Bowing down to the demon ramen and other collegiate culinary indignities and delights
September 10th, 2012
12:00 PM ET
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Editor's note: this is a part of FN Dish's Back to School Communal Table. Follow #pullupachair on Twitter and see other contributions below.

Sometimes, late in the night, the craving comes to me. I fight it, as I must, for the sake of decency and taste and everything I have strived for as a grown-up human being. I cannot...I will not...I must not...pour bottled Zesty Italian salad dressing over a heap of drained ramen noodles and slurp down the whole hot, harsh mess hunched over the kitchen counter in my bare feet. Even though (as I recall) it would be freaking delicious.

I swore an oath as art school ended - my best friend and I vowing in a low-rent, modern-day Scarlett O'Hara sort of way that we'd never again sustain ourselves on $.25 noodle packets, generic mac & cheese, off-label dried soup packets, past-their-sell-by-date baked goods and the other cheap but filling foodstuffs that have sustained broke students since the dawn of time (or at least the invention of the microwave). "Bowing down to the demon ramen," she called it. I nodded and agreed - she'd just always known better about grown-up things like that - but that didn't stop the pangs.

A few of my other college favorites:

– Boxed spaghetti with margarine (seriously - who could afford butter?), black pepper, curry powder and as much shake-on Parmesan cheese as I could spirit out of the pizza place in a napkin

– Boxed macaroni & cheese made with either the margarine or the milk (buying both at once wasn't in the cards most weeks) and as many mustard packets as I could get my paint-stained paws on

– Salad bar vegetables stir fried with peanut butter, duck sauce packets, white rice and an egg in my electric wok

– Baked potatoes with globs of cheap hot sauce or barbecue sauce mashed in with a fork

I'm ostensibly a grown-up lady now, one with actual metal silverware that didn't come as a supermarket giveaway, wedding china, cups not acquired at ballgames and fast food restaurants, and I swear I haven't hoarded condiment packets for at least a decade. But I can't say I'm not physically restraining myself from running down to the dollar store, nabbing the cheapest brick and bottle I can find, and shame-eating the whole concoction with the blinds down.

Let me know I'm not alone - post your favorite college food concoction in the comments below and we'll share them in an upcoming post.

I...have an errand to run...

P.S. Yes - ramen can be extremely fantastic, artistic and artisanal. I just didn't know that in college. Here are a few ways our iReporters like to get their ramen on.

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  1. Lauren

    Frozen broccoli nuked with some tomato sauce out of a jar + shredded cheese.

    I used to buy tubs of hummus, make my own tzatziki (yogurt + olive oil + herbs), and eat that with pita bread. I'd spend $8, and that would be enough for 3-4 dinners. The olive oil and herbs were extra, but the olive oil lasted a couple of years, and the herbs for a good 6 months.

    Also would 2 soups from Panera using their "you pick 2 options" – $5 for 2 meals.

    September 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
    • BldrRepublican

      This sounds high-end.

      Anything frozen requires a freezer, and many of us had only dorm friges (2×2 refrigerator). Pasta sauce? Nice, and a big step up from canned tomato sauce. Shredded cheese?? Who could afford that? Unless you mean the parmesan cheese packets from Pizza Hut.....

      Sounds like you had money during your college days.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:44 pm |
      • Ashweeeeee

        It is definitely possible to buy those cheap simple things... say... if you had two jobs while attending college like I did.

        September 10, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
      • Lauren

        My dorm had a mini fridge + freezer, and a microwave. A JAR of tomato sauce is a step up from a can? Yes in taste, and sure the price is higher, but you also get more in the jar.

        Didn't know $14 for 2 weeks worth of dinners meant I had alot of money. Though I had academic scholarships and chose a practical 4 year degree.

        September 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  2. BldrRepublican

    I'm sure others did the same, but:

    – Generic Mac-n-Cheese
    – Canned peas
    – Can of tuna (not Albacore).

