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I Have A Challenge for You...

So, here's the deal. I am a college student, and as such, am living off a meal plan of 10 meals a week...I eat breakfast in my room (usually a granola bar and some Dannon Activia), but having only 10 meals for 7 days...I would need 14 meals...which I know I wouldn't use. I would love to have a 12 meal plan, but of course, they don't have one. So, I have to eat a meal in my room at least 3-4 days a week. So, I eat lunch in my room. And...of course...I am already pretty sick and tired of the junk I've been eating. Anything that can go in a microwave works for me. Also, I am limited because the best grocery store in the area is a super Wal-Mart (where they actually have a decent selection of cheese...I am currently munching on a smoked gouda:) ) But...my challenge to you CH's is this.

-I need lunch recipes
-It needs to be cooked in the microwave
-Or not use a microwave at all
-It uses few refrigerated ingredients (not much fridge space)
-I would like it to be unique:) (If possible...)

The Super Wal-Mart actually has a lot...from breads, to cheeses, to a large Hispanic and Asian foods section (I was astonished when I first started shopping there), and the quality is the same as I would find at my supermarket near home.

So...can you help me out?


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  1. Is a hot plate possible? Or a convection toaster oven? There are single burner induction devices on eBay for $60, and a cast iron pan is $20, and a toaster oven $50,,,, If I had those I'd sell off the microwave.

    1. I'm assuming your room regulations prohibit you from having any appliance like a hot plate or toaster oven? That was the case when I was an RA...

      So...does SuperWalmart carry produce? Or is there a farmer's market around? And have you checked out these other grocery stores in the area? We have a tiny market nearby that - despite seeming like a hole in the wall - actually sells excellent pre-made salads (pasta and veggie based), as well as side dishes that can be heated up in the microwave. Something like that would be great for lunches.

      Otherwise, I'd probably focus on produce and my microwave. Cut up some butternut squash, toss it with a little salt and nuke it for a few minutes til tender. Then toss it with some apple and feta maybe?

      Or buy some rice noodles, soak them in boiling water, and toss them with some of that bagged "rainbow slaw" mix and a bottled dressing (hoisin sauce, even...or go and buy the ingredients to make a good dipping sauce, and keep those in your mini-fridge).

      You could also do a cool "layer dip" type thing if you bought canned black beans, good salsa (Herdez perhaps), and some cheese, layered them, nuked them, and the dish spread on tortillas or with tortilla chips.

      And my final suggestion would be to find some frozen things that can be doctored up. For example, Kashi makes some reasonably decent frozen meals. You could take their Black Bean Mango thing, add some sliced avocado, salsa, and some cheese, wrap it in a tortilla and eat it like a burrito.

      Probably investing in some olive oil, kosher salt, and a few spices will really help things. Good luck!

      1. when I lived in the dorms, I had a similar meal plan. I bought one of those electric kettles (the whole lid lifts off). you should be able to find on a wal-mart for under $20. o.k. so this probably goes against the manufacturers instructions and possibly fire code, but I made all kinds of semi-home made stuff in those things. my roomate had one too.. so we'd heat up spaghetti sauce in hers (jar sauce or pomi, w/ added veg) and cook the noodles in mine. we'd often "cook" in the bathroom so we had access to water and could drain off the hot water, etc. I also made a lot of my own soup.. grab some rice noodles, some "better than bullion" some veg (frozen bags of mixed works for this) and threw in some spices to make our own "top ramen". soup works well, as long as it is quick cooking... those things are meant to boil water.. not gently simmer things all day... I also used mine to make mac & cheese (from scratch... which really doesn't take that much ingredients).

        another purchase you might consider is an electric skillet (deep sided w/ a domed lid).. you can cook an entire chicken in those things, you can make sauces for pasta, all kinds of things... they are great for breakfast too (bacon, eggs, fried potatoes)... and use it kind of like a dutch oven. I've used on of those to make all kinds of longer-cooking items.. and since they are non-stick they are a breeze to clean... I have heard you can use them to bake things in them, like biscuits and quick breads.. but have not tried that myself.

        good luck!

