Easy dorm recipes that don’t break the bank
A hearty bowl of oatmeal topped with bananas, walnuts, and chia seeds. Photo by rawpixel.com / Jakub Kapusnak.

Easy dorm recipes that don’t break the bank

As the January Independent Study Project (ISP) interterm approaches, the New College Hamilton “Ham” Cafe hours become a little tricky. During this academic exploration period, it is vital to maintain nourishment and sustain oneself. According to the 2019/2020 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, a staggering 34 percent of college students experience food insecurity. A brain can only feed on knowledge once it is fed… The Catalyst researched simple, inexpensive and healthy recipes one can make in a dorm or hotel room. 

Microwave Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a steel-cut grain that offers high fiber content, which protects against cardiovascular disease, breast and rectal cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Oatmeal is packed with antioxidants and lowers cholesterol, which if too high, leads to clogged arteries hindering blood flow. Oats are nutritionally dense with 6.5 grams of protein and four grams of fiber in a half-cup of oats. Oatmeal is the perfect blank slate for toppings of one’s choosing. In a microwave-safe bowl, add rolled oats, plant or dairy milk and any peanut butter, chocolate chips, maple syrup or other base ingredients  Microwave for two to three minutes and add  toppings such as berries, bananas, apples, dried nuts, dried fruit, seeds, cinnamon or jam. At Walmart, a 42-ounce container of rolled oats costs $5.68, which could provide for several meals and is non-perishable. Sixteen ounces of Great Value creamy peanut butter is $1.84, and 32 fluid ounces of Great Value maple syrup is $15.98, which could last for months. A 64-fluid ounce container of Oatly oat milk is $4.98 at Walmart, and 32 ounces of Planet Oat oat milk at Publix is $2.21. Students can also stock up on bananas and apples from Ham. Toppings can add to expenses with berries, chia seeds and nuts tending to be a little higher in price—a  box of blueberries at Publix or Walmart cost about $5 to $7. 

Measuring cups are another expense; however, oatmeal is quite simple and can be measured with love. Also, Dollar Tree and Walmart sell quite inexpensive baking utensils. Mugs are typically 8 ounces, which can be used to measure a cup in baking terms as well. A recipe for apple cinnamon oatmeal begins with chopping an apple and adding ½ cup steel rolled oats and  ½ cup plus ½ tablespoon (tbsp) water to a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 60 seconds, then add a splash of milk and ⅛ teaspoon (tsp) cinnamon. Last, top with some peanut butter (or sunflower butter if allergic), maple syrup and the rest of the chopped apple, for the perfect warm lingering taste of fall. 

Salted caramel oatmeal begins with mixing ½ cup rolled oats, 2 tbsp salted caramel protein powder or caramel sauce, 1 tbsp almond butter (or nut/sunflower butter of choosing), ¼ cup milk and ½ cup water in a microwavable bowl. Microwave for one minute, stir, then microwave for one minute. Then one can add toppings of strawberries or caramel drizzle for a sweet and salty, energy-packed meal. 

If in a rush in the morning to attend one’s ISP, overnight oats is a great solution. Overnight oats entails soaking oats in the fridge with yogurt or milk and other base ingredients of choice, such as maple syrup, cinnamon or peanut butter. Then in the morning, add any fruit or seed toppings that would otherwise be soggy if left in the oats overnight. Overnight oats are extremely easy and a great timesaver. 

Warm Brown Rice or Quinoa Bowls

Brown rice is rich in dietary fibers as well as antioxidants. It helps to control blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. Quinoa offers a range of nutrients with five grams of fiber and anti-inflammatory compounds. Eight ounces of Good and Gather microwavable Quinoa at Target is $3.19, 8.5 ounces of Seeds of Change microwavable brown rice and quinoa mix at Walmart is $2.46 and 10 ounces of Path of Life quinoa blend at Publix is $4.41. Some ingredients to spice up the bowls: 24 ounces of cherry tomatoes are $5.98 at Walmart, $4.41 for 12 ounces at Publix and $4.99 for 12 ounces at Target. Avocados range from $1.36 to $3 a pound. Six ounces of crumbled feta cheese from Walmart costs $3.76; 12 ounces becomes $5.97. Inexpensive canned toppings include chick peas, black/green/kalamata olives, corn, kidney/black/pinto beans and peas. Fresh toppings, which add to the price, include lettuce, red/white onions, guacamole, cucumber, carrots, sour cream, herbs such as parsley, olive oil, teriyaki sauce, soy sauce and hummus. For additional protein, pre-made frozen or fresh falafel can be found at Publix or Trader Joe’s, canned tuna or salmon ranges from $1.14 to $3 a can and deli turkey or chicken can be found at almost any grocery store. 

A recipe for Greek brown and wild rice bowls begins with combining 8 ½ ounces brown rice with ½ cup olive oil or vinegarette in a microwave-safe bowl. Then cover the bowl with tinfoil, plastic wrap or a paper towel. Microwave for about two minutes. Top with sliced avocado, tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, kalamata olives, remaining dressing and any herbs or protein of one’s choosing.

