Author Topic: Help me meal plan  (Read 7659 times)

HydroJim

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Help me meal plan
« on: December 19, 2014, 09:25:47 PM »
I recently finished up my first semester of college and I've come to the conclusion that food is a good area for me to save money in. Last semester, my meal plan cost $1400 which consisted of 19 meals per week in the cafeteria and $75 in dining dollars that I could use anywhere on campus. Of course, this was $1400 to feed myself for only 16 weeks. Certainly, I can do much better.

So I've opted to get the campus minimum plan which is $450 and in return I get $450 in dining dollars to spend as I please. With the cost of on campus food, this comes down to about 4 meals/wk. The rest of my calories are now going to be provided by my own grocery shopping and I'm hoping that I can save money while also eating more healthy.

The only caveat is that my cooking is currently limited to a microwave. I may opt to pick up some kind of other cooking device but I could use some input on that also.

Back to the original question. Basically, I'm looking to spend $30 a week on groceries and I could really use the advice of the members of the forum. I've grocery shopped before, but never really with the intention of getting the most calories per dollar.

Tips/Trick/Advice would all be appreciated

TerriM

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #1 on: December 19, 2014, 09:35:55 PM »
Hmm.....  Sounds like you'll be eating a lot of sandwiches. :)

What about picking up a crockpot? 

Do you have a fridge?  If so how big and does it have a real freezer?

If you go home occasionally, you may be able to prepare a lot of food there, freeze it, and bring it back with you if you have a freezer.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2014, 09:37:34 PM by TerriM »

HydroJim

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2014, 09:38:39 PM »
To be honest, I have no idea how to use a crockpot.

I was initially thinking some kind of cooking surface would be good to serve as a replacement for not having a stove.

TerriM

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2014, 09:44:06 PM »
PS:  Try not to focus on price per calorie, but focus on nutrition.   This is a good time to setup healthy eating habits.   Healthy eating doesn't have to be expensive.

Thoughts: hummus, pita, and carrots/cucumbers/celery
Ham sandwiches
Crock pot:  You can make a good chicken curry (chicken, curry powder, chicken stock, raisins and then you add heavy cream at the very end). 
Chicken cacciatore (chicken, carrots, celery, mushrooms, stewed tomatoes, some spices (basil/oregano) simmer for a while
Black beans and rice (in a rice maker or crock pot:  1 can black beans, 1.5 cups dry rice, 3 cups water, salt, 1/4 tsp cumin)

Also, you might consider picking up a rice maker, though you could microwave it, but I thought that took 10-20 minutes. 

Crabricorn

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2014, 10:34:25 PM »
Crock-pots are amazing! You throw food in it in the morning and by afternoon/evening it's done. Here's a recipe for you. Chicken Salsa - take any old chicken parts (I usually have frozen breasts or thighs in my freezer that I use) and throw them in - they can go in frozen. Pour a jar of salsa over. Cook on low 8 hours or high for 4-5. You can also throw in a can of black beans (drained and rinsed) and frozen corn. The meat will shred very easily. Make burritos or tacos or wraps - whatever.

You can also throw in your chicken parts and top with a jar of spaghetti sauce.

It's pretty easy to make soups, stews and chili in a crock-pot.

It's my go to appliance! You can make almost anything in them (you can make baked potatoes and even cake in there).


AllieVaulter

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2014, 10:55:05 PM »
Crock pots are awesome.  You can't leave your house when your oven is on, but you can leave a crockpot.  It's pretty easy.  Most crockpot recipes are three steps:  1) put food in, 2)  cook for 5 hours, 3) EAT! 

One of my go-to meals as a new cook were slightly altered Ramen soups.  Heat the water, add it to the noodles, throw some green beans/peas/corn in.  You can also add egg (like an egg-drop soup).  Crack an egg in a bowl, scramble it, and drizzle it into the ramen while the water is still very hot.  It will cook the egg and you'll get some extra protein. 

Also, consider the joys of peanut butter!  It's awesome on sandwiches, tortillas, apples, celery, bananas, ice cream...  It's fun to experiment with.  :)  Also, it makes everything quite filling. 

Breakfast is probably your easiest meal to do in your situation.  Milk & cereal.  Yogurt & granola.  You can even make scrambled eggs in the microwave (I just stir it every 30 seconds until it's cooked through). 

