Dining hall food is one of the worst parts of college: It’s fucking expensive and mediocre at best. Your school charges you for food they assume you’ll steal from them, making it even more of a rip-off. Since you’ve been preemptively accused of theft, you might as well fill up a few self-supplied takeout containers whenever you make a visit to your dining hall. In fact, it’s not even stealing: You’re paying for that shit so it’s yours.
This extremely well-thought-out philosophy of mine has earned me the haughty title of “Klepto Queen” among my friends. As an obsessive smoothie drinker, my habit began by stashing bananas and spinach in my backpack to throw in my blender the next morning. I realized it was ridiculous to buy groceries when I was already paying for unlimited food, so I started doing most of my grocery shopping at my dining hall. It’s like asking your neighbor for a cup of sugar when your neighbor keeps industrial-sized bags of sugar stocked 24/7.
“Shopping” at your dining hall is also a great way to improve your cooking creativity, because it forces you to be flexible. You don’t have to be afraid of taking risks because your bill is constant no matter how much food you take, so if your creation winds up inedible, not to worry—just go back and snag more.
Here are two recipes made with ingredients that I am fairly confident can be found in every dining hall (but if you can’t find the suggested ingredients, try improvising!). I’m aware that most people on a meal plan don’t bring pots, pans, a food processor, and a blender to school with them, so both recipes can be made using just the microwave and freezer or fridge in your building’s kitchen.
LETTUCE WRAPS WITH PEANUT SAUCE
What you’ll need: peanut butter, a spicy or umami sauce of some kind (soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, some kind of spicy chili thing), vegetables that are cut into small or thin pieces (carrots, cucumber, bell pepper, tofu—which is not a vegetable but still delicious), pieces of lettuce that are big enough to hold vegetables (if your salad bar only has chopped lettuce, your school garden might have lettuce and be willing to share. If not, lettuce is cheap. So are spring-roll wrappers, which I actually prefer and which don’t spoil easily when left dry).
Back at your dorm, divide up your vegetable mixture into your wraps. Then slowly stir some cold water into your mixture of peanut butter and whatever sauce you found until it’s creamy. You could also use peanut sauce as a salad dressing or over noodles with stuff like broccoli and chicken.
LEMONADE FRUIT POPS
What you’ll need: a paper takeout cup, 2-3 coffee stirring sticks, lemonade (or some other type of juice), pieces of fruit (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries).
In the dining hall, fill your takeout cup with a couple of inches of lemonade. Put the cup in your kitchen’s freezer. Mash up your fruit with a fork so that it’s still a little chunky, then mix it into the partially frozen juice. When the mixture is almost frozen but still soft, shove your coffee stirring sticks into the center. One stick will be too flimsy to hold up your fruit pop, so that’s why you’ll need to stick in a couple (just in the same place as if it’s one stick). After it’s frozen solid, peel the paper cup away from the pop.
If you can find a chocolate source in your dining hall (my dining hall has chocolate chips as a topping option at our waffle bar), you can also use the takeout cup technique to make chocolate peanut-butter cups. Melt the chocolate in a microwave or on a stove. Pour a layer into the bottom of a takeout cup and let that harden in the fridge or freezer. After it hardens, add a glob of peanut butter. Then drown the peanut butter with more melted chocolate. When the second layer is finished hardening, peel away the cup.