    It would last all year in the pantry, and you could buy a lot of each very cheaply.

    On the good days, I'd finish it off with a Cherry Coke (but those were expensive!).

    September 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  3. bam

    grated cheese

    September 10, 2012 at 5:24 pm |
  4. newscmom

    Oh yeah, after I graduated, had a real job and was "rich", I lived alot on baked potatoes with a can of Chunky soup poured over it.

    September 10, 2012 at 5:22 pm |
  5. Ph8

    Oh, i remember those days, make a huge batch of spaghetti and sauce packs from the dollar store and day old french bread. Spaghetti for dinner and spaghetti sandwiches for lunch the next day! and yes, any place with condiments in a packet were fair game for "Procurement".

    September 10, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
  6. 1stSig

    Fried ramen....look it up on Youtube.

    September 10, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  7. bam

    Ramen Noodles? um EVERYONE college student eats these so they can afford beer....

    September 10, 2012 at 5:19 pm |
  8. jamesnyc

    I remember I had eaten so much mac n cheese and pasta before coming to new york, that I would go without if it was the only thing in the house. I can remember though that when I absolutely couldn't go to sleep, I would have ramen noodles with ketchup.
    This of course was before microwaves were invented. I remember having to boil water in a sauce pan because when I tried to use my tea pot with whistle, a cockroach would somehow find a way to clog the whistle hole. auuckk.
    Just the same, it nice to know I wasn't the only one living in this misery. LOL.
    Best to all the survivors and the new kids discovering the savory flavor of Ramen noodles. Peace...

    September 10, 2012 at 5:18 pm |
  9. Tee C

    This is gross, but in college we made a lot of potato chip soup casseroles. Take a bag of chips (the 25 cent ones), half a pack of ramen seasoning, and mix it with a little bit of water. Put it in the microwave until it's hot and chow down. If you were blessed, you could add an egg to the mix and then you REALLY had a meal :D.
    If you were blessed enough to have sugared cereal, I remember it being worth its weight in pure gold. Want your homework done? Offer up half a box of Captain Crunch; it's better than cigarettes in prison, lol.

    September 10, 2012 at 5:14 pm |
    • jamesnyc

      Actually it sounds like a cheap way to make au gratin. Great idea!

      September 10, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
    • Emily

      The dad of a college friend of mine used to work at a cereal factory, where employees got to keep the "mistake" batches of cereal. She'd get dozens of boxes of irregular cereal (usually generic peanut butter Cap'n Crunch) and pass them around to all of us. I probably ate my weight in generic cereal during the last couple of years of college.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:21 pm |

    Oriental flavor Ramen with chopped celery. Yummmmmm

    September 10, 2012 at 5:11 pm |
  11. other greats

    The past due tour:
    There was as Reser's distributor nearby and Fridays they would sell all there outdated stuff. You could get a 12 pack of bean burritos for a dollar. Their half gallon salads for a similar price. Throw in some taquitos for next to nothing and then wash it done with expired beers from the local distributor's dock sales. Fridays after payday were the best!

    September 10, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  12. Kelly

    My college roommate and I would get canned refried beans on sale, a big block of medium cheddar on sale and tortillas. That was dinner many, many nights. No microwave, so we'd heat up the beans on the stove top, slap on the cheese, let the cheese melt. Then splat it onto a tortilla...salsa once in awhile to enhance the flavor...another 'meal' was popcorn popped in a popcorn popper...nothing like it....

    September 10, 2012 at 5:09 pm |
  13. Emily

    I spent a particularly broke summer eating dinners of pasta mixed with homemade cheapo sauce – 1 can of tomato sauce, a few teaspoons of Italian seasoning, and a few dashes of garlic salt. It wasn't bad, but I got tired of it really fast.

    The local cheap Asian takeout place also had unlimited free kim chee. My friends and I would order lo mein or even plain rice and load up on free kim chee.