        1. The processed stuff is so high in sodium, you really have to read labels. Try to eat salads and veggies until it gets cold. A handful of lettuce, a sliced pear or apple, some crumbled blue or goat cheese, a little dressing, sprinkle on some pumpkin or sunflower seeds. If you get the romaine hearts, you have less storage problem, and you can use the leaves as a wrap or scooper.

          When the weather turns chilly, the only prepared soup I would recommend is Imagine. Here's a link so you can check out ingredients and sodium. I've only use their broths, but a friend says the broccoli is very good, and I see they have a new Cuban black bean.

          The Uncle Ben's 90-second brown rice micro packs are high in sodium, but if you get a bag of baby carrots, a bag of celery sticks, do a minimum of chopping, toss, you'd have a relatively healthy warm rice salad.

          There's always canned tuna or the pouches of salmon. Mayo for cold lettuce wraps, or make a faux tuna melt and spread it on bread or crackers.

          Canned beans, drained and rinsed, will keep in the fridge for several days. You can sprinkle chick peas or black beans on a salad, throw a handful into soup.

          PB&J or PB and banana sandwiches. A plateful of sliced apples, pears and/or grapes and PB to dip in.

          Do you like V8? There's a spicy version and also a new fruity one out. Helps with your veggie RDA.

          Otherwise, I hope you take advantage of the meal plan and maximize your protein there.

          1. Yeah, what Jay says...! If you can swing for a hot plate, it opens up vast vistas! Doesn't HAVE to be an induction burner, but they are optimum. There are also really nice single burner gas (butane) "stoves" available at most restaurant supply stores that are a lot more responsive than the standard electric hot plate.

            Anyway, without any additional equipment,

            THINGS TO DO WITH TOMATOES: Do NOT refrigerate them! Just keep a few in a bowl. Stuff them with a salad made with canned tuna or canned white meat chicken, or even just plain cottage cheese.

            Some say I'm weird, but I really like chunky peanut butter, tomato and mayo sandwiches. And of course, there are about 23 gazillion other things you can do with bread, tomatoes and mayo...

            You can chop fresh tomatoes into a bowl, add some herbs such as a tiny touch of fresh basil (if you like it), fresh or dried oregano, maybe a little thyme, chopped fresh parsley, some grated Italian cheese such as pecarino or Romano, some extra virgin olive oil, either fresh finely chopped garlic or garlic powder. Mix it up well and let sit at room temperature for an hour or two (even while you go to a class, but refrigerate if you're going to be gone all day) then boil some pasta in the microwave, any kind of pasta, from rigatoni to angel hair, then toss the cold raw tomato sauce with the really hot well drained pasta, let it sit while you toss a salad from a few lettuce leaves, and you have a feast!

            Get a hot plate, a 6" saute pan and a small wok and you've got the world at your feet! Egg dishes that range from soft boiled to omlettes to crepe and a whole world of "egg classics." With the small wok and a gas or induction burner you have an amazing world of quick to cook (not always quick to prep) Asian delights at your fingertips.

            Add a small oven or trade in your microwave for a microwave/convection model, and hey, you're ready for class at Cordon Bleu and who needs the ten meals a week plan! Good luck!

            1. Since it's lunch and only a couple of days a week, I'd be tempted to get in a collection of cheese, good bread or crackers, chutneys/pickles, fruit, sardines, cold cuts/salami, and salad items that you like. That's pretty much what I eat most afternoons (along with the occasional leftovers), and I've been out of college for many years! Generally, I couldn't be bothered to cook anything in the afternoon.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Kagey

                I second this. I'd be in heaven with a good spread like this (and a bottle of wine, but I digress...). A great apple, some salami, some dubliner cheese or aged gouda, pepper water crackers or great bread.

