I love preparing my own food: There is a certain feeling of freedom that comes from knowing that an entire dish can be customized to my liking. Over the summer, I found solace from the hectic developments of the pandemic and politics by experimenting with elaborate meals such as miso ramen with chashu, eggs benedict with hollandaise, and lemon-garlic glazed cod.
However, as the semester comes to an end, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Although it might be easier to turn to Tim Hortons and Starbucks for the sake of convenience, preparing our own food is still an important source of comfort. Comfort comes in many forms, and I strongly believe that home cooking even the simplest meals can provide calming relief during stressful times. Cooking produces healthy sustenance, provides a creative outlet of sorts, and offers temporary mental relief from external anxieties. Below, I have shared four of my favourite healthy, cheap, and flexible meals to prepare during finals season.
Although they have a reputation for being bland, salads can be much more exciting than simply leafy greens. I like to make salads using a base of a combination of lettuce, spinach, and kale, but any greens can work. On days that I am not in the mood to make my own homemade ranch dressing, I use dressings purchased at the grocery store. I also like to throw in some carrots or cucumbers to add crunch and flavour if I have them on hand. For a heartier salad, toss in a protein such as tofu, smoked salmon, or grilled chicken, which can all add a luxurious element to your meal.
The great thing about fried rice is that it only really requires day-old rice, oil, and soy sauce for texture and flavour. From this base, you can throw any ingredients you have on hand into the frying pan—the more ingredients, the better it tastes. Besides scallions and scrambled eggs, which I personally feel are a staple for any fried rice dish, add vegetables like broccoli and carrots and protein like ground meat or tofu.
On cold days that leave you wanting something warm, bean soup is a savoury and substantive meal. Both canned and dry beans are affordable pantry staples. My personal favourites are pintos, limas, lentils, and chickpeas. To prepare dry beans, soak them in water overnight, and from there it is easy to make the soup by sauteing onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Then, cook the mixture in water or, for a more hearty soup, try stock. If I have cooked ham, I like adding even more protein to the mix.
For those who enjoy spicy foods, curry is a flavourful option. Personally, I like making homemade curry roux, but most supermarkets also sell inexpensive curry mixes. Curry is an excellent complement to many vegetables, such as potatoes, carrots, and kale. For a more ambitious meal, I like to serve with pork or chicken cutlets. Be sure to have some rice on hand to mitigate the intensity that comes from the spice.