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Menu and budget for college guys in an apartment

I like to think he's "spoiled", so there's that. By spoiled I mean I made home cooked meals several days a week, usually from "scratch". Also, he grew up with a Costco card, near San Francisco and Napa, most recently near LA, and thinks that's normal. We do Crafts when we visit.

We have a Costco card, but he doesn't.. One of his roomies does. I would get him a card in a minute, if I thought it made sense. I am supposed to be watching my texts for the next Costco trip.

I'm thinking costo roasted chickens, sandwich fare, individually frozen chicken breasts, frozen legs and thighs, maybe frozen shrimp, maybe with a pre packaged spice rub. I have several.

For breakfast some "real" oatmeal or frittata. He has my pans.

A simple fried rice?

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  1. Not sure what your question is? Do you want us to tell you how much he should spend and what he should eat? Do you want recipes? menu plans? Did you teach him to cook? Does he own kitchenware? Color me confused.

    8 Replies
    1. re: foodieX2

      Sorry. I guess I mean how to shop for simple menu ideas. He knows how to cook simple things (including his favorite short ribs.) He has about five pots and pans, pretty good knife and a cutting board. And sesame oil (?).

      The he is my son, and the other kids don't seem to need a budget. I would like him to learn how to budget, and he's asking for my help.

      1. re: Shrinkrap

        Late getting back to this thread.

        Bottom line is how interested is *he* in menu planning, shopping, etc? If he is the one who has expressed interest then the best thing you can do it give him the tools he need to shop and cook smart. By that I mean:

        -work with him to develop simple meals that can be put together quickly and easily based on what he already knows how to cook. Assorted pastas, roast chicken, burgers, sausages etc. If he really interested in learning get him a couple cook books. My nephew swore by the first Rachel Ray "30 minute meals". Easy, approachable and foods college kids like

        -come up with a standard/generic shopping list that he can use each week. Make it on the computer and print out a pad for him. Include all the basics needed to put together the simple meals. You can even add a pantry checklist so he;s not buying stuff he already has on hand

        -based on the above come up with realistic food and household budget. You can decide to provide it for him weekly, monthly, etc. You can also consider prepaid grocery store gift cards in conjunction with his weekly/monthly budget. If you are feeling generous hit BJ's or Costco and start the guys out right with a case of TP, paper towels, plastic wrap, foil, cleaning supplies, etc

        -Finally, walk away and let him figure it out. You have given him the tools he needs, he already knows how to cook and has the kitchen stuff to do so. He won't starve.

        If this is all coming from you, meaning he hasn't come to you asking for meal planning help etc then just give him a monthly budget and let him figure it out. He's in college, give him room. If the budget doesn't work ask him to put together one that does and make a proposal. I did that with dad when I realized that my budget didn't cover everything. I tracked it for 2 months and showed him the deficits and we were able to come up with one that worked.

        In terms of the room roommates that is not for you to worry about. You son needs to figure that out with them. Some of them may have unlimited funds, others may not. *You* cant worry about your son "keeping up with Jones" or funding the ones with less. As roommates they will need to figure how to supply the common stuff (TP, paper towels, cleaning supplies, etc) as well as how they want handle communal meals, snacks, etc.

        1. re: foodieX2

          He's not trying to keep up with the Joneses (which, by the way, is my maiden name !). I mention the roomies because someone said he should do what the other kids do. But he seems to feel that's not going to work for his budget or diet. I can't disagree with that.

          By the way, we use groceryiq. Great little app. He could work out a list with that.

          But I will follow his lead,and not meddle.

          1. re: foodieX2

            A colleague of mine went from being the take-out queen, to a home cook because of watching/ reading Raechel Ray. We would walk over to the cafeteria together every day, and one day, instead of getting on the cafeteria line, she joined me on the leftovers/microwave line with a leftover pork chop. I can't pick on RR after seeing a home cook born before my eyes because of her instruction.

            1. re: EM23

              I am not a fan myself. I find her way to cutsie on TV and I watched the filming of her $40 a day show at friends restaurant. Lets just say she is not a nice person.

              That said I whole heartedly agree with you. My nephew did the same and is now a fairly accomplished home cook. He has moved on from RR but it got him interested and her books spoke his language at the time. You gotta give her credit for that!

              Kind of like the "Captain Underpants" books. If gets a kid to read who cares, at least he's reading. Eventually they will move on to better stuff.

              1. re: foodieX2

                That cutsie style coupled with the "30 Minute Meals" concept is magic - it appeals to so many. But she drives me...nevermind! I will not RR bash. I will not RR bash.

