Buying fresh ingredients to cook ends up being cheaper and healthier than buying pre-made, processed food items.

Leaving the comfort of mom and dad’s home-cooked meals during the summer can be a difficult back-to-school transition. All of a sudden, Ramen noodles and frozen meals are on the menu and the microwave looks way more attractive than the stove or oven. Harrisonburg grocery stores are packed with students without meal plans struggling to find cheap and easy food to prepare for the week ahead, and many may look incredibly lost.

Cooking doesn’t have to be intimidating, difficult or expensive. In fact, buying fresh ingredients to cook ends up being cheaper and healthier than buying pre-made, processed food items. The biggest trick to conquering the grocery store is preparation. Looking up a few recipes and creating a grocery list from there can help students avoid impulse buys from the chip aisle. 

Pinterest is an amazing resource for recipes and gives people the ability to save all the recipes they want to try. Following food bloggers on Instagram or YouTube can also be an easy way to get ideas. 

Here are just a few recipes to get any student on a budget started.

For the procrastinator‭: ‬Greek Grain Bowl‭ ‬

Grain bowls can quite literally be the easiest and most delicious lunches. They can be conveniently improvised at short notice and can be made with anything leftover in the kitchen. It’s like homemade Freshens, but better.


     1 8.8-ounce bag quick-cook farro

     3 cups baby spinach

     1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

     ⅓ cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved

     ⅓ cup peppadew peppers, chopped

     ⅓ cup feta cheese, crumbled (leave out for dairy-free)

     ⅓ cup red onion, cut into thin slices or diced

     1 cup hummus, divided (optional)

     Red wine vinaigrette


Cook farro according to package directions. Let cool slightly. Meanwhile, prepare the remaining ingredients. Divide farro and veggies among four bowls. Top each bowl with ¼ cup hummus and drizzle with vinaigrette. For optional proteins, try adding chickpeas, cannellini beans, rotisserie chicken, roasted salmon or shrimp.

For a small bite‭: ‬Toast

Open-face toast is all the rage these days, as it’s a super easy way to use up what’s already in the kitchen. This snack can be made with gluten-free bread and can be sweet or savory. 

Flavor combinations:

     Beet hummus, cucumbers, goat cheese and kalamata olives

     Cream cheese, cucumbers, sliced smoked salmon, red onions, 

     capers and fresh dill

     Tuna salad, heated for a tuna melt

     Sliced avocado, scrambled eggs, sprouts and chili flakes

     Pesto, smashed avocado, heirloom tomatoes, poached or fried                     egg, salt, pepper and chives

     Chocolate-hazelnut butter, raspberries and crunchy almond slices

      Tahini, sliced strawberries, cinnamon and honey

      Almond butter, yogurt, sliced bananas and strawberries,            blueberries and chia seeds

      Peanut butter, sliced bananas and mini chocolate chips

      Cream cheese, berry compote and fresh mint

For the caffeine‭ ‬addict‭: ‬Vanilla Cold‭ ‬Brew Overnight Oats

This recipe is perfect for those early morning classes — or for students who always run late — no matter what time class starts. Plus, it’s breakfast and coffee in one. That’s a win-win. 


     ½ cup rolled oats, regular or gluten-free

     2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey

     1 teaspoon vanilla almond butter

     1 dash sea salt

     1 teaspoon vanilla extract

     1 teaspoon chia seeds (optional)

     2 tablespoons coffee

     ½ cup milk or dairy substitute


Add all ingredients to a bowl or jar that can be sealed. Stir well to combine, and cover in the refrigerator overnight. Serve hot or cold in the morning. Garnish with cacao nibs or one’s favorite toppings.

For the whole week‭: ‬Santa Fe Slow-Cooker Chicken

Slow-cookers are the ultimate college necessity. Dump a bunch of ingredients in the pot, let them cook overnight and voila: home-cooked deliciousness. Here’s one with a tex-mex flavor.


     1 can Swanson 99% fat-free chicken broth

     1 can low-sodium black beans, rinsed and drained

     2 cups frozen corn kernels

     1 can diced tomatoes with mild green chiles

     ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro

     3 scallions, chopped

     1 teaspoon garlic powder

     1 teaspoon onion powder

     1 ¼ teaspoon ground cumin

     1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

     ¼ teaspoon kosher salt

     1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts 


In a slow cooker, combine broth, beans, corn, tomatoes, cilantro, scallions, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin and cayenne. Season the chicken with salt and lay it on top. Cover and cook on low for 10 hours or high for six hours. Thirty minutes before serving, remove the chicken, shred it with two forks, and return it to the slow cooker. 

For the Chinese take-out‭ ‬lover‭: ‬Cauliflower Fried Rice

Chinese food is a classic and delicious take-out option. But, all those delivery orders can hit the bank hard. Here’s a cheaper option to make at home.


     1 large onion diced

     1 ½ cup carrots diced

     2 tablespoons coconut oil

     1 teaspoon salt

     1-1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger 

     1 teaspoon garlic powder

     1 large cauliflower, grated

     ½ cup coconut aminos

     2 large eggs, scrambled

     ½ cup diced green onions 


In a large pan, cook the onion and carrots in the coconut oil until soft for about seven to nine minutes. Season with salt, ginger and garlic as it’s cooking. Once the carrots are tender, add the cauliflower and coconut aminos. Stir to evenly coat the cauliflower and cook for about five minutes. Push the mixture to one side of the pan and add the scrambled eggs. Stir until cooked, then mix in. Add the green onion, take off heat and serve.

Contact Ryann Sheehy at For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.