Obviously, it's a little late at this point, but usually off-campus living is cheaper.  You split the cost of an apartment with some friends and then you have the use of a full kitchen.  You can make huge family sized meals that will last you all week (or maybe a bit less since boys tend to eat more than girls...) 

There's definitely a learning curve to cooking, but keep at it.  It's a skill you'll need your whole life.  AND, when you meet that special someone, you can knock their socks off with an awesome, homemade, romantic meal. 

Good luck!

Zikoris

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2014, 11:02:11 PM »
Another good option is an electric skillet with a lid. I had one when I first moved out on my own and didn't have a kitchen, and it was AMAZING - I could fry in it, make soup, rice, chili, vegetables, anything. And they're really easy to clean.

I think if I had no kitchen again I would have an electric skillet, microwave, toaster oven, and rice cooker with steamer attachment. That would let me make just about everything I make now in a full kitchen.

For a really easy, fast, and cheap breakfast, you can make eggs or oatmeal with just a bowl and a microwave.

Dellen

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #7 on: December 20, 2014, 08:01:35 AM »
HydroJim!  Way to go -- you are absolutely right that this is a great place to save money.  Dorm food is just about the most expensive food on the planet.  I have a college-aged son and this was something we decided to tackle about 18 months ago, so I feel I can really help you here, but I need to know some information from you first.

1.  I'm assuming you're in a dorm.  Are you in a single room or a double?  That has implications for food storage space but also, it may make a difference if you have a roommate who will not appreciate your efforts here.  All the better if you have a roommate who wants to do this with you!

2.  Do you have a dorm fridge in your room?  If yes, what kind of freezer capacity does it have?  If not, are you willing to pick one up on Craigslist -- and do you have space for one in your room?  I remember vividly just how little floor space there is in some dorm rooms.

3.  You mention a microwave.  Is this in your room or is it a shared microwave for your floor?  If the latter  sometimes those are in spaces that also have counterspace for food prep, which is a nice bonus.

4.  Is there any facility for actual cooking anywhere in your dorm?  In my son's dorm, there was one very basic kitchen (electric stove, sink, counter) that students could use with a sign-up process for reserving time.  If there is anything like this in your dorm, your meal options really explode, so look into that.  Also, sometimes the actual dorm kitchen can be rented for a small fee -- look into that as well.  I think on my son's campus I found this out by Googling "community kitchen U of M" and discovered that you could rent one of the dorm kitchens for some nominal fee. 

Okay, once I hear details back from you I can provide more detailed help.  I'm so glad someone asked this question, as it makes my stomach hurt thinking how many thousands of dollars parents and children are spending in dorms on overpriced, often terrible quality food!

Dellen

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #8 on: December 20, 2014, 08:13:43 AM »
Drat, forgot one last important question for you:  what is your dorm's official  policy on crockpots, rice cookers, hot pots, etc?  My son's dorm would not allow anything heat-producing...

Roots&Wings

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #9 on: December 20, 2014, 08:56:33 AM »
My go-to college meal appliance was a Hot Pot water dispenser: http://www.amazon.com/Sunbeam-6131-Water-Dispenser-Black/dp/B000C3QSPQ 

I made oatmeal for breakfast, drank a lot of tea, and also had things like dehydrated pre-packaged soups for dinner (there were some semi-healthy nonRamen options available...not ideal, but given limited time and no kitchen space, it worked at the time). 

It's been just over a decade since I was in college, but still have the same Hot Pot and use it everyday. 

TerriM

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #10 on: December 20, 2014, 09:47:38 AM »
To be honest, I have no idea how to use a crockpot.

I was initially thinking some kind of cooking surface would be good to serve as a replacement for not having a stove.

Don't think it's that hard--you put food in and let it cook about an hour.  Get one with adjustable temperature.  Essentially it's like having a pot on the stove.  Without the stove.

A lot of moms swear by them because they put their food in in the morning and come back with it done at night (on lowish temperatures).  I wouldn't do that as a college student though.

BTW:  What are your plans for cleaning your plates/etc?  Be careful not to toss food-stuffs down your sink.  It can stop it up--or worse--someones sink below you will stop up and everyone's waste water from above will end up overflowing into their room.   :(

HydroJim

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #11 on: December 20, 2014, 03:39:33 PM »
HydroJim!  Way to go -- you are absolutely right that this is a great place to save money.  Dorm food is just about the most expensive food on the planet.  I have a college-aged son and this was something we decided to tackle about 18 months ago, so I feel I can really help you here, but I need to know some information from you first.

