Quick dinners for busy students

The life of a college student, especially at Carnegie Mellon, is a very hectic and busy one. Sometimes you just don’t have the time to sit down to a seven-course gourmet meal. Not only is time an issue, but when tuition is rising and the costs of books remain in tow, there isn’t too much money to spare on dining out seven days a week. There are actually a few people who still follow the college student standard and eat the cup of noodles on an almost-daily basis, but there are a few ways to get around it.

To get a pack of chicken or ground beef isn’t very expensive, and these ingredients can be pretty versatile. A few bucks can get you enough to make three separate — and different — meals. One option for ground beef is to make hamburgers, which can be made into fairly unique creations with the use of seasonings and toppings. For example, different cheeses can be put on the patty to make a creative cheeseburger. Chicken is even more versatile and can be used in salads, pasta sauces, sandwiches, and in other various ways on its own.

Frozen mixed vegetables and canned beans are good additions to the main ingredient of your meal. Beans can be mixed into a beef mixture with spices. Beans are also a great main ingredient and can be seasoned to reflect any region’s flavors. If you are tight on cash, some of the generic brands are just as good as the name brands, and you can save up to half the price without skimping on flavor.

Just about anyone can boil water, and throwing some pasta into the mix doesn’t take a special skill. Pasta gives a person so many options because there are a million and one sauces that can be made (or bought, if you want the quicker version). In addition, cold pasta entrees can be made by adding fresh vegetables, chunks of meat or cheese, and some kind of dressing.

Casseroles are another simple and versatile option. If you boil some macaroni pasta and add some cheese, you can add just about any other ingredient and make it into a casserole. You can make a tuna casserole by adding a can of tuna and a cream of mushroom soup, a green bean casserole by adding some green beans, or virtually any other kind of casserole by mixing something with a condensed cream soup. Choose your ingredients and it’s a “cool name here” casserole.

A good old-fashioned grilled cheese always makes the list of simple and delicious foods. If you butter the bread just right and use different cheeses, like a four-cheese blend, you can’t go wrong for a quick fix. If you like this idea, but want something more than grilled cheese, try adding slices of ham or turkey to the sandwich.

The quesadilla, a Mexican dish comparable to grilled cheese, is a quick 15 minutes of cook time. It can be made with or without meat, but if you use meat, cook the meat thoroughly in advance. Put a flour tortilla into a frying pan, put the meat on top, sprinkle some cheese (a blend would be good for this), and fold it in half. Once the cheese is melted, cut it into triangles and you’ve got yourself a quesadilla.

“Quesadillas are really quick, especially when you are in a rush. I make them when I only have a few minutes to spare,” said chemistry junior Veronica Batista.

Rice has to be one of the easiest things to make. Now, it even comes in “boil-in-a-bag” form, where you can take out an already portioned bag of rice and throw it in a pot of boiling water on the stove or put it in the microwave in a bowl of water for 10 minutes. Mix in a can of red beans, a few simple spices like salt, black pepper, maybe chili powder, and you’ve got red beans and rice. If you want some meat in there, add in some ground beef or, for a healthier meal, ground turkey.

One of the fastest and most delicious things to make is a soup. A soup is what you make it. You can add your own ingredients and your own flavors, and combine them in one bubbling heap of goodness. You can buy some canned soups, but this is your chance to play master chef without causing too much destruction in the kitchen. You can start with some stock or broth (grocery stores sell both vegetable and meat-based versions in cans or boxes) and hit the ground running from there.

Junior economics major Brianna Agyemang suggests making stir-fry. “Some of them come in a bag and all you have to do is put it in the microwave and steam it. It’s cheap because it is under $2. It lasts because one pack can make four servings.”

Nervous about breaking your usual routine? If you are a die-hard Ramen fan, you can try mixing it up a bit without completely giving it up. Throw the cooked noodles into a pan and add a few flavorings, like a little teriyaki sauce, a dash of the seasonings that are already included, and if you’re really a daredevil, you can include some frozen vegetables or some diced chicken or ground beef.