topview of vegetables bring cut | cooking tips for college students
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—Claude E.*, third-year student, The College of New Jersey

There’s a common misconception that in order to eat healthy, we must cook meals from scratch. That is completely false! There are infinite ways to make healthy, balanced food choices without turning into Martha Stewart.

I’m a big advocate of embracing “semi-homemade” meals, which means combining pre-cooked/pre-made foods with other foods that take less time and energy to prepare.

For example, a ready-to-eat rotisserie chicken or chicken “short cuts” (e.g., Perdue) are convenient, low-cost options and can go a long way, especially if only feeding one person. Chicken serves as a primary source of protein, so to make your meal more nutritionally balanced with little time and effort, you can add a microwaved potato or some instant brown rice, and a side of fresh veggies and hummus.  

food icons | cooking tips for college studentsThe leftover chicken could then be repurposed as a chicken salad when combined with mayonnaise or a dairy-free alternative, added to a Caesar salad mix, or used in a sandwich with whole-grain bread, avocado, and other add-ons of choice. You can also make chicken, cheese, and veggie quesadillas on whole-grain tortillas in the microwave or oven (bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 10 minutes). Add about a third cup of salsa for an extra serving of veggies and a scoop of guacamole for a boost of heart-healthy fat, which will nourish you and help you to feel fuller and energized for longer.

Another example of a healthy, balanced meal that requires little effort is whole-grain pasta (all you need to do is boil water) combined with a red sauce, some microwaved-from-frozen green veggies, and a pre-cooked or canned protein of choice, such as beans, chicken, or ground meat.

If you like eggs, you can hard-boil a batch of them at the beginning of the week and use one to two eggs daily as a protein source. Pair with ready-to-eat carbohydrates, such as low-sodium lentil or minestrone soup, fresh fruit, 100 percent whole-grain bread/waffles, and/or heart-healthy fats like avocado. Hard-boiled eggs also make great salad toppers.

Cooking semi-homemade meals takes little time and effort but is a great investment for your health. For customized meal ideas, I recommend meeting with a registered dietitian who can help you build balanced, semi-homemade meals based on your personal food preferences. Check with your school to see if they offer free nutrition counseling for students.

*Name changed

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