1.  I'm assuming you're in a dorm.  Are you in a single room or a double?  That has implications for food storage space but also, it may make a difference if you have a roommate who will not appreciate your efforts here.  All the better if you have a roommate who wants to do this with you!

2.  Do you have a dorm fridge in your room?  If yes, what kind of freezer capacity does it have?  If not, are you willing to pick one up on Craigslist -- and do you have space for one in your room?  I remember vividly just how little floor space there is in some dorm rooms.

3.  You mention a microwave.  Is this in your room or is it a shared microwave for your floor?  If the latter  sometimes those are in spaces that also have counterspace for food prep, which is a nice bonus.

4.  Is there any facility for actual cooking anywhere in your dorm?  In my son's dorm, there was one very basic kitchen (electric stove, sink, counter) that students could use with a sign-up process for reserving time.  If there is anything like this in your dorm, your meal options really explode, so look into that.  Also, sometimes the actual dorm kitchen can be rented for a small fee -- look into that as well.  I think on my son's campus I found this out by Googling "community kitchen U of M" and discovered that you could rent one of the dorm kitchens for some nominal fee. 

Okay, once I hear details back from you I can provide more detailed help.  I'm so glad someone asked this question, as it makes my stomach hurt thinking how many thousands of dollars parents and children are spending in dorms on overpriced, often terrible quality food!

-I am in a 4 person suite so we have 4 people using 1 kitchenette. We have a full sized refrigerator/freezer combo unit, a microwave, a sink, and some counter top space.

-We do have a facility for cooking on the bottom floor of the building. It has a stove and I don't know what else. Unfortunately, I am on the 4th floor and you have to hope an RA is available to give you the key to access the area. It's slightly inconvenient so I definitely don't want to rely on it. I'll stick with cooking in the microwave for now. Next year I'll be in a different residence hall on campus that has kitchens on each floor with 24/7 access which is much more convenient

-I don't know the exact rules but I know for sure that we're not allowed open element type cooking devices like toasters and anything that is glowing red. That of course doesn't mean anybody cares about the rules. As long as it's not visible during inspection then it's easy enough to get away with. I'm not really trying to spend any money on any cooking device if I can get away without it, but it would be nice to invest in at least 1 thing.

Obviously, it's a little late at this point, but usually off-campus living is cheaper.  You split the cost of an apartment with some friends and then you have the use of a full kitchen.

I am lucky enough to have a housing stipend for all 4 years so I'm going to be staying on campus for the next 7 semesters


TerriM

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2014, 03:49:03 PM »
Crock pot is closed element.  So is a rice maker.  You'd be fine with both as long as you don't blow a circuit breaker. :)

Seriously.  Take a look into it.  Even if you move into a place with a kitchen, if you eat a lot of rice, you'll want a rice maker.

Now, I'll admit that I never owned one because I like cooking my rice on the stove, but I know people who can't fathom how I live without one and how I can cook rice on a stove without getting it wrong, so I have come to accept that rice makers must be a fantastic way to cook rice. :)  And the ability to press a button and have rice done in 20 minutes without watching it, does have some appeal.

Amosla

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #13 on: December 21, 2014, 03:17:22 PM »
My super cheap meal plan

Breakfast
Oatmeal
Spice it up with cinnamon and sugar, fruit, syrup, butter, raisins.

Lunch
Peanut butter sandwich
Side of: Banana, carrots, pea pods, apple, or oranges

Dinners

Eggs and black beans
Eggs and rice
Jazz up with cheese, salsa, or fry onions
Fried rice (eggs, peas, carrots, onions with soy sauce)
Mushrooms, rice and beans (Frugalwoods lunch)

So, I think electric skillet would be easiest for making daily dinners.
Crockpot is only good if you can plan ahead, not good if you are starving right now. Menards seems to have small cheap appliances, if there is one near you.

Tasty white rice in microwave: rice and water as package indicates than add dried minced onion, salt and a tab of butter.

Spices to buy at Aldi:
Minced onion
Cinnamon
Garlic powder
Salt (a dash of salt goes in almost everything, don't skip it, even sweet stuff)
Seasoned salt
Black Pepper
Olive oil

Dictionary Time

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #14 on: December 21, 2014, 03:57:58 PM »
First I'd make a list of food that you like and go from there.  Hopefully, you find that you love cheap foods!

