When you graduate from college, it’s time for your dorm food staples to level up too. Here’s how to upgrade all the usual suspects from mac and cheese to pizza.
If you’re among the many that have recently walked across the stage and gotten your college diploma, then let me be the first to congratulate you! You did the damn thing, and you should be proud. But I’d also understand if you were just as terrified as you are stoked to be moving onto a new chapter in your life. Graduating college is terrifying, so what you’re feeling is justified. First things first, you’re in the real world now, and not only do you have to find work, you have to figure out how to keep yourself alive.
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If you were anything like me in college, you either survived on cafeteria food that you just picked up out of a buffet line or microwaved lunches and dinners on repeat. Either way, not much preparation was required on your part. So, now that you’re back in a real kitchen and sick of microwavable food, what do you do? Well, you can start by following recipes for dinners similar to the ones we all grew accustomed to in college (like mac and cheese or even Lunchable pizzas), only these recipes are homemade, grown up, and actually taste like fresh food. The new college alum in you deserves to eat well.
Then: Kraft Easy Mac
I ate Kraft Easy Mac more than anything when I was in college. In case you’re not familiar, it’s macaroni in a little cup that you add water to, microwave for three minutes, then mix in some bright orange cheese powder. I’m sure it was super nutritious. Since this is maybe 80 percent of what college students eat, I understand that most of you have acquired a taste for mac and cheese, but just want to maybe eat a dish with real cheese instead of powder. Our classic mac and cheese is breaded on top and includes a few different kinds of fresh cheese. And this recipe is very forgiving, so feel free to add some of your favorites in there, like bacon, buffalo chicken, or even lobster. Get our Classic Mac and Cheese recipe.
Then: Microwave Chili
Oddly enough, one of the easy dinners I reached for often in college was microwave chili. As gross as it sounds, it was actually one of the more filling ready-made dinners I had, and it was pretty hearty and flavorful for what it was. But when I graduated and the winter months rolled around I found myself wanting a real chili, maybe with healthier add-ins like fresh veggies. Luckily, this spicy turkey chili is jam-packed with vegetables, flavorful herbs, and spices. And turkey is a healthier option for a protein, so you don’t have to feel as guilty about eating this chili as I felt eating microwave chili. Get our Easy Spicy Turkey Chili recipe.
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It’s so funny how you find yourself maintaining the same diet in college that you did in elementary school. While I am personally allergic to peanut butter and could not partake in this simple yet delicious lunch, I saw my roommates make their fair share of PB&Js in my four years. And I don’t blame them; peanut butter and jelly is impossible to screw up, and it’s a classic combination. But now that you’re a real adult, you may not want to be caught eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches while you’re running from Point A to Point B. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to give up PB&Js forever! The next time your college friends get together, spark some food nostalgia with these vanilla cupcakes stuffed with peanut butter and jelly. Salty and sweet, these will go as quickly as free food goes at any college event, so make a bunch. Get the Vanilla PB&J Cupcakes recipe.
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Then: Cereal with Milk
I’m sure I’m not the only former college student who ate cereal and milk every single morning for four years. I mean, I graduated two years ago and I think I’ve maybe had one bowl of cereal since. But if you don’t eat yourself totally sick of cereal, there’s a way to spruce up the old cereal-and-milk combo: cereal and ice cream, of course! If you’re looking for a sweet, crunchy treat, our chocolate Rice Krispies Ice Cream cake is actually easy to make despite sounding so complex. And don’t worry; the recipe allows you to choose your favorite ice cream for the ultimate upgrade to a bowl of cereal. If it were me, I’d do Neapolitan. You can’t go wrong with that. Get our Chocolate Rice Krispies Ice Cream Cake recipe.
