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Enjoying simple, tasty meals at home is more manageable than you might think. The best part is, you don’t need anything fancy to make it happen!
Microwave More Than Popcorn
Typically, microwaves are one of the most commonly used appliances by students. You might be surprised to find out that a whole meal can be cooked in one. For example:
- Scrambled or hard-boiled eggs and turkey bacon
- Steamed vegetables
- Potatoes (sweet and regular)
- Any grain or pasta you’d normally boil on a stove
Arvin C., a part-time student at Algonquin College in Ontario, Canada, uses his microwave to make oatmeal with protein powder.
Here are some tips:
- Look online for techniques and time estimates.
- Always use a microwave-safe container. Never use anything metal.
- Keep a cover or paper towels handy to prevent splatters.
- Cook in short intervals. Some foods need occasional stirring.
- Remove hot containers carefully.
Microwave Meals and snacks
Oatmeal can be jazzed up. Follow the package instructions for cooking in the microwave. Then add:
- Dried fruit
- Berries or bananas
- Apple chunks
- Flax seeds or chia seeds
- Nuts or peanut butter
- Almond milk
- A small amount of honey, chocolate chips, or real maple syrup
Eggs are great scrambled, or make an “omelet.” Here’s how:
- Break eggs into a microwave-safe mug or bowl and beat with a fork.
- Cover with a paper towel or plate and cook on high in 30—45 second intervals until set.
- Add salt, pepper, shredded cheese, or veggies.
- You can even add bacon. Wrap several strips of turkey bacon in a napkin or paper towel and heat according to the cooking instructions on the package, adding extra time if you’d like it crispier.
Both regular and sweet potatoes cook easily.
- Poke the potato all over with a fork.
- Cook on high for 3.5—7 minutes, depending on its size.
- Remove carefully and top with plain Greek yogurt, cheese, a bit of butter, and/or chopped veggies.
- Sweet potatoes are delicious sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon or nutmeg for a treat.
Frozen vegetables couldn’t be easier.
- Cook and add to macaroni and cheese.
- Defrost and use in soups or with pasta and other grains.
- Defrost spinach and add it to smoothies.
Prepared meals can be convenient.
- Look for frozen meals that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and are low in sodium (less than 300 milligrams per serving).
- Freeze restaurant leftovers and heat as a special weeknight meal.
- Make extra when you cook and freeze in portions.
Boil More Than Pasta
In a recent Student Health 101 survey, 96 percent of students said they know how to boil water. Aside from a stovetop and a pot, the only materials needed to prepare a meal this way are—you guessed it—water and food! You can boil:
- Grains, pasta, rice, quinoa, and oatmeal
- Eggs (poached or hard-boiled)
- Chicken and other tender cuts of meat
- Potatoes (sweet or regular)
Rochelle L’Italian, a registered dietitian in Durham, New Hampshire, adds, “Boil vegetable scraps to make broth and use it in a soup or to cook rice.” Here are more tips:
- Watch carefully and stir frequently to avoid boil-over.
- Stop cooking grains and vegetables when they still have some “bite,” before they turn to mush.
- Use a mitt or towel and be careful of steam when handling pots and draining liquids.
Sautéing requires a flat-bottomed pan and a source of fat, such as cooking spray, olive, or canola oil. “Sautéing in olive oil is my go-to cooking method,” says Angele L., a student taking online courses at Delgado Community College.
She recommends sautéing onions, celery, or peppers and adding a protein such as boneless chicken breast or fish. Add brown rice, quinoa, or whole-wheat pasta and low-sodium sauce and spices for a cost-effective and quick meal.
Simple Sautéing tips
If your head is filled with intimidating images of a chef with a spatula and a flaming pan, fear not. Sautéing is actually quite easy. Keep the stove on a low-to-medium heat setting and stir frequently to avoid burning your food. Experiment with different types of cooking oils and sprays; you won’t need a lot if you use a non-stick pan. Then have some fun!
- Add sautéed vegetables of your choice to pasta, couscous, or quinoa.
- Make home-made fried rice using leftovers.
- Create your own omelet by sautéing vegetables and then adding scrambled eggs and cheese. This is a great way to use leftover cooked vegetables.
- Sauté chicken sausage with peppers and onions and top a whole-grain bun.
- Make an easy shrimp scampi by combining cooked shrimp with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Add greens such as broccoli or spinach to make the meal more nutritionally balanced, and enjoy on top of pasta.
Blenders are ideal for quick meals and snacks. Just be sure to always secure the lid! L’Italian recommends smoothies that start with fresh or frozen fruit and low-fat milk or a milk substitute. You can also make cold soups in a blender or “mash” cooked potatoes.
Get in touch with your culinary style by experimenting with what you have in your kitchen.
Smoothie ideas: Savory and Sweet
There are endless ways to kick smoothies up a notch. Try adding some of these nutrient-dense foods:
- Yogurt, for a thicker consistency, protein, and probiotics (healthy bacteria)
- Flax or chia seeds, for heart-healthy fats and fiber
- Peanut or nut butter, another good source of heart-healthy fats and vegetarian protein
- Greens such as kale or spinach, for fiber and loads of vitamins and minerals
- Oatmeal, for a filling thickener
- Cocoa powder, for antioxidants and a chocolate flavor
- Honey or maple syrup, for a touch of sweetness
- Vanilla extract, for added flavor
Get help or find out more
Oregon State University Extension Service, Family & Community Health, Food Hero, Tips and Tools for Making Healthy Easy Recipes
Harvard School of Public Health, The Nutrition Source, Home Cooking
American Heart Association, Healthier Preparation Methods for Cooking
The University of Arizona, College of Agriculture & Life Sciences, Microwave Cooking