Eating in a Dorm on a Budget
Because We All Know the Struggle Is Real
Alrighty, so you’ve probably already seen hundreds of YouTube videos and seen Buzzfeed style blogs that tell you different things you can do “in a dorm” when it comes to all sorts of things, including decorations and food and the like. If you’re like me, you might have skipped a lot of these because either you know the things they are showing you are out of your price range and/or don’t really seem plausible in your living situation.
As someone who is currently living in a residential hall on campus that only has a microwave for food prep and enough banned items to make most cooking nearly impossible, I find it most difficult to budget out and design meal plans (considering after I pay my tuition each paycheck, I barely have any money left). This is especially true when my schedule doesn’t allow time for cafeteria food or I’m staying for breaks where there are no meal swipe options to be seen.
So what are my options?
Let’s break this down into some components and then we’ll figure it out from there:
Go for the cheap stuff and the tasty.
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people complaining that they don’t have enough food for the entire break because they went out and got these fancy $3-4 little meal tray things and couldn’t afford enough to last them. If you can afford it—go for it, but think about your overall budget and ways to make food stretch, even if it’s only for lunch and dinner.
You also have to take into account what you do or do not like to eat. Don’t get something just because it’s cheap if you know that you’re going to hate it or you don’t know if you’ll like it at all. Don’t go for bulk of the absolute same thing either—you’ll get sick of it fast and then you’ll be stuck. I find it can help to buy a bottle or two of some dollar store spices and trying them out. You can also buy cans or packets of meats like chicken or tuna to add as well that can be flavored or plain.
Bowls and Tupperware Containers
So it seems like a pretty self explanatory thing that you need plates, spoons, bowls etc. in order to make and eat your food, but I have to say that tupperware or lidded containers are an absolute MUST HAVE item in your arrangement. Even if you’re like me and don’t have a mini fridge to store your leftovers, these will help in food prep, like making rice, in which you need something to cook while covered.
An Electric Tea Kettle
These bad boys can be found on Amazon for about $20 and I have to say that they are really useful in making rice and pasta. Granted, you can use just plain tap water and a microwave, but it takes quite a bit longer to make and is a bit more of a guess-and-check hassle than I personally care for. Plus, the kettle can be transported with you, which I have been known to do on long study binges where I know I’ll need some food and coffee (I own a french press as well).
Rice, Rice, Baby!
Rice and pasta is a huge lifesaver! I personally tend to lean more on rice because it’s typically a lot cheaper in the long run and I actually enjoy plain white rice with a bit of salt and pepper. My favorite to buy is the instant rice because it’s simple, quick, and affordable. I found that one of the best cheap food solutions is making about a cup of cooked rice and dumping it into a can of some sort of soup or stew (usually from a can) and voila! This usually ends up being both dinner and lunch for me (or if I’m really hungry, lunch and a snack) and if you go for soups that cost about a dollar or less, then a $3 box of rice can make up about a month's worth of food. You can even put in some bullion powder and cooked vegetables for a makeshift stir-fry.
The rice can be used for desserts as well; try mixing in a little bit of sugar, cinnamon and maybe some apple chunks. If you don’t like the idea of using rice for dessert, you can usually buy a large tube of oatmeal for about the same price as well and it’ll fill you up too!
Try to keep busy. Don’t let the boredom munchies get to you!
I am super guilty of this during down time. Boredom creeps in and suddenly I’ve eaten two bags of popcorn and a peanut butter sandwich. Not only are the boredom munchies not healthy, but it can deplete your food storage quite rapidly, especially if you didn’t buy food meant to be munched on like chips or popcorn. To avoid this, make sure to keep inventory of your food, your budget, and the number of days both have to last you. If you know you have the extra money to maybe buy or eat some snacks, don’t be afraid to give yourself a small treat, but try not to let it habituate.
If you’re searching for munchies, try taking a small walk or doing something creative. I tend to avoid watching things like movies or YouTube videos because I know I’ll want something to snack on while I do. If these things don’t appeal or aren’t possible at the given moment, try calling someone or taking a nap perhaps.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Times can be tough and it’s not okay to allow yourself to go through any period of time without food. If you can’t budget out enough food, try reaching out to local food shelters and see if they can help or try talking to a friend or relative about getting assistance with buying food for yourself. The first time I spent over a break at college, I called a good friend of mine and she helped me because I misjudged how many days until the cafeteria reopened (and being hypoglycemic, I really can’t just go without food). There’s no shame in making sure you’re taken care of.