I originally created this list for a very close friend who was accidentally skipping meals and undereating due to extreme stress in her life. If you are grieving, overwhelmed, or too tired to cook, here are 31 easy meal ideas that might help.
As a reminder, food can help focus and cognition and can support mood and energy. That means that eating enough can help you study and remember content more effectively.
Don’t skip meals, and don’t bother with restrictive diets unless it is medically necessary (for example, if you have celiac disease, peanut allergy, etc.).
Easy Meal Ideas For College Students
1) Banana and peanut butter on toasted bread. Or untoasted bread if you are too tired. If you don’t have banana, add any fruit you want. The fruit is for vitamins.
If you are allergic to peanut butter, you might like to try Sunbutter if your doctor says it’s okay. I’ve actually tasted Sunbutter and used to buy it often. It’s nutty and kind of sweet.
2) Spread Greek yogurt on bread. Add bananas. Optional drizzle of honey, or cinnamon sugar.
3) Pizza bread: spread tomato sauce on bread, put cheese, and melt it in the microwave. Cabot has a zero-lactose cheese if you are lactose intolerant. It’s a little strong (it’s sharp cheddar, after all) but a great option if you’re tired of always spending money on lactase pills.
4) Smoothie: Banana, soy milk, 1T cocoa powder, peanut butter, a little salt, and some ice if you have it. You can add a scoop of collagen protein if protein intake is a struggle. You can also store peeled bananas in the freezer and use them here.
If you live in an apartment and don’t have a blender yet, Oster is a respectable choice. If you live in a dorm, don’t buy a blender yet – wait until your first apartment.
5) Smoothie: Strawberries and kefir. Frozen mango, banana, or other berries are great substitutes for strawberries. This isn’t enough calories so add a piece of toast if you can manage it.
6) Melt some dark chocolate and peanut butter, about 50/50 or whatever looks good to you. Put this on toast with banana slices. Have a cup of milk or soy milk for extra protein.
7) For a snack, try melting dark chocolate, soy milk, and collagen powder for dairy free cocoa (double check the ingredients with the seller before ordering, since some listings have milk powder). A scoop of peanut butter is not a bad idea. If you can tolerate it, you can add a tablespoon of half and half or heavy cream to make it taste like it was made with dairy, but it’s not necessary. If you drink regular milk or lactose-free milk, this recipe also works very well with those options. This has no complex carbohydrate, so add a slice or two of toast if you need the meal to last longer. You can also have fruit with it for vitamins.
8) Put peanut butter on celery sticks and put raisins on top. It sounds weird but a lot of Americans like it, especially as children. Have a slice or two of toast to get complex carbs, otherwise you may feel weak.
9) Put peanut butter on a banana and put raisins on top. Adding complex carbohydrate (crackers, a piece of bread) will help this meal burn more slowly and give you energy for longer.
10) If you want a boiled egg or two (or three), have toast or a bagel or some rice for complex carbs and more calories, otherwise you will feel weak. Add either fruit or vegetable. If you are bored, try frying the eggs instead.
11) Drizzle olive oil on store-bought hummus. Dip vegetables such as carrot sticks, lightly steamed broccoli, baby tomatoes, or pepper slices. Also dip crackers, potato chips, pretzels or bread to make sure your meal has complex carbohydrate. Cheese cubes are a nice addition for extra protein.
12) Instead of hummus, or in addition, drizzle olive oil on Greek yogurt and sprinkle it with salt (herbs optional). Again, dip vegetables such as carrot sticks, lightly steamed broccoli, baby tomatoes, or pepper slices. Also dip crackers, potato chips, pretzels or bread to make sure your meal has complex carbohydrate.
13) Antipasto plate. Bread, cheese cubes, any vegetables, optional olive oil for dipping, optional salami slices.
14) Mediterranean Grain Salad: Cook rice, couscous, or any grain you like. Mix the cooked grains with chickpeas, olive oil, lemon, onion or shallot or garlic, herbs if you have them, cheese such as feta or goat or provolone cubes, olives if you have them, and vegetables (tomato, green pepper, cucumber, or small bits of broccoli are all good ideas). Rice doesn’t last as long as other grains because a specific bacteria that can grow on it, but if your salad is made with another grain, you can make a batch and eat it for 3-4 days.
15) Buy frozen dumplings. Boil the dumplings with small pieces of cut broccoli. Serve with the sauce it comes with, or with a blend of soy sauce and white vinegar thinned with a little water (mandu sauce).
16) Fancy Ramen. Boil frozen shrimp until cooked. Rip bok choy into small pieces, put it in your bowl, then add the ramen, shrimp, and hot water. Other vegetables that take a little longer can be cooked with your shrimp.
17) If you are feeling weak and need something fast, try unsweetened Greek yogurt with maple syrup, honey, or even jam.
18) If you are up for a fancier version, add Greek yogurt, any cereal or granola, nuts, fruit. If your yogurt is unsweetened, add a drizzle of honey or maple syrup.
19) Cheese, fruit, crackers.