                Take advantage of the last of the good tomatoes now and make caprese salad-I like to chop the tomatoes, chop some mozzarella (I think it's easier to eat this way than sliced), add some pepper and fresh basil leaves (torn up) and drizzle with balsamic vinegar. Fabulous, and the only thing you need to refrigerate is the cheese (and, I know this is blasphemy, but you can even use chopped up string cheese for this).

                Hummus and pita. Greek salads-the traditional way, with no lettuce, just feta, olives, cukes, tomatoes, red onion, toss with a little olive oil and lemon juice or red wine vinegar and pepper.

              2. I ate a lot of hummus and carrots in college. One idea that should easily translate to the microwave: mix some salsa in with a can of black beans and serve over rice. Filing and tasty.

                1. Hate to break it to you all...no hot plates, convection toaster ovens, nothing but a microwave. Can't even have a coffee pot...and the rooms are checked regularly due to fire regulations that occur often in the building...I could get fined if I have any of these things. :( I wish I could...and the ideas that were given for microwave were great! Any more?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: milkyway4679

                    ah, but do you have an iron? If so, an entire world of hot sandwiches opens up for you . . .

                    If not, then yeah, I'd stick with soups pretty much. Something else you can do is boil water in a measuring cup in a microwave and then put eggs in that. Cover it with a plate, and 15 minutes later, you have hard cooked eggs. 5 minutes for soft.

                    1. re: milkyway4679

                      Caroline's suggestion about a convection microwave might work. Your room inspectors would have to look really closely at it, and even then they might not know these beasts exist.

                      1. re: milkyway4679

                        Can you have a blender? Plugs in no more dangerous than a hair dryer..
                        I agree with all of Kagey's suggestions. By grad school I was down to a blender drink, usally yogurt with fruit, a granola or similar carb bar and a banana. On the weekends that blender came in handy when all my friends were buying beer and I was making virgin cocktails. I couldn't afford much more complicated meals in my room but fresh fruit, cheese, breads and a few blender shakes got me through lean times and I maintained good health, good weight. Good luck!

                      2. quesadillas work in the microwave and all you really need is cheese but easy to store red onions, canned turkey or chicken, canned vegies, etc.

                        Pizza on pocket bread works too, particular those low carb ones because I find them to be too thin to open and stuff, but I like making pizza or a roll up with them.

                        1. How about...

                          -"Baked" potatoes with salsa and cheese, or "steamed" (micro in a container w/ a lid and a splash of water) or canned veggies, or top with canned or prepared chili

                          - Burritoes or quesadillas with refried or regular beans and cheese, and whatever else you like. You can also include rice, which can be either instant or converted rice, prepared in the micro.

                          - Make pasta in the micro (it can be done!) and then make yourself a few servings of pasta salad- in the small plastic containers, three servings would take up a minimum of space. You could do tomatoes, mozz or feta, and spinach or basil, or a packaged asian sauce with sliced mushrooms, zuchinni, etc.

                          If your grocery store has a salad bar, make friends with it. It's a great way to buy the veggies for whatever you cooking, already chopped and in one-person-sized amounts. When you get home, either add them raw to whatever you cooking, or put them in a plastic container with a little water and "steam" them in the micro, then add to pasta or whatever.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: happybellynh

                            Buy a grocery store roast chicken and shred the meat. From there you can make curried chicken salad wraps, asian style soup, quesadillas, etc...great value for a college student with no access to a stove or hot plate.

                          2. Well, after seeing all the replies, I decided to see what other heat sources I could come up with. To my utter surprise, we have a stove top! Now, this is a pretty bad stove top in regards to matters...with two burners that aren't in the best condition...but I will take it! So, I would prefer to use the microwave mostly...just because it will be a hassle to go and use the stovetop (and it's pretty dirty...I think I am going to clorox it a bit before using)...but, what should I get? I really only want to buy one pan at the most, because space is at such a premium. I figure I will buy a cutting board and knife. Lack of cash is also a factor (as with most college students)...so cheap is always good:) But...foods? Besides just pasta...pasta is easy. But what (besides the basics) can I cook? I would like it to be extremely tasty, without a lot of fat...because that freshman 15 is staring me in the face haha. So...to expand the challenge. I have access to a stovetop...but with only one pan (what should I get?) and limited space, what is available? I love ethnic food, and am not picky at all. So...help?