    Living in a can redemption state, I was able to pay for these gourmet meals after scrounging campus for cans and bottles. Only about a dozen or so fit in my back pack, but hey – that was 60 cents!

    September 10, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  14. Harvey Mainmanmole

    Jailhouse casserole – 2 boxes mac & cheese, 1 can of tuna, 1 can of cream of mushroom. Back in my day, cost around $1.50. and you'd get four meals.

    September 10, 2012 at 5:04 pm |
  15. Sam

    I still occasionally go "slumming" in the dollar section of my local store and if I'm lucky I see canned corned beef hash or potted meat food product priced at 2 cans for $1.00. Heat it up with a couple of fried eggs and you have a cheap breakfast that can't be beat!

    September 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
  16. Jay Dubs

    Dont forget crappy tv dinners too. I just got out of college but would get 10 crappy swanson or banquet tv dinners for $1.00 each when you buy ten. Its better than ramen noodles every night but not the best food for you.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  17. El Jefe

    Not working at a restaurant while in college is mistake #1. I worked at a Romano's Macaroni Grill. There I co-opted the bent silverware which was going to be thrown out, and was given 1 free huge pasta meal a day, which made for dinner for myself and roommate 5 days a week, while she was able to bring home appetizer foods from the sports bar she worked at which made for many of our lunches. For those meals I had to eat, the college-style specialty was...(get your recipe cards out)

    Pasta (Spaghetti or Angel Hair), with olive oil, salt, pepper, and the "leftover" Reggiano parmesean chunks the restaurant would dispose of after they got too small for use shredding at the table. Total cost per meal, about $0.40.

    Lucky for me, I was active enough that I was able to metabolize a week's worth of carbs every day, and took vitamins to supplement the fruits and veggies I was definitely NOT getting.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:57 pm |
    • newscmom

      I worked at 5 different restaurants throughout my college career and was only able to get food from 1 of them – was a sandwich place and the (not so honest) manager let me have all the sandwiches I could walk out with. I made them with bacon to take home for breakfast and lived on them for lunch and dinner that year.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
  18. Larry Leach

    When my wife and I first married we had $25 to feed us both for a week. We bought a whole chicken fried half and broiled the rest, made chicken soup with the leftover pieces. With the grease from the fried chicken I would make snicker doodle cookies with flour, cinnamon, sugar, egg and cream of tartar, With a cheap water injected hickory flavored ham shank we had breakfast meat and dinner plus ham salad and potato soup for an entire year.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  19. Michelle

    To this day I refuse to eat Ramen, Kool-aid and soup. I cannot and will not, no matter how broke I get (hopefully never). College SUCKED! I also hated those pampered silver spoon kids who would bring food to class. Like break out a sub sandwich or value meal in class. The rest of us starving, knowing all we had to look forward to for the week was Ramen. My worst meal in college was a drained can of tuna with ketchup on top. No drink, just tap water. I had to steal the ketchup from the Student Union. It wasn't even Heinz packets, it was generic ketchup (the absolute worst).

    September 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  20. shahriar

    Living on $20 a week in groceries. Only Caveat being you need to shop in China town(Toronto) for cheap fresh stuff.
    Breakfast: Soya Milk + Cereal
    Lunch: Pickled Tofu+ Rice
    Dinner: Steam chinese broccoli with soya sauce + egg fried rice

    September 10, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
    • El Jefe

      Oh man, all that about skyrocketing estrogen levels! Too much soy = not good!

      September 10, 2012 at 4:58 pm |
  21. other greats

    In the final years of college, I had a tad more cash and Applebees ran promotions for half off beer and wings after 10. For 2.99 you could walk away with a 22 oz beer and a half dozen chicken wings. Done son!

    September 10, 2012 at 4:52 pm |
  22. Bob

    Lets all sit around and tell disgusting stories...

    September 10, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
    • other greats

      Or, you could go stroke your high horse.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
    • Sam

      You must need a good BM or something. Jeez, what a buzzkill!