For an Asian rice bowl, begin by mixing the rice with teriyaki, hoisin, or soy sauce depending on one’s liking. To make a fried rice bowl, scramble the eggs in a mug and cook in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. Then add the eggs into the rice. Top with carrots, sesame seeds, green onions, cucumbers, garlic, mango, snap peas, peanuts, cashews and any other vegetables or sauces of choice. 

For 17 rice bowls that can be adapted to the microwave, click here. Any of these bowls can be turned into wraps or tacos, which also make them easier to enjoy as  a meal on the go. 

Microwavable Sweet Treats

Some might crave sweetness after an arduous day of learning. Mug cakes are quick and simple. For shopping at Walmart, a five-pound bag of Great Value flour is $2.43, a four-pound bag of Great Value white granulated sugar is $3.34, 48 fluid ounces of Great Value canola oil is $4.24. Other ingredients, such as milk, baking soda and vanilla extract vary in price and tend to be more expensive. However, a one-time purchase of $4.39 Good and Gather vanilla extract from Target can last for months of mug cakes. 

For a chocolate mug cake, begin by mixing ½ cup of flour, ¼ cup all-purpose flour, ¼ cup of white sugar, 2 tbsp cocoa powder, ⅛ tsp baking soda and a sprinkle of salt in a microwave-safe bowl or mug. Then stir in 2 tbsp canola oil, 1 tbsp water, ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract and 3 tbsp  milk and microwave for about one minute and 45 seconds. Once cool, add toppings such as sprinkles, chocolate chips, berries or ice cream. Mug cakes can be creative, with infinite possible flavors including peppermint, funfetti, cookie dough or peanut butter. For 33 mug cake recipes click here

Microwaved baked apples are the perfect cozy fall treat, especially with a scoop of dairy/dairy free vanilla ice cream. Core two firm apples and leave the bottoms intact. Mix 2 tsp brown sugar, 1 tsp ground cinnamon and 1 tsp ground nutmeg in a bowl and then spoon into each apple. Add 2 tsp of butter (dairy or not) on top of each apple and microwave for about three to four minutes, or until tender. Wait until the apples have cooled to add delicious toppings such as whipped cream or peanut butter. 

Banana bread muffin in a mug is simple and bananas can be acquired from the Hamilton Cafe. Mash ½ banana in a microwave-safe mug with a splash of vanilla extract and 1 tsp oil. Add 2 tbsp flour, 1 tsp sugar, ¼ tsp baking soda, a pinch of salt and an optional pinch of espresso to enrich the banana flavor. Microwave for about 90 seconds and allow to cool. Add toppings such as nuts, seeds, cinnamon, cocoa powder or chocolate chips, either on top or in the batter. This warm, comforting dessert is high in potassium and in deliciousness.

New College Student Recipes 

First-year students Mile Ware and Jamie Dunne, who live in the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel and lack a proper kitchen, shared their makeshift cheese quesadilla recipe. “It’s really hard to cook for ourselves because I had the expectation of being on campus and having access to a kitchen,” Ware told the Catalyst. “And I was really excited to cook my own meals and gain some independence. But now I use a breakfast sandwich griddle to cook grilled cheese and hotdogs. This was not the dream.”

“Dorm room recipes are meant to be simple, quick and delicious,” Ware continued. “But nutrition is not the goal right here. Dorm recipes are for when you come home at 4 am after a wall or COUP and you say it’s time for some grub.” 

Dunne began by sharpening the knife used to dice the fresh tomatoes. “So the first thing that we are doing is making sure the griddle is on. Take a tortilla, then if you have butter or neutral flavored oil, place it on the griddle. Then we’re gonna throw in a little bit of cheese.”

While the cheese melted on the tortilla, Ware heated microwaveable mushroom flavored rice that simply required adding water. (He expressed a preference for using Spanish or yellow rice.) Then Dunne added the rice to  the quesadilla and then the fresh tomatoes. 

“That’s what dorm cooking is all about. It’s about taking what you have and making something new,” Ware explained. 

Dunne did just that by sprinkling cheese on the outside of the tortilla to replace the lack of oil or fat to cook with. Then the creation was complete.

Abby Nelson’s Spaghetti Squash. Photo courtesy of Abby Nelson.

Abby Nelson, a first year living in Z dorm with access to Z kitchen, shared her delicious spaghetti squash recipe. 

“Recently I’ve made fresh bread, chili, sweet potato carrot gnocchi, and spaghetti squash. Spaghetti squash is really easy to make and always tastes good,” Nelson said. 

Spaghetti squash can be found at Walmart for $3.80 or at Target for $3.99. 

This meal began by cutting the squash in half lengthwise. “I don’t have a specific recipe, but I make it by putting a little olive oil on the inside and outside of the squash and poking a bunch of holes in the back of it,” Nelson explained. “Then, I put seasonings like salt, pepper, red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning. I put it in the oven for 30-35 minutes at 375. I take it out and use a fork to scrape all the squash out and put cheese on the top. I put it on broil for a minute or so to get the cheese melted and crispy. I’ll taste it and add some more seasonings until I think it tastes right.” 

Nelson shared their newfound love for creating innovative recipes. “I love making fresh food in the communal kitchen because Ham can get a little repetitive,” they explained. “I never really cooked before coming to college, but since I’ve been living on my own I’ve really loved it. It’s so fun to make food and share it with my friends.”

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