Time is also valuable for you.  If you don't mind monotony, I'd pick something on Sunday and make enough of that for the week.  This week is beans and rice, make a crock pot of beans, rice in the microwave, portion it into 7 containers, shred on some cheese.  You can add salsa, veg, maybe some chicken.  Then I'd eat that for lunch or dinner all week.  I'm the kind of person who can do that. 

Other ideas, crock pot a chicken and shred that up with some bbq sauce and you've got sandwiches for the week.  Or check the store for clearance rotisserie chickens.

Eggs are a good source of protein.  You could boil a dozen in the real kitchen once for the week and pull them out as needed.

Baked potatoes go with lots of toppings.  Put a potato under your main dish to stretch it out.

You aren't going to be perfect at first, but keep an eye on it.  And keep improving.  Every $ you spend less than $60 is saving.  Some weeks may be more, don't be discouraged.

Also, I would have an eye to getting the most value from your campus meals.  Make sure you're getting in the high value items, like protein and more expensive veggies.  Don't fill up with cheap stuff!

MrsCoolCat

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #15 on: December 21, 2014, 09:38:37 PM »
I gotta bookmark this thread with all the crockpot recipes! Thanks everyone!
Yeah, I see a lot of meal prep, sandwiches and perhaps non-meat proteins but you got me with the no stove. Crock pot does sound pretty good but you would need a freezer/fridge for sure. Good luck!

mm1970

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #16 on: December 21, 2014, 10:13:02 PM »
Okay, so now I know where you are coming from - and I'm thinking back (way back).

For a year, I had a dorm with a mini-fridge and illegal microwave.  Then 2 years with apartments with small kitchens (including ovens).  Then a year in the sorority house with one kitchen for 16 people.

Soph year I cut back my meal plan to 7 meals a week.  The meal varied by my schedule.

I did not eat very healthy otherwise - ramen noodles, mac and cheese.  At least I ate a bunch of salads at the salad bar.

Since you have a kitchenette, a rice cooker or crock pot would be great.  As long as you don't mind eating leftovers (or, cook together or get a small crock pot).  Rice cookers are great also, I make mixed rice dishes in them.

An electric frying pan would be good also.  I saute a ton of stuff, and I used one of these a lot when I was young and single.  Fried rice, ground beef and cabbage, sausage and peppers and onions, pancakes, eggs, etc.

An electric kettle would be good to boil water, but you can do that in the microwave.

A toaster oven can bake things.

It's going to depend a lot on what types of food you eat.  I, of course, as an adult woman with a husband and 2 kids have all of these.  But younger, I mostly heated things up.

Toaster oven: baked salmon, baked fish, baked chicken fingers, toast, hamburgers, sausage, mini pita-pizzas
Microwave: microwave steamed vegetables of all kinds, heat up canned refried beans and make burritos
Electric skillet: see above, plus quesadillas
Rice cooker: spanish rice, coconut rice, rice and beans with chicken (use pre-cooked chicken and add it in the end)
Crock pot: endless list there, you already have recommendations.

The only hard thing would be spaghetti. I ate a lot of pasta in college.

Think about your schedule and how much you are going to WANT to cook.  When I was super stressed last year, I literally cooked 3 big meals on the weekend - one of them was 5 days worth of lunches.  Yes, husband and I had the same lunch every day in a row.  It's boring, but easy, and I changed it each week.  The other two were about 4 dinners.  Not a lot of variety but cheap, easy, and it worked.

dungoofed

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #17 on: December 21, 2014, 11:33:31 PM »
This was a previous thread in a similar vein:

http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/challenge-cheap-lazy-healthyish-meals

x6 on the crockpot suggestions. It's Xmas, get your folks to send you one. Bang for buck this is easily your best option. In fact, this sounds like a good idea for a new thread....

dungoofed

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LadyStache

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #19 on: December 22, 2014, 01:10:40 PM »
Things you can make in a microwave:

Ramen noodles (the official food of college students)
Mac n cheese
Baked Potatoes - be sure to stab it a few times before you put them in. Once they are cooked enough, you can cut them in half and add cheese and other toppings
Rice - check the package when you buy, some packages have microwave cooking instructions
Eggs - I haven't made them in the microwave before, but I have seen the infomercials. Not sure if you need a special plastic thingy for this or if you can use a regular bowl
Oatmeal
Soup

Look around the freezer section of the grocery store, you might be able to find something cheap/easy/microwaveable there

Mother Fussbudget

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #20 on: December 22, 2014, 01:17:26 PM »
http://forum.mrmoneymustache.com/ask-a-mustachian/crock-pot-regret/

+1. Get a rice cooker, and a good rice cooker cook book. (or look for on-line recipies) Buy a 20 lb. bag of rice at CostCo + dry pinto beans, and feed yourself for months at under $1/meal.  More$ with meat, but long-term the animal fat in meat is not good for your circulatory system (i.e. heart). Eat more veggies, and if you have to have meat, eat a little bit at each meal - get away from the SAD (Standard American Diet) of having a plate-sized slab of meat, and 1 cup of veggies/rice/beans.