      September 10, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
  23. Bethany

    Thanks, Kat, this piece is great! I don't want to go back, but I'm having fun reliving my poor, starving college student days, and wishing I had been as creative as some of the other posters ;-)

    September 10, 2012 at 4:51 pm |
  24. HungryMan

    I made it through 4 years school on $.29 sliders and 10 cent cans of manderian oranges. Later I scored a job at a local pizza place and was allowed to take home one pie per shift. I thought I'd hit a lottery.................

    September 10, 2012 at 4:48 pm |
    • jessica

      LOL, I too worked in a pizza joint doing deliveries. We got fed every night, plain pizza. When I quit 10 months later I didn't eat pizza for about 2 years. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

      September 10, 2012 at 5:13 pm |
  25. Meh

    I still eat ramen noodles to this day sometimes just cause. I kind of enjoy that plain taste at times.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:46 pm |
  26. Steve

    I ate the free saltine crackers on top of the vending machines and drank a .25 cent coke, no ice, for dinner most Thursday nights (payday)while working at UPS on the night shift. The crackers were in a big box above the vending machines and were intended for those who purchased soup, chili, etc from the vending machine. I had no money for those "delicacies" and usually didn't have much to eat by the time Thursday came around, so the saltine crackers and the Coke had to do for dinner. This was not my favorite dinner but one that I'll always remember.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:43 pm |
  27. me

    Also used to buy the basic frozen pizza with room-mates and add whatever toppings we wanted/had (ground beef, cheese, olives....).

    September 10, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  28. Sam

    Rice-a-Roni and frozen burritos got me through many a night in my college days, as well as mac and cheese and ramen. Add in a few taco sauce packets from Taco Bell and you had a great meal!

    September 10, 2012 at 4:42 pm |
  29. Kathy

    You'll be eating those kind of things again once you are an empty nester, and if single. Talking on phone to my daughter the other day and was talling her what I bought to eat from the dollar store and she noted that I eat like a college student; box mac and cheese; spaghetti os; ramen; etc. These kind of things ,while not healthy eating, are easy for the single person to throw together. I try to add a lot of salad for lunches to make up for it,

    September 10, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  30. me

    I used to slice up hot dogs or Vienna sausage and add to pork & beans, noodles, or mac & cheese. I always like carrots or fruit when I could.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Ron

      OMG!!! I love hot dogs and mac & cheese. Just a sprinkle of chili powder on top makes it better:)

      September 10, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  31. Kevin O.

    You college kids of today are such n00bs. Back in my day we read obituaries and cried like we knew the stiff in the box, then went to the buffet after the service.

    Stupid kids today don't know how to live.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  32. other greats

    cold cream of mushroom soup (from the can) scooped out with saltines.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
  33. JK

    2 Staples mentioned there! Ramen and Mac&Cheese. Every 2nd or 3rd portion of either during the week I used to make the Mac with just marg and milk and swaped the "cheese" package with the seasoning from the Ramen to make Asian Macaroni and Cheesy Ramen to add a bit of variety to it all. Meat once a week (either ground beef as a base for noodles or a steak I got off my Dad) but there was strangely always money for a burrito at the Mexican on campus and for beer/martinis at night (martinis with lots of olives to make up for lack of funds for real food!. Of course Eric the Barman provided enough pretzels and peanuts to feed us! Now I can afford to get drunk on more expensive alcohols and awesome food (I became a chef)

    September 10, 2012 at 4:34 pm |
  34. Hidalgo222

    Ramen noodles with anything – diced hot dogs [protein!]; egg [dairy!]; anything green [vegetable!]; Stocked up on $.25 tacos from taco bell [freeze and thaw in microwave] for a month; Hamburger/ Tuna Helper specials – just add meat or tuna.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:33 pm |
  35. Ari