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: milkyway4679

                              With a stovetop I'd definitely be buying eggs: Probably less than $2 for a dozen which is at least 6 meals. Keep, butter, margarine or pam, then add any combo of veggie, meat, cheese - so basically whatever's on sale will work. You can either make omelets or just a scramble which is easier. Onion, pepper, tomato, cheddar and ham scramble. Turkey and swiss scramble. Turkey, broccoli, cheddar scramble. Vegetable frittata with whatever's fresh and on sale: zucchini, tomato, mushroom? Eggs keep for a pretty long time if they are not cracked open, and everything else you get for sandwiches or quesadillas also works with eggs!

                              1. re: foodhypnosis

                                aah, but using the communal stovetop, can be a 2-edged sword. be prepared to suggest a stone soup kinda meal on a regular basis.

                              2. re: milkyway4679

                                for cooking supplies... try the local thrift store!!! they are especially good for cast iron pans that just need a little tlc (granted though you really need an oven to get it properly seasoned... got a friend with an off-campus apartment?

                                if you have to buy only one pan, I'd consider a heavy bottom stock pot with a lid... in which you could boil water for pasta, etc. but in which you could also, fry, saute & braise. granted it would be a bit over-kill if you just wanted to fry and egg.. but probably more versatile.

                                if you had another vessel for boiling water & pasta, I'd buy a sturdy saute pan with a lid.

                                or you can do what any other students would do, raid your relative/parent's kitchen when you are next home...

                                1. re: withalonge

                                  might i also add that the library is a great place to test drive cookbooks... and better still it is free!

                                  there are all kinds of "one-pot" & micro-wave cookbooks out there...

                              3. The easiest, healthiest and best tasting idea I can come up with are various quesadillas. I used to make one with fresh Granny Smith apples and Gorgonzola ( you like cheese) Get one of those microwave browning plates they have. Also you could create any type by using various cheeses and protiens (boiled chicken mole' and chihuahua cheese...) then all you need is tortillas, they dont take up much fridge space.

                                1. There is a whole slew of mini appliances out there. You could use a mini crockpot for some lentils, beans, meats.

                                  1. Check out this article from Mark Bittman on microwave cooking. It's got some attached recipes and some cookbook recommendations you might want to look into.

                                    1. I did this black bean-plantain dish in the micro that came out so good.
                                      Use the frozen plantains -my S.Walmart sells them, Goya- a can of black beans, shredded mozz or you could use jack. I smashed each plantain chunk down and topped with the black beans that I had warmed in a little olive oil and chopped scallions, S&P. Top with the cheese, cook until it's hot and bubbly.

                                      Buy a bag of potatoes. Wash, scrub and poke one and cook in microwave for anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes depending on how big it is and how powerful your oven is. You can slash it and shove cooked broccoli spears and a wedge of cheddar in there, or chili, or cooked turkey, bacon, etc. If you are a skin eater, wash, scrub, dry and rub w/olive oil and s&p.

                                      Toss cooked chicken, a minced jalapeno, canned white cannelini beans, chicken broth, cumin, garlic and onions (fresh or powdered) into a bowl-heat covered on med for about 6 minutes. You can add sour cream or shredded cheese. Maybe some tortilla chips. You can use canned chicken but fresh will taste SO much better and be less salty.

                                      Instant oatmeal with fresh cut fruit (it's not traditional lunchtime stuff but it's filling and comfort food...)

                                      Bacon is flat and fits good in the fridge- you can nuke between 6 paper towels and then throw together a BLAT (a =avocado)

                                      I've got microwave desserts if you want them!

                                      My nephew is about to enter college and I'm gathering everything like this up for him now.