        2. re: foodieX2

          When my son was in college he had great success with a slow-cooker. The first thing he made was chili, then he went on to BBQ beef. He & pals took the slow cooker on ski trips to get around high resort meal prices. They would set it up (chili again, I think on a daily basis) before they left for the slopes in the morning and would be very happy to come home to hot chili waiting (use canned kidney beans and the chili will be ready in 4 hours). I recommend a slow cooker, the largest one you can get.

        3. I'm a bit confused too... is the "he" your son? Why not have him do what most college kids do? Whatever they want. If your son is college age, it's time to let go. Maybe give him a food allowance, but what he does with that is up to him. He'll probably quickly learn that a limited budget doesn't go very far buying a lot of prepackaged and fast food. If he wants to cook, he'll figure it out...that's part of what becoming an adult is, figuring out stuff on your own without your parents doing it for you.

          1 Reply
          1. I would always stock up on lean ground beef then portion it off into hamburgers in ziploc bags. And I would buy big bags of frozen fries. When I was too lazy to make anything else, I could at least throw both of those in the oven and have a burger and fries within about 30 min. I would also grab some breaded fish fillets for fish and chips for a change of pace.

            I've always kept a lot of cans of crushed tomatoes, and different types of pasta around.

            Breakfast was usually whole grain toast with natural peanut butter and grape jam, along with some black coffee. Either that or eggs and toast in some form - usually a spinach, tomato and swiss omelette.

            For lunch, I would stock up on a variety of lean cuisine lunches, and/or lean pockets, since all we had was a microwave at work.

            1. Well, if your son has never cooked before, rather than plain legs and thighs, he could get the precooked pieces that have been grilled, or have teriyaki sauce or something like that. I hung out with a lot of college age boys when I was in college, and most of them, in spite of being in engineering fields, couldn't figure out how to cook chicken thoroughly. At least at the beginning, I'd steer him towards reheating precooked food, then work on teaching him some basic cooking during college breaks. Costco roast chickens are delicious, but they take up a lot of room in the fridge, so they should be for immediate consumption, unless he is good at boning chickens.

              Shrimp seems a bit expensive on a college budget, especially since if he has it, his buddies will want to come over to eat. It'd be gone in no time. I'd recommend some ground beef in the freezer instead.

              There are plenty of staples that can be bought at Costco in bulk: pasta, rice, beans, oatmeal, tortillas, spaghetti sauce, peanut butter (if he'll still eat it), and the like. Plus the sandwich supplies.

              For vegetables, they have a lot of nice frozen veggies, cut small enough they could be used for stir fries, or steamed pretty quickly. They also have frozen fruit that could be turned into quick smoothies with a blender or defrosted and served with oatmeal.

              1. A lot will depend upon what sort of kitchen is available in the apartment. Especially the fridge/freezer bit. Some apartments have micro-fridges, which makes any sort of bulk buying impractical.
                When my daughter lived in a campus apartment, she shared with 3 other women. Her space in the shared fridge was very small, and so she only purchase fresh veg and meat that she could use in 3 or 4 days.

                1 Reply
                1. re: KarenDW

                  When I was in college, we had a normal sized fridge and freezer for our apartment. I used to rent a car once a semester, go up to Costco, and stock up on heavy stuff, soda, chicken (which I then froze) so I'd only have to walk to get fresh fruit and veggies. Problem is, I took up most of the freezer. One of my roommates complained.

                  So I went out and bought an upright freezer, which I put in the kitchen, and then removed all my things from the common freezer. The roommate who had complained put one frozen Lean Cuisine in there, and nothing else, and it sat there, untouched, for more than a year. She then complained about how much room the additional freezer was taking up in the kitchen.

                2. Great ideas! Just what I was looking for.

                  1. Considering the time of year, I’m wondering if you are planning ahead to the start of the Fall semester, or if he’s living there now. If he is living there now, you can know the roommates’ dynamic and can plan better. If you are planning ahead, the living situation may be foggy, but you have a couple of months to advise him on budget shopping and cooking.

                    If there is no agreement as to how they are handling shared expenses, the Costco card can be used to get a good price for bulk items, but your son might be taken advantage of if the bulk items are shared but not paid for. If they have an agreement and chip in on things like toilet paper, it would work. Thinking that he will buy bulk food items at Costco and cook and eat them as a group isn’t likely to happen all that often. Figuring out how they will share the food situation is key. College boys have their very diverse schedules and don’t tend to do communally shared dinners all that often.

                    I suggest you consider what his budget should be as a good starting place. You know how he eats. Find out the close-by grocery store where he will shop and sign you both up for their weekly email ads. Help him learn how to plan some easy meals based on what is on sale. You’ll be able to follow the ads and send him some recipes using the sale items.

