The internet is full of “simple” and “low-cost” recipes and shopping lists made by people who sound like professional chefs, but the people who really need help are the ones — like me — who are shitty cooks who don’t know the difference between a skillet and a pan. When my stomach is doing its best imitation of the distant call of Cthulhu at midnight and I’m crouched in front of a toaster oven frantically searching for ways to make my surroundings edible, the absolute last things I want to see are infinite Pinterest recipes for coffee mug cupcakes and curried chickpeas with spinach. For those simple-minded kindred spirits, these barebones items cost little money and less time, combine well, can last all week, and don’t take up too much fridge room.
Pots, pans and plates: I get it, it’s the first item on the list and it isn’t even food. Firstly, pots and pans are indeed edible with enough effort. More importantly, it’s important to have balance between the shit that you’ll eat and the shit that you’ll need to make the shit that you’ll eat. My first semester, I bought a whole container of oatmeal to bring with me before moving on campus but quickly realized that it’s difficult to make oatmeal without any bowls. I have to make sure others don’t fall into the sand traps of stupidity I did. Mainly, you’ll need a deep pot with a handle for boiling things, a skillet for frying and searing things, and some paper plates for obvious reasons. Tupperware is also a good investment if you feel like you’ll spend too much money on paper plates over the course of the semester: like plates, you can eat off Tupperware containers and microwave them, but Tupperware lasts longer and can also store leftovers.
Chicken/ground beef: H-E-B sells pre-seasoned packages of chicken that can serve as dinner for a week. Drumsticks can be baked in the oven in a pan or on a cooking sheet (the big, flat, metal rectangular things your grandma made cookies on), though this requires oven mitts. Slap some chicken breast on the stovetop (not directly, use a skillet) and cook it until edible, or chop it up and add it to pasta. The same process can apply for hamburger meat as well. Also, in addition to baking the meat or browning it on the stovetop in a skillet and putting it in pasta, I once learned by accident when I was trying to defrost some hamburger meat that it can be cooked in the microwave if it’s in small enough chunks. To be safe, just make sure it’s not pink; the rule of thumb is if it’s brown, you can eat it.
Rice/pasta: Just boil it and add sauce, and maybe the aforementioned meat for good measure. Dried pasta or rice lasts a long time and doesn’t have to be kept in the fridge. If you share my under-refined palate and gift for wasting money on non-food-related-things, these dried lifesavers also don’t taste that bad on their own.
Bread: Bread is great college food for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it’s cheap. If you’re paying more than $3 for a loaf of bread, you’re doing something wrong. Additionally, if you buy your favorite sandwich stuff (PB&J, cold cuts, or cucumbers if you lack taste buds) to go with it, you have lunch for a while. Bread also allows the enviable luxury of variety when you come up with new, hunger-fueled inventions and combinations.
Canned goods: If you want to eat like you’re camping without the charming wildlife or beautiful night skies, canned goods aren’t a bad way to go. Fruit for a snack, sauce or veggies for the pasta/rice, beans as a side … you get the idea. My first semester, I just bought seven cans of soup every week and had one for lunch every day — not exactly pretty, but like I said, there’s a dearth of food recommendations for non-pretty types.