    1 egg
    2 slices of bread, or a bagel, or english muffin ( whatever is around)

    toast the bread and spread mayo on it. Lightly grease a bowl or storage bag and break egg into it and crush the yolk but don't whip air into it, microwave for 35-50 minutes. Dump egg onto bread and put other slice on top. If it is in the budget add sandwich meats, or cheese slice and tomato.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:32 pm |
    • Ari

      Ooop not minutes, seconds. lol the eggs would be rubber.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm |
  36. Dale

    This is still one of my favorites... Throw a potato in the microwave, when cooked cut in half and drown in cheap ranch dressing, if its bacon ranch it's even better.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:30 pm |
  37. MeToo

    You know, at first this grossed me out, but then I remembered having to do the same thing when I was first working and had my first apartment. (I didn't attend much college, I was lucky and landed a good tech job and ended up leaving college to work full time). I was always low on money towards pay day, and sometimes would even drive home for the weekends. But when at home, I would end up eating ramen. I remember having it for 3 days straight, lunch and dinner, until payday finally arrived. That was 25 years ago, and to this day, I still consider that the lowest point in my life.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:29 pm |
  38. So many d-bags on this thread

    Seriously, the article is a fun write up of what most of us went through when young, broke, and getting through school. Yes, there are healthier options, and yes you can probably find them within budget if it was important to you. The deal here is that College is a strange mix of play and study. When you were not studying, you wanted to be playing. And, when not playing or studying you were likely sleeping. So being able to whip up a culinary masterpiece with random ingredients and shoddy cookware was actually a well respected talent in college. Seriously, at two am there is nothing better than a guilty pleasure. That's true today as it was then. Taco bell anyone? Single slice pizza? Philly Cheese steaks? All of that food that is bad for you and you only eat it when 1) you're jones'n for a guilty pleasure, or 2) it's 2 am. So stick with the spirit of this article or go write you health food on a budget book but leave the rest of us to our fun.

    Now to add mine: Costco at lunch. Back in the day Cosco would serve sampler's of all their frozen foods during the lunch hour. We would borrow our friends mom's card and viola! Lunch for free.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
    • bobbiLee

      Well said.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  39. JRE

    We used to go down to the school cafeteria and get as many of the hard boiled eggs from the salad bar as we could. We'd take them back up to our dorm room and buy a .69 cent loaf of bread and mash the eggs together with some left over packets of mayonnaise and mustard, salt and pepper to make egg salad sandwiches. Delicious! Sometimes we were even able to get some onions off the salad bar to go in with it as well.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:27 pm |
  40. Susan

    Ramen noodles (drained) + sour cream + flavor packet = heaven.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:26 pm |
  41. Er Ko

    You people make me sick.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:25 pm |
  42. Shoe

    I went to college before microwaves. All we had were toasters and hot cups. I had so much peanut butter on toast and tomato soup that I can't even look at it any more.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:23 pm |
    • Ari

      Talking to my mom, she was in the same boat, but hers was sardines and tomato paste, cause it was the cheapest stuff.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  43. COG

    bologne "quesadillas" ...flour tortillas, american singles, bologne..microwave. Delicious especially if the bologne got crispy.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:22 pm |
  44. Memories

    I come from a time where there was no such thing as Ramen in upstate New York – but we did have 25 cent mac and cheese (sometimes 6 for $1.00 if we were luck) – make that and if we were rich we'd add some frozen peas – if we were really rich – a can of tuna. Also remember eating the boxed stuffing (can't remember the name) or Rice a Roni – yes it was carb overload but it's all we could afford. I didn't go out drinking much or partying – no cash. Such I could have cooked better, I'm a great cook (say I) but cash flow was always limited. I can serve (and have) 120 people for $3.00 per person – and we had enough leftovers to give to the shelter on the other side of the church.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:21 pm |
  45. linT

    Favorite meal (after we all pitch in for the ingredents) Tuna Casserole. l whole bag of pasta, boiled. Mixed with one can of tuna (water packed) and one can Cream of Mushroom soup. Fishy Pasta Glue. Sunday Dinner

    September 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  46. zethreal

    1/2 packet