A College Kid’s Guide to Microwave Meals

I’ve been meaning to lose some weight. Really, looking at pictures from high school depresses me in regards to my weight. I think every college girl goes through this. Well, recently, I can proudly and honestly say I’ve succeeded in doing that; unfortunately, it hasn’t been through the means I entended. In fact, I should make a conscious effort to pay better attention to my health. You see, I haven’t had much time for real food. Meals at the caf are history, at least right now.

Between a 10-15 hour on-campus job (doing Internet Communications work), an Internet Comm internship for Illinois Corn Marketing Board, and my free-lance video job, on top of class…where does food fit?
Well, there’s one type of food that I know I can always have time/space/room for. It’s easy to eat it in computer labs, classrooms, dining areas, and my dorm room. Microwave meals.
I’ve spent plenty of time reconnecting with this forgotten friend lately. If it weren’t for microwaves, I probably wouldn’t eat.
These used to be limited to frozen TV dinners and Spaghettios. No more! I do love Spaghettios, but sometimes you want something that feels more like “real” food. Well, here’s my list of favorites. Most of these are straight forward and just require proper administration of water. They’re in no particular order.
  1. Easy Mac, and Easy Velveeta. These are both wonderful for different reasons. Easy Mac has that classic Mac-n-Cheese feel. Easy Velveeta has a richer, thicker sauce and shell-shaped noodles. I love both, separate but equal. What I also love about these is that you can add stuff. I’ve done some experimenting, and you can really customize this stuff. Adding veggies, meat (canned or pouched chicken is my favorite) and all types of seasonings. Garlic Easy Mac is surprisingly delicious! When I’m around the dorm room and have access to a fridge/freezer, I like to add fresh or frozen veggies (obviously microwave the frozen veggies) like broccoli.
  2. Bowl Appetit. The ones I’ve tried have been pretty tasty, although they don’t seem to microwave as smoothly as some. Part of this problem is probably that the sauce powder is pre-mixed with the noodles, so you don’t have quite as much control.
  3. Marie Callender’s Home-Style Creations. I love these because of the quality. They’re surprisingly tasty, and there are plenty of wonderful options to pick from. The idea here is that the carb product (noodles, rice, or stuffing) is microwaved with water and strained out separately. You then warm and add the sauce and meat product, which is in a separate container. I’ve eaten three or four of these in the last week and have been pleasantly surprised with the quality and taste each time.
  4. Hormel ComplEATS. These are closer to the “TV Dinner” style. These highly-preserved meals aren’t necessarily perfect, but they’re better than nothing. They don’t need refrigeration, and it’s as easy as taking off the cardboard cover, stabbing the plastic top, and popping it in the microwave. My favorite is the Chicken and Dumpling, but I was definitely not expecting how good the Beef Roast and gravy meal was. You could tell it was real beef, which isn’t always the case with microwave meals. The mashed potatoes were a little odd texture-wise, but I was still pleased. Other great options include a variety of stews and “homestyle” meals like Turkey and Stuffing and Chili.
  5. Campbell’s Healthy Choice Soup. If you can find it in the microwave-safe foam-and-plastic container, that’s ideal. Because of the mixture of broth, veggies, and noodles, this is surprisingly filling and can tide you over for longer than you’d expect. You can also go with traditional Campbell’s soups. The Healthy Choice selection is a little narrower, but is often lower in sodium and tends to have more “natural” ingredients and fewer preservatives. If you want more variety, just look at the Campbell’s range as a whole, and not just the Healthy Choice products. (I know, most college kids are just happy to have food, regardless of this stuff. I just feel that some honesty is needed.)
I know these aren’t really the ideal “healthy benefits” foods. They’re food, though, and they’re easy. They can be stashed in any purse, book bag, or computer bag fairly reliably. (I’ve never had one bust open in a bag…yet, knock on wood.) Most of these offer some sort of balance between carbs and protein, and some actually do have some nutritional content beyond calories.
The important thing to keep in mind that even if you can’t get access to the healthiest food, you DO need to eat. College, work, and social lives at this stage in our lives…well, it’s difficult. You’d be amazed where you can find random microwaves on college campuses. More than once, I’ve found the staff/faculty lounges late at night and used those. Many of our academic buildings have student lounges will microwaves. (My favorite is the Art and Design building, where I’ve pulled several all-nighters in the last few years. I once spent 12 hours straight working on a painting, with some down time during drying.)
So, there you have it. A poor, starving college kid’s outlook on microwaveable food. They’re cheap, they don’t need refrigeration, and they will fill your tummy. With that out there, I need to head to one of my three jobs.
Good luck on finals, moving home, graduation, and the like. I know at my school, we’re buckling down for the final weeks (which is incredibly stressful on a ten-week schedule), but everyone else is either finishing up or done.

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