                    One of my nephews was the pickiest eater on the planet when he started college, and, after the mandatory freshman year in the dorm, moved into an apartment. His parents gave him a monthly budget for food and entertainment and it didn’t take him too long to realize he couldn’t order pizza or take-out every day on a budget. By the time he graduated, he had managed to learn to cook some simple chicken, ground beef, pork rib, and even the dreaded fish he had never eaten in his life (though I think the latter was for a girl). His younger sister also bloomed from “ew” to “yum” when she and her roommates cooked for themselves.

                    He’ll be more than fine.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: Terrie H.


                      He will be a junior in the fall. He is on campus in LA this summer doing research and taking a class, but will be in a similar set up in the fall. I think he will have different roommates, but the students tend to be VERY well off. We do okay, but we want him to make thoughtful choices about how he spends his money.

                      FWIW,he is not picky but has allergies (actually oral allergy syndrome, and his mucous membranes sloughs off with most fruit), is into body building, and doesn't do soda or fast food. Learning something right now would really pay off.

                      1. re: Shrinkrap

                        What has he been doing the past 2 years? My husband's a CrossFit fanatic and tends to be pretty strict about his diet as I imagine your son is. What was he doing that wasn't working for him?

                        1. re: Hobbert

                          He was in a dorm with a meal plan. And lots of protein powder. Came home sometimes. Still,not easy. Now he is in an apartment with a budget, and not home much at all.

                          1. re: Shrinkrap

                            so, how is this going to work?
                            he should buy large stocks of food from costco and cook it and not expect that the room mates would want to share it?

                            it wouldn't shock me if one of the room mates actually just helps himself to what looks like a small fraction of the bulk food purchases that are brought into the house.
                            not, saying that it is "right" but younger people are often more communal/sharing than old farts.

                            or, let's say the room mates don't like what he buys. so he is busy repackaging these bulk food purchases so that they can be frozen. also, a person can get bored eating that much hamburger day after day. buns come in a package of six,

                            everything about food in a college apartment is very different from mom's pantry.

                              1. re: westsidegal

                                bored eating hamburger? what an interesting world you live in. (honest, not snarky, just confused)

                                chili, spaghetti, meatloaf, casseroles, meatballs, hamburgers, swiss steak, beef and pasta, goulash, hamburger stew, sloppy joes, frito pie, stuffed peppers, cowboy pie, tacos, chimichangas, stuffed cabbage, chow mein, bbq beef, beef and rice, etc. etc. etc. And each of these has dozens of variations. And much of this can be made in advance and portioned out into zip locks for a quick grab and go later on.

                                I'm not gonna say any of these are necessarily gourmet, and some of them can be marginal, but they don't have to be. Like you, I see problems with 'sharing' issues. He cooks and comes home to find all the food gone. Maybe the room mates will offer him the last brewski.

                              2. re: Shrinkrap

                                Gotcha. I'd just provide him with recipes (that fit his abilities) to make food in bulk and eat leftovers. In college, I cooked a couple times a week and just bought salad greens and fruits and vegetables to mix it up. A microwave steamer would be helpful for veggies.

                                1. re: Shrinkrap

                                  Turns out he was "couch surfing" for a few weeks in exchange for cooking. He says they called him "ma".

                              3. re: Shrinkrap

                                He's obviously a smart boy and, because you both know of his health and eating neccessities, you and his doctor are going to be his best source for information for putting together his fitness interests and allergy concerns, and give him good advice.

                                1. re: Terrie H.

                                  Thank you, and the suggestions have been very helpful.

                            1. trader joe's, imho, is a superior source for food for "college guys in an apartment."

                              2 Replies
                                1. He might appreciate a crock pot and some guidance for using it. It's great to toss a few chicken thighs and a jar of sauce (marinara, salsa, TJ's malasa simmer), let it cook all day and serve over rice.

                                  6 Replies
                                    1. re: mpjmph

                                      Either that, or a thermal cooker. Its kind of like a crockpot, it slow cooks food, but it isn't plugged in, it can continue cooking safely when no one is home (you don't have to worry about electrical fires). You put the fixings in the pot, bring it up to a boil on the stove, put the lid on and seal it, and because its well sealed, the temperature drops slowly, and the food continues to cook, without further heat. My sister loves hers.

                                      Your son could put the food in it in the morning, and come back from class and his dinner would be ready. ;D

                                      1. re: ePressureCooker

                                        in the warm-wather colleges i went to, the lack of spontaneity that a crock pot entails, would be anathema to most college students.