Then: Delivery Pizza
Trust me, I know we were all waiting for pizza to make an appearance. College students flock to pizza like seagulls flock to…well, pizza (and any other edible scraps). Pizza is always delicious, and you don’t even need to leave your room to get it, which makes it a great dinner for when you’re stuck studying for exams. During midterms, my roommate and I needed to eat our stress, so we would always order what we called a “garbage pizza.” It was a pie with extra cheese, peppers, onions, and pepperoni, and as delicious as it was we always felt guilty about two bites in. Oddly enough, Chowhound has a great recipe for a pizza that reminds me of a healthier version of my garbage pizza. With fresh roasted peppers and sausage, this pizza is not so much a guilty pleasure as it is a perfect summer dinner fresh off the grill. Get our Roasted Pepper and Spicy Sausage Grilled Pizza recipe.
Then: Fast Food Burgers
With fast food restaurants conveniently located both on and off most campuses, it’s easy for most college students to just scarf down a burger without even thinking twice about it. I would even go to the local deli for a burger if I knew I’d be up late and was in need of a much heartier meal. Now that you’re out of school, you may never want to look at another fast food burger again, so why not whip up this guacamole turkey burger? Like I said earlier, turkey is always a healthy protein choice and, with the summer months in full swing, nothing sounds better than a fresh-made guacamole garnish. Get our Guacamole Turkey Burger recipe.
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Then: Canned Chicken Soup
Soup was another thing I always used to see college students stock up on; it’s easy to make since everything is already in a can, and it’s always smart to keep around because you can’t really afford to get sick when that nasty cold is going around during midterms. Now that you’ve graduated from college to the real world, you’re also ready to graduate from canned to homemade soups. I love making soup from scratch because you can add the flavors you like and omit the ones you don’t, not to mention control the salt and cut out preservatives. This chicken tortilla soup is a great start if you’re looking to make your own bowl. It has plenty of spices and flavors for you to play with, and it’s really easy to make. Get our Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe.
Then: Takeout Sushi
Now: Spicy Tuna Maki
I don’t know if it’s just where I went to school, but I didn’t really get into sushi until college because I noticed it was available and popular everywhere I went. I’ve personally always wanted to try making my own sushi, and if you’re wondering what you can do with all this time you suddenly have since graduating, why don’t you put the chef’s hat on for the day and take a stab at making some sushi rolls? This spicy tuna maki is a definite upgrade from the cafeteria California rolls I was used to. Get our Spicy Tuna Maki recipe.
Then: Any & Every Store-Bought Snack
Now: Gourmet Trail Mix
Snacks can be upgraded, too! In college I ate plenty of granola bars or smoothies when I didn’t have time to sit down for breakfast and, while they were tasty, sometimes you just need a more sophisticated (and healthy) snack. This gourmet trail mix has salty nuts, candied ginger, and fresh fruits, so it’s like your daily granola bar and smoothie all in one. Plus, this is one snack your future coworkers will totally envy. Get our Gourmet Trail Mix recipe.
Then: Prego Sauce Spaghetti
When we actually had some kitchen equipment in our dorms, some of our late nights consisted of us making a ton of pasta and splitting it into bowls so that we could just have a quick dinner with easy cleanup before getting back to work. We used to throw vegetables into our pasta when we had them to make ourselves feel like we were super healthy eaters, but one piece of zucchini once a month does hardly a healthy eater make. Now that you’re graduated, you can make an intricate pasta dinner that actually is healthy with this spaghetti recipe. This dish has cherry tomatoes, feta, and herbs, so you’ll feel as fancy as we felt healthy! Get our Herbed Roasted Cherry Tomato and Feta Spaghetti recipe.
Then: Instant Ramen
Now: Easy Chicken Ramen
Because those crunchy noodles and their incredibly salty seasoning packet are basically the emblem of dorm food. This grown-up rendition of ramen may not be instant noodles, but you just have to do a little sauteing of vegetables and boiling of water—surely, you can manage that. A store-bought rotisserie chicken makes it meaty, and even easier too. Get our Easy Chicken Ramen recipe.