Money College: Freeze your food, ice your savings

freezer"You're not eating right!"

Your mother pictures the collegiate diet and living space as reflections of one another, like a Bud Light house made entirely of ramen noodles. Believe it or not, meals that are no less versatile or convenient than salt-soaked noodles are yours to be had on any budget or schedule. Just freeze it then forget it.

Deanna Buxton, author of Dinner is Ready! 30 Meals in One Day, began freezing a month's worth of meals at once when her children were young and her schedule as hectic as a student's.

Trial and error resulted in fresh, versatile meals that resembled gourmet creations rather than the Campbell's soup-soaked atrocities so often associated with freezer meals. She estimates that by simply planning ahead, she cut her food bill in half.

Getting started
Buxton suggests that college students arm themselves with freezer bags, quality, brand-name plastic containers, and aluminum muffin tins before beginning their culinary adventure.

Muffin tins allow for single serving "ice cubes" of soups or side dishes, while sturdy freezer bags mold to available space. Reusable containers allow for grab-and-go convenience, yet she cautions against using off-brand bowls that might melt in the microwave.

Stir-frys and one-bowl meals are the perfect place to start. These sweet and sour chicken bowls include tender chicken, bell peppers, and a zesty soy sauce sweetened with brown sugar. For lunch portions, no refrigeration is required; just zap the entire container in the microwave for two to three minutes.

Viva variety
After mastering Asian-inspired lunch, try your hand at a main dish. Preparing and storing just one type of meat (apple roast pork, for example) can result in a scaled-down, full flavor cornucopia that lasts for weeks. Using Deanna Buxton's system, you can cook double batches of 15 meals, three at a time, resulting in a month's worth of cooking in just a few hours.

For example, beef or chicken simmered in taco sauce and frozen in a muffin tin takes on a new life throughout the week. Here, years of forced creativity and scavenging for free food will work to your advantage. Add whatever you have in your cabinet to round out what you've prepared. Sloppy joes in a wrap with sour cream? Ravioli soup with French fried onions? You may end up discovering a new favorite.

'Creativity is the ultimate'

Not every student has access to a full-sized kitchen, is an omnivore, or even has the motivation to plan a month ahead. After all, why on earth would you spend more time than you had to in the kitchen?

Discover what our grandparents knew and what groups of freshmen hovering around a cookie sheet still know: Cooking represents a social occasion. Invite friends, roommates, or even parents to help you prepare a new recipe or an old favorite. While you're at it, freeze a batch of cookie dough along with your nutritionally-balanced selections.

As for vegetarians, Buxton's advice is simple: Eliminate the meat from your favorite recipe and add tofu to taste upon preparation.

For those forever cramming items into a small dorm fridge, freezing is still a viable alternative. Buxton recommends using flexible plastic bags and miniature loaf pans, stacking as much as possible. As you eliminate bulky boxed items and prepackaged meals, space will magically reappear. By avoiding the preservatives, sodium, and saturated fat in these foods, the freshman 15 might disappear as well.

Ultimately, preparing and freezing the building blocks for a complete meal will afford students more savings and flexibility than even a 24-hour McDonald's can offer. "If you have something in your own kitchen, you're much more likely to avoid the fast food trap." she adds. "You're going to eat something worthwhile every single day."
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