                                        maybe in cold-weather states everyone just goes to their own apartment after class and knows in advance that this is what they will be doing, but i've never seen it. what i've seen is that after class they meet up with their pals or they go to the student union or to the library. running home to make dinner and wash a crock pot simply would not happen.

                                        the college kids i know, like to decide what they are going to do for dinner close to the very last minute.

                                        meal planning is not tops on the "i want to do this" list.
                                        the first thing they think about before leaving in the morning is NOT "what should i defrost for dinner tonight?" or "i can't wait to set up the crock pot!"

                                        if you are lucky, all his time management will go into figuring out what he needs to study for the next test and when will he be able to make the time to write his papers.

                                        managing a kitchen and breaking up bulk purchases into little zip lock plastic bage and crock pots should not be the priority now.

                                        easy stuff that can be microwaved at a moment's notice (i.e. almost everything in the freezer section of trader joes), stuff that can be bought in more-or-less individual size portions (i.e. the salads and foodstuff that can be found in the refrigerator portion of trader joe's) , stuff that keeps without needing a lot of tending (i.e. peanut butter and soups that are available from trader joe's), is MUCH more appropriate.

                                        keep in mind, the "schedule" of a college student is not very regular. they will stay up most of the night before a mid term and will sleep half the next day. this is not the sort of life style that lends itself to running a kitchen the way mom does.

                                        just saying.

                                        1. re: westsidegal

                                          Nobody is suggesting that a college student can run the kitchen the way that mom does, but I think you're not giving college students as much credit as they deserve. I went to an excellent college, worked full time for part of that time, made decent grades, and still managed to make meals for myself. I did a Costco run once a semester, at the beginning of the semester, and managed to spend a day breaking down and individually wrapping and packaging food without jeopardizing my GPA.

                                          You're also not taking into account what Shrinkwrap has said. He's on a budget. Trader Joe's is not exactly the best place to shop for those on a budget.

                                          Her son also has allergies, and "is into body building, and doesn't do soda or fast food." All of those things imply a certain kind of diet, one that can't, or shouldn't be, last minute a la the average college student and fast food. That also means, presumably, a lot of meat, and meat can be expensive, unless one eats a lot of the more inexpensive cuts, and for that, a slow cooker or thermal cooker probably would be helpful. It doesn't have to be used everyday, maybe once a week to make a big roast or pork butt, then eat leftovers, stir fries, pasta, etc. the rest of the week.

                                        2. re: ePressureCooker

                                          An electric pressure cooker would also be useful too. They are generally multi-purpose and can be used as slow cookers, as a regular hot pot, and as a steamer.

                                          I make pasta dishes in mine regularly and the nice thing is it's a one pot meal. I throw in the pasta, some sauce, some veggies and some sort of meat like cut up chicken breast or turkey sausage. Only takes like 15 minutes, no separate pans for boiling water, strainers, etc...

                                          They're safe too because they will come to temperature consistently without having to watch the stove, and they will shut off on their own as well.

                                          1. re: Atomic76

                                            Well, I'm prejudiced in favor of electric pressure cookers (go figure, given the user name) but I can second that. One great advantage of electric models is that they come up to and monitor pressure on their own, not only eliminating user error on that score, but they don't have to be monitored constantly, either. (I don't recommend leaving any kitchen appliance on and leaving the apartment, but my sister helps her son with his schoolwork in another room while the PC cooks.) Also, most if not all units have electronic timers built in, so even if the user forgets - I had a roommate in college who tried to make rice on the stove and ended up with carbon, and we had an apartment full of acrid smoke -- the machine doesn't, and goes ahead and stops pressure cooking and switches to "keep warm".

                                      2. Do they have room for at least a small freezer chest? Buying in bulk and freezing for later is a very good way to budget.

                                        1. The biggest problem with my college daughter in her apartment is food waste. My daughter cooks, but her schedule is prohibitive. We've concentrated on her cooking one meal a week, and eating it twice. Sometimes she bakes chicken, has a nice meal with rice/veg, then uses the leftovers in salads, stir fries, and sandwiches.

                                          The rest of the week is supplemented with easy things like baked potatoes topped with steamed (frozen) vegetables and things like cheap taco night at the bodega (hard to make tacos for less than $1 a piece). My 2 cents...

                                          1. Both Costco and Sams Club carry 1/4 lb Chipotle & Black Bean veggie burgers that are really good too. They hold up well in the freezer and are really quick to heat up in minutes. I microwave them for about 45 seconds then brown them in a frying pan.