                                      1. Believe it or not, one can make decent risotto in the MW. So buy some arborio rice, tinned chicken stock, onions, veg oil. Heat a tablesppon of oil, add in a small amount of onion. Cook on high for a minute or 2.Then add in a cup of rice, heat a bit. Then Add two cans of chicken stock (undiluted) until heated and then one tin of water. Heat to boil, then cook for 17 minutes at med power, stirring every 3 minutes. When the liquid is absorbed, throw in whatever else you have on had -- like Kraft parm cheese in the shaker tin, left over veg..

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: pengcast

                                          You have a mw and fridge?
                                          This is easy, tasty, and pretty nutritious:
                                          Buy a can or so of beans (e.g. garbanzos, black eyed peas, red beans). Add in a glass bowl with a bottle or can of any variety of Indian 'sauce' (e.g. Jyoti brand I think makes some different ones). You could add some chopped veggies (e.g. peppers, spinach, etc.). This may be higher in sodium than you like, but it's very good in other ways.
                                          Nuke till done and eat with pita/tortilla or rice, and yogurt. You could heat the pita/tortilla in the mw. You could make rice in the mw (in a deep bowl so it does not boil over). Yogurt will live happily in your fridge.
                                          Reheat leftovers.
                                          Do you have a roommate who may go loco about the aroma?

                                        2. You can cook pasta in the microwave, I've done it successfully. Just make sure you got a big glass bowl filled with enough water, boil it and then microwave with the pasta .. it will bubble away but it should work!

                                          1. A wonderful staple for the fridge is some Asian peanut sauce. Great with rice noodles, as salad dressing, tossed with cooked leftover meat (e.g. from rotisserie chicken) and fresh vegetables for lettuce wraps and for dipping frozen dumplings that have been steamed in microwave. I consider the jarred ingredients (soy sauce, peanut butter, chilie paste, sesame oil) "shelf stable" and useful for lots of other dishes. I cooked for myself in college as well and hated buying ingredients that were hard to use in something other than the dish that motivated the purchase.

                                            My favorite recipe (though I cut the sugar to about half the original amount) is:

                                            You definitely don't need a food processor- just grate in the garlic and ginger with a small grater or microplane (which I consider essential kitchen equipment) and stir with a fork in a Tupperware.

                                            Vegetables steam up beautifully in the microwave, definitely others in addition to potatoes. I don't mean to sound like a nagging parent, but there were lots of times when having a vegetable dish with my meal made it feel more satisfying. Trimmed green beans, sliced summer squashes, and broccoli crowns are all fairly easy to prep and low-fuss for microwaving. Fresh spinach steams BEAUTIFULLY on your serving plate in the microwave- dash on some soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil (maybe a little ginger if you have some left on your microplane. :), and you have one of my all-time favorite sides.

                                            One great kitchen tool to have around- kitchen shears! Awesome for those times when you don't have the space (or washing capacity) for a cutting board. Totally useful for cutting vegetables, snipping fresh herbs, even trimming/cutting meats and fish if you're inclined.

                                            Good luck! I hope this helps.

                                            1. I'd say go find some of that pre-cooked chicken in the grocery stores. There are usually a few varieties in the refrigerated cases. You can use them in salads, quesadillas, wraps, and a variety of other meals that don't require anything but a microwave.

                                              Other good choices are hummus and pita or a variety of veggie wraps that incorporate hummus. You can always put them in the microwave to warm them up a bit. I think the sandwich/wrap approach is best for lunch.

                                              1. I'm with those urging you to invest in a toaster/countertop oven. Invest in a decent one or since Xmas is coming, ask Santa for a good one. Then go to Eric Ripert's blog and let him lead you through all the amazing and easy things you can do with it. http://www.aveceric.com/

                                                My son is in a similar living situation. We set him up with a countertop oven, small microwave, electric skillet, electric kettle, crock pot, and a foreman grill. He's been able to do amazing meals and quit the school's meal plan.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. Ignore, just saw the post that nixed all of my ideas.