If you read my Why You Should Be Meal Planning post a while back, then you know I highly suggest everyone and their mom starts meal planning. It saves you time, it saves you money…what can’t you love? But what if you’re a student? To that I say you should ESPECIALLY be meal planning. It’s much easier than you think, so before you go and blow a ton of money on takeout or an expensive meal plan, hear me out!
First off, let’s talk about the reasons most people don’t cook.
1) They don’t know how.
I get it, some of us didn’t grow up in the South where people are born with a natural cooking ability. And that’s ok. But you can certainly learn! If you don’t know remotely how to get cooking, the best way to learn is by starting off with the basics (which I wrote a post about!). Start making simple stuff like slow cooker recipes, grilled cheese sandwiches, etc. Chop some stuff and get fancy with basic salads. Learn people! It’s not nearly as hard as you think.
2) It’s more expensive than eating out.
Ok, unless you’re eating exclusively at fast food places and ordering off the dollar menus, it’s not going to be cheaper than cooking a meal. For example: The ingredients for my slow-cooker red beans and sausage costs me roughly $20 and makes a HUGE pot full of beans (12 servings). Which means that each meal is $1.66, not taking into account all the extra rice and seasoning I’ll have left over. That’s like 2 tacos from taco bell. Without a drink. And before tax!
Unless you’re cooking steak and lobster for dinner every night and serving it over sauteed money, cooking is going to be waaaay cheaper than eating out.
3) They hate cooking.
To this, I have no argument. If you hate it, you hate it. But think about why you hate it. Is it because you are struggling to learn? (In which case I tell you that practice makes perfect!) Or is it because you truly don’t enjoy cooking? Even if you don’t actually enjoy it, you still have to see the reasoning behind why you should probably do it once in a while!
4) They don’t have the space.
To this I also have no argument. If you live in a dorm, cooking is definitely difficult. Not to mention your school probably requires you to have a meal plan, specifically one that gives you a meal allowance of way more than you actually eat. So aside from the occasional microwaved meal, you literally can’t cook. However. Mini slow-cookers exist my friends. They are amazing to have in a dorm room, especially on those days where you want some good ol’ comfort food like a stew or soup (more on that below!).
But if you aren’t in a dorm and you’re just living in a tiny apartment instead, they you definitely have the space. You just have a limited amount of said space, but you can definitely cook!
So now that your defense of why you aren’t cooking has been proven false, let’s get into how to actually meal plan. But let’s clear one thing up – meal planning is simply planning out your meals for a certain time period. Meal prepping is sitting down and making a ton of meals at once to eat later. There is a difference! I generally only “meal prep” my slow cooker meals, mostly because they are easy to just throw in forget. I absolutely hate eating leftovers, so I generally avoid meal prepping. But, I am a HUGE fan of meal planning!
First, make a list of meals you like to eat and can cook. I have mine in my Why You Should Be Meal Planning post, which you can get for yourself for free through that very same post! After that, figure out how often you actually want to cook. I personally schedule in leftover days and cheat days so I avoid cooking every single night. I also try (whenever possible) to use said leftovers in a meal for the following day. For instance, if I cook steak one night, you can bet the following lunch or dinner I’ll be having steak quesadillas to use up all that extra steak!
After you’ve figured out your cooking schedule, start planning your meals out. I like to alternate between super heavy and lighter meals, and try and schedule more labor-intensive meals for the weekend. So depending on your schedule you’ll want to think about doing something similar. I have a section in my bullet planner for meal planning to keep everything organized!
So we’ve made it through why you should be cooking and how to meal plan, but what about some easy meal ideas? For those with one of those tiny kitchens I mentioned earlier, you’re looking for easy one-pan meals like…
Baked Chicken with Vegetables
Simply get a chicken breast, season it, and place it on one side of a baking dish. Add desired vegetables to the other. I find that sturdy or root veggies do better in the oven. So things like potatoes, carrots, zucchini, eggplant, whole beans or asparagus. Just be sure to chop them up as needed to make sure they cook quickly and evenly! Also season those, then pop the whole pan in the oven that’s been pre-heated at 350 F, and bake until chicken reaches 165 F.
You can even do the same with any protein (beef, pork, fish, or tofu if that’s your thing)!
Grilled Chicken and Salad
Simply season your chicken and add to a hot pan over medium-high heat. Cook for about 7 minutes, flip, then cook for another 7 minutes or until internal temp is 165 F. Take out of pan, slice up and add to a salad!
Also can be done with any other protein!
Step up your sandwich game and grill them! You can easily add meats and random veggies to make a simple grilled cheese amazing. Experiment on your own to see what you like. You can also fake a panini by using another pan to press down on your sandwich from above while it’s cooking!
And those are just a few ideas! Pinterest has a ton of info on one pan meals – search it and see what I mean!
For the rest of you with regular-sized kitchens, I have my personal favorites listed in my My Favorite Meals For One to Two People. All of them are super simple to make, especially if you don’t know your way around a kitchen. But some other favorites of mine are:
(See the post for the recipe!)
Chicken Pot Pie
I love grabbing rotisserie chickens from Sam’s or Costco and using them to make chicken pot pie! After tearing all the meat off the chicken (into smaller pieces) and placing it all in a large bowl, add in:
- 1 can of cream of chicken
- 1 can of pea/chopped carrot mix
- Nature’s Seasoning to taste
And mix together. Spray pie tin with non-stick spray, line with pie crust (I just use generic store bought pie crust), add in chicken mixture, and cover with 2nd crust. Brush with an egg wash and bake until crust is golden-brown.
I’ve done both frozen and mini-versions of this. For the frozen version, simply make the pie in a foil tin and freeze pie before brushing with the egg wash. For the mini version, use large muffin tins as your pie tin and make like normal. The mini versions also do wonderfully frozen to make an easy one-person meal!
I’m lazy and just buy the per-marinated and seasoned pork loins from the store. Simply take the loin out from the package, place fat-side-up on a baking tray, and bake at 250 F for 60-90 minutes, or until internal temp is 145 F. When it reaches or gets close to this temp, crank your oven up to 425 F for another few minutes to crisp up the fat. Then you’re good to go! We actually use out leftover pork roast in anything from Cuban sandwiches to quesadillas!
Slow Cooker Meals
Not only are they super easy, but they are also super hard to mess up. I generally don’t do anything too crazy with my slow cooker and stick to soups and stews. Which are perfect for you dorm room people! While I do my slow cooking in bulk, you can easily do small batches. In most grocery stores, you can find pre-chopped vegetables and stew meat, which you can divide into smaller portions and freeze. I personally love using freezer quart bags – they are the perfect size for those mini slow cookers!
Because I generally throw whatever looks good into my crock pot and hope for the best, I don’t have set recipes. The only one I do generally follow is my crock pot baked potato soup, which you can find in my Favorite Meals post. I also list a general recipe for my beef stew which, despite he lack of measurements on my part, has turned out delicious every time!
And there you have it – why you should be cooking, how to meal plan, and a list of meal ideas to get started! So what are you waiting for? Get cooking!
So do you like to cook? Do you meal plan or meal prep?
Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!