Dellen

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Re: Help me meal plan
« Reply #21 on: December 28, 2014, 02:08:54 PM »
Hello HydroJim, you've gotten some good ideas here, and I will add a few more.  First, I suggest using your meal plan meals for dinners because they are the most expensive to make, so that's the best bang for your buck.  If you are allowed to take pieces of fruit out of your dorm cafeteria with you, by all  means do so up to the limit you are allowed (bananas, apples, oranges are often available).  They will come in handy for breakfasts and snacks.

Okay, so now you're looking at breakfasts, lunches, and some dinners.  Breakfast is super-easy.  We like to keep breakfast costs under a dollar a day, which generally means eggs, oatmeal, or cold cereal.  Buy a cold cereal you like in a huge bag and buy an off-brand rather than a name brand.  A gallon of milk and you're good to go -- but keep an eye on portion size because it's easy to over-eat when you buy in large quantities, and then you erase your savings. 

For egg-based breakfasts, visit the website incredibleegg.org and search on "microwave."  You'll see about 10 pages of results.  You don't have to eat eggs the same way over and over!

For oatmeal:  http://www.bhg.com/recipes/how-to/cooking-basics/how-to-cook-oatmeal/.  Add fresh fruit, sugar, raisins, etc. to vary endlessly.

Here's a kind of pancake-in-a-mug:  http://www.budgetbytes.com/2013/02/blueberry-mug-muffin/ .  You could use any fruit you have handy -- or none at all.

Yogurts also work well for breakfasts or lunch.  Buy what's cheapest.

On to lunch.  The obvious options are sandwiches and salads, and rice bowls are a nice quick alternative.  I mean GOOD sandwiches.  Buy yourself some good bread -- around here we prefer a take-and-bake baguette.  We don't bake it though -- we find it's sturdy enough already and a little easier to eat without a harder crust.  One baguette divided into fourths and then split lengthwise like a hotdog bun is perfect for me -- my son prefers them split into thirds, which fits his appetite but is slightly more expensive.  Use a good mustard or other condiment sparingly (salad dressing works great also).  Buy a good cheese that you love and slice it paper thin -- a little can go a long way with flavor and is worth the money in my opinion.  Buy yourself some lunch meat and ration it sensibly -- I find that three slices of deli meat is a good amount per sandwich, so I can get quite a few sandwiches out of a package of lunch meat.  If bell peppers are cheap I like to put in some thin slices of that. Marinated peppers from a jar will do also (I just buy the cheapest brand).  A few leaves from a bag of salad greens and you have a sandwich that is actually worth looking forward to eating, for less than you'd spend on fast food.  I know I am belaboring the obvious, but my point is there is a huge difference between a nasty sandwich on wonderbread, which will make you feel deprived, and the kind of sandwich that makes your day and that others envy.  Experiment and figure out what ingredients will make a sandwich that you actually love.  Other options besides a traditional sandwich are pita bread and tortillas for wraps, either of which can hold practically anything.

Salads I assume are self-explanatory, but you will discover that fresh produce prices vary dramatically by season. 

Rice bowls are great in cold weather.  In a bowl, combine cooked rice (more on that in a second), some cooked beans (from a can is fine -- black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans all great), some frozen corn (no need to thaw), a few spoonfuls of salsa (whatever is cheap is fine -- we like Pace), and a small amount of shredded cheese -- cheddar is fine, pepper jack is great, whatever.  Stir to combine and microwave until the cheese melts.  The whole thing takes about 2 minutes to make and is unbelievably filling,

You can cook rice in the microwave by the way:  http://www.food.com/recipe/perfect-easy-microwave-rice-195326.  Cook a larger amount and then you've already got it on hand.  It keeps for a few days in the fridge or portion it into Ziploc bags and freeze it for weeks.

I'll post about dinner ideas in a bit -- this post is getting pretty long!