Food

Back to School Meals and Snack Guide

As a recent alumnus of the Johnson & Wales University Culinary Nutrition program (2018, but adjusted for Covid-19 years), I learned that eating during a busy day can be tough – and cooking even tougher. There’s only so much mental capacity you have after a busy day of class or work to dedicate to feeding yourself. More often than not, if campus dining isn’t an option, people resort to going out to eat, which can squeeze the budget and lead to unhealthy eating habits.

That’s why I want to share some quick, low-cost, and (mostly) easy eating tips for a busy day. Lots of these can be prepared ahead of time on the weekends and enjoyed through the week so you can keep your focus up without letting your blood sugar drop.

For a snappy breakfast, I’ve always been a fan of soft-boiled eggs made ahead of time. In a lidded saucepot, bring 1 inch of water to a boil and gently place in 6 eggs. Cover and boil in the shallow water for 8-10 minutes – the shorter time producing a jammy yolk and longer making a set yolk. Remove and place in ice water to stop the cooking process, peel and eat with salt and pepper or any other sauce you enjoy! You can also get fancy with it and make them ramen-style with a soy sauce, sugar and water marinade. 

Next there’s the joy of granola bars and fresh fruit for breakfast when cooking isn’t an option. A wide variety of protein-packed granola bars and seasonal fruit are available. An apple a day keeps the hangry away!

For lunch, I prepare bean and grain salads ahead of time with whatever is in the fridge. Leftover sauteed vegetables – GREAT; a half-full bag of spinach – PERFECT; cooked barley – ON A ROLL! Mix together 1 can of drained and rinsed beans, ~2 cups of cooked grains (like barley, quinoa, or brown rice), bite-sized cooked or raw vegetables, chopped herbs (like parsley or cilantro), and your favorite prepared salad dressing. If you don’t have any salad dressing, simply dress the salad with vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

If you have 15 minutes to cook something for lunch, I love grilled cheese sandwiches. However, I make it even better with spicy, flavorful, and probiotic-packed kimchi! I always gravitate towards Pawtuckets’ own CHI Kitchen Vegan Kimchi, sandwiched between white cheddar slices (or any melty cheese) and two slices of a country-style loaf, grilled in a skillet on both sides until the cheese is melty. You have to taste this!

For snacks, sometimes the simpler the better. I have been ravenous after a long day and make a whole bag of microwave popcorn for myself. It’s actually pretty low-calorie and high in fiber, plus I use seasonings like Japanese Furikake or Sriracha salt to make it taste even better! If the day really got you down, sometimes just a simple bowl of cereal with milk makes a quick comfort snack. Take a quick nap, you deserve it.

When I was a freshman, we technically weren’t allowed any cooking equipment in the residence halls (no kitchens at a culinary school — go figure), but I snuck in a slow cooker. This is perfect for slow-cooking a pork loin with Mexican spices like cumin, coriander, oregano, garlic powder, salt, and pepper, all day on low, before shredding to make carnitas. For dinner you can craft tacos, quesadillas, tortas, rice bowls, and more with some homemade (or jarred) salsa, chopped cilantro, and minced onions.

If you forgot to start your slow cooker this morning or the prep is still too intensive, one of my favorite quick dinners is fancy silken tofu. I have a fully written recipe on ForgeToTable.com, however, you can make the abbreviated version by scooping out a whole 14-ounce package of silken tofu and dressing simply with soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, garlic powder, and chili crisp or hot sauce. Most people haven’t tried soft silken tofu but it’s pretty much all protein and is an excellent flavor absorber. 

Hopefully, some of these options will inspire you to cook more and budget better while balancing everything else on your plate. Cooking for yourself can truly be a lot of fun and it’s best to start with a small rotation of favorites and expand your culinary horizons slowly with a new cookbook or the ever-popular TikTok recipes. Maybe one day you’ll be hosting your own dinner parties! Happy cooking.

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