                                            1. Gave my daughter my well-worn copy of "The Food
                                              Stamp Gourmet" and figured after twelve years of schooling including home ec, biology, chemistry, and math, she'd make good choices.

                                              Turned out she's a foodie...

                                              1. These are amazing thanks! I think there is a way to email this too him. I am sending an email from my original post. Does anyone know if he will be able to see the replies?

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                  Just copy the thread title and paste it into your e-mail, he will be able to read the whole thread.

                                                  Like this:

                                                  Dear Son,

                                                  I decided to invite the whole chowhound world contribute to your college experience. Don't be embarrassed, no one knows my real name, they will never figure out who you are. Please read the following:



                                                  Your Interfering but well meaning mom

                                                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                    Thanks. I think you mean the url, and not the title? Done!

                                                    Been out of town for 10 days (amazing western med cruise!) and this morning he asked for a review of the short rib recipe, and should he flip the salmon, the latter twice ! I am imagining it was on the stove while he was waiting for my response. I am back to interfering! :-)

                                                2. If his apartment is near a dormitory with food service, look into buying him a meal plan there. It probably won't be good food, but it will be readily available, varied, nutritionally balanced, and far cheaper than eating out even half the time. It might also spur him into wanting to cook for himself.

                                                  I'd also abandon any illusion of the "guys" agreeing on much of anything having to do with buying and cooking food. Better to assume now that he's gonna be on his own in this...

                                                  If you've done your job, he can handle fending for himself. If you haven't done your job by now, it's too late, and he'll still be OK.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                                    Very limited meal plan in the summer. He was home briefly, and worked on his short ribs recipe. He hates the cafeteria food. He wants to cook. This is NOT coming from me. His friends think he's a good cook when he makes bacon and eggs.

                                                  2. "The Impoverished Students' Book of Cookery, Drinkery and Housekeepery" by Jay F. Rosenberg is back in print! Get him a copy of this book from Reed College, and he can learn some aspects of budgeting (although the figures are rather out of date, it would be easy enough to update - the principles are sound) and to cook from it (it was a tremendous help to me in college and in young adulthood, back in the 1970s!) and it's funny.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: SpanLynn

                                                      Perfect. Especially if there is a Kindle edition.

                                                    2. Not a bad problem to have – he wants to cook, he likes to cook and he’s willing to learn. Does he have freezer space to cook in bulk? If yes, perhaps consider buying him a Food Saver and encourage him to cook a large pot of his favorite foods on weekends and then freeze them in individual servings. Bolognese, tomato sauce, dal, rice, stews, refried beans, oatmeal, grilled chicken and pulled pork are just a few that freeze well.
                                                      Trader Joe’s sells oatmeal and organic chicken breasts, individually frozen. Fish too, but they are definitely more than single serves. Costco may be a better source for fish.
                                                      If he doesn’t have the freezer space, perhaps you could get him a small freezer chest? They are not very expensive ($200-400).
                                                      A few foolproof recipes bookmarked or pinned could be his recipe file. Start him with the CH favorites – Zuni or Hazan’s roast chicken, Hazan’s Bolognese, Will Owen’s pulled pork shoulder, etc.
                                                      There are a few threads on the Hone Cooking thread about budget cooking that might be helpful in keeping him on budget.
                                                      And get him reading Chowhound, esp. the Home Cooking, General Topics and Chains boards for great advice.

                                                      3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Shrinkrap

                                                          Unlike my two older brothers, I lived on campus during my entire college tenure. (My last two years were in an apartment on campus that lacked a kitchen. We cooked a lot anyway.)

                                                          I am pretty certain my oldest brother survived on cereal, buttered macaroni, and grilled cheese sandwiches his last year of college. He lived his junior year with my other brother who was/is a good cook.

                                                          My only advice to this young man who seems interested in cooming is to learn to avoid processed foods.

                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                            I don't think he even considers processed foods, as he has very little experience with them. Both of my kids were appalled by the boxed macaroni and cheese they saw when visiting friends. He just got home (and it's after one AM) for the weekend, and is talking about his culinary feats. He figured out he'd better flip the salmon for it to cook properly, because it was rely thick. That was cool, but I'm not sure how he is affording thick pieces of salmon! He has also discovered it is almost impossible to remove hardened pancake batter, and "feels my pain" about dishes in the sink, but those are roommate issues.

                                                      1. I suggest that you encourage him in cooking beans and legumes--ones like lentils don't even require presoaking. That's one of the things I came to doing when on my own in college and seeking to economize.

                                                        Then at Costco they can get cases of Beano--or just fart on whoever happens to be sleeping at any given moment, as college guys will...