20) Easy vegetable scrambled eggs: Sautee any combination of chopped vegetables. Mix a few eggs and pour on top of the vegetables. Add cheese before the egg cooks, and put on the lid. Have this with bread or toast.
21) Spread peanut butter or any nut butter on crackers. Add some fruit or vegetables for vitamins.
Fancier Meal Ideas (But Still Easy)
22) Cook rice. Steam broccoli or green peppers. Make this steamed Szechwan tofu. In my opinion, Korean saeujot (새우젓) is more delicious in this recipe than Chinese xia pi (papery dried shrimp, also known as 虾皮) the recipe calls for, which I found out one evening when I didn’t have xia pi on hand. If you can’t find black vinegar (镇江香醋) or don’t want to order it, white is acceptable. Optionally, boil some fresh or frozen raw shrimp for more protein.
If you don’t have a rice cooker yet, I used this affordable rice cooker by Aroma when I was an undergraduate. You can cook rice and steam a vegetable at the same time, and you can safely ignore the rice and go study while it’s cooking. Now I use a rice cooker by Toshiba, which magically keeps your rice hot for 24 hours (best quality for the first 12 hours, though).
23) Cook some rice, adding frozen mixed vegetables to the rice cooker (see my notes for Aroma vs. Toshiba rice cookers above, in #23). Boil shrimp (from frozen is fine) in a pot. Mix gochujang, a little sugar or rice syrup or oligodang, chopped garlic, a bit of sesame oil, and a touch of water to thin it. Pour the sauce over the whole thing and mix.
If you live near a Korean market, buy your gochujang there to support local business. If you don’t have access to a small local Korean business, you can buy gochujang on Amazon. I’ve linked to Chung Jung One, which is a high quality brand. Oligodang or rice syrup is nice to use here, but not critical – it’s fine to use your funds for the gochujang and use any mild tasting sweetener you have on hand.
24) Salmon salad for lazy gimbap or sandwiches: Mix canned tuna OR canned salmon OR canned mackerel with mayonnaise. If you have energy, chop anything from the onion family (red onion, yellow onion, green onion, shallot) and add that too. Other optional add-ins are celery or boiled eggs or both. You can cook rice and wrap this like gimbap.
If you happen to have access to an Asian mart, adding Chinese or Taiwanese style preserved sweet and salty radish to your gimbap is not a bad idea (this is shelf-stable until opened, has only daikon, salt and sugar, and is likely found in whatever aisle has pickles). If eating as gimbap, mix soy sauce, water, and white vinegar (mandu sauce) for dipping.
You can also put the tuna salad on bread and eat it cold, or on bread with some cheese and microwave it (or cook in a pan until the cheese melts) for an American-style tuna melt. No one will know if you actually made it with salmon.
25) Korean Babsang’s haemul soondubu jjigae (해물 순두부 찌개) can be made without meat if you don’t have it around. Keep shrimp and gochugaru in your freezer and soft tofu in your fridge to make this quickly.
You’ll also need some kelp for the broth. You can use water, but kelp broth tastes richer and adds minerals. I often get lazy and add kelp directly to the soup rather than making the broth first.
26) Easy tofu jeon from Aeri’s kitchen. Serve with cooked rice and a steamed vegetable (add a bit of soy sauce and sesame oil if the vegetable is too boring). Kimchi is not a bad idea.
27) Boil 1/4 to 1/2 chopped onion and a piece of kelp. When the kelp is soft, slice it into bite size pieces and put it back in. Add shrimp and boil until cooked. Take the shrimp out (to avoid overcooking) and add a green vegetable (bok choy or napa cabbage) and rice noodles, somyeon (소면), or American wheat pasta.
28) Kimchi bibim guksu is a little more work but you can have get a few servings of it, and the spice is comforting. Top with vegetables (cucumber, tomato, watermelon, or even green pepper) and boiled egg to make sure it’s a complete meal.
29) Chicken taco bowl: Buy a rotisserie chicken, salsa, shredded cheese, and fresh vegetables such as lettuce and tomato. Put some of the chicken and other toppings on cooked rice.
30) Add chicken thighs, several garlic cloves, lots of water, and salt. Bring to a boil quickly and then turn down to a simmer. Have this with cooked rice and a steamed vegetable.
You can also cook rice directly in the pot with the chicken for a basic congee or juk (use about 1 cup rice for a big pot of water, stir often to prevent burning, and turn the heat down as it thickens). You can add shredded napa cabbage later in the cooking if you want, or omit it if you have recently had any stomach bugs.
31) Simple egg congee or juk: Boil about 1 cup of rice and some salt in a pot of water. Stir often. Turn the heat down gradually as the rice thickens. When it looks creamy, add thinly sliced green onions. Mix a few eggs in a cup, then drizzle it in slowly until the egg is cooked. This is pretty watered down in terms of calories, carbs, and protein, so try to have it as a side with other foods, or eat it when your stomach is upset.
If you have questions about personalized nutrition, or if you are concerned that your eating might be disordered, contact a doctor and a registered dietician.