door, but if you can make an extra few minutes in your schedule, breakfast can be an awesome meal. We all have our favorites, but here are some of mine:
- oatmeal - add cinnamon, almonds, bananas, berries, soy milk
- bagel with nut butter
- Soy or coconut milk yogurt
- Granola and/or granola bars (check for honey)
- roasted potatoes - toss in the oven with olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary for 40 minutes or so. Great if you have a little extra time!
- Smoothies of all kinds - try blending a frozen banana with some berries/fruit and soy milk.
When you’re rushing around, it’s tempting to just grab for snacks instead of meals. That’s fine as long as you’re not eating chips all day long. Here are a few things that I like to keep on hand when I’m munchy.
- Pretzels (try dipping in mustard or nut butter!)
- Popcorn (check ingredients or use an air popper with some soy sauce and/or nutritional yeast sprinkled on top)
- Crackers and nut butter (graham crackers are good if you need something sweet)
- Spend a free hour on the weekend cutting up a bunch of vegetables (carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, etc.) and store them in a container in the fridge. I’m always much more likely to eat them if they’re already cut up.
- Fruit - apples, oranges and bananas are very portable, too!
- Hummus and pita, pita chips or veggies to dip
- Granola bars (check for honey on those)
- Grab a tortilla and toss in some refried beans, shredded carrots, jalapeno slices, and salsa.
- Tortilla with nut butter and a little cinnamon and/or bananas.
Ditching the kitchen
There will certainly be times when you’ll want to ditch the pots and pans and order out. It’s not the cheapest route, but it sure is fun after a hard week. I’ve been really impressed at how easily it is to order veggie pizza without cheese on it. I’m told that there are so many people who are lactose intolerant or are cutting fat out of their diets that this is a common request. In the dozens of times I’ve done this (with no questions asked, even in the middle of Kansas) I’ve only had 2 or 3 mixups. You can even do a half pizza without cheese if you’re in a group, so don’t be afraid to ask.
There are also so many sandwich/burrito places that let you custom order your food at the counter that it extremely easy to eat out. Also consider exploring your city, especially if you’ve recently arrived, and support local restaurants that are vegan friendly!
Lastly, I’ve been tagging my posts that cover quick and easy recpies so I have a growing list of additional ideas there. I hope these ideas help you get started this Fall and be sure and let me know if you have any favorite meals to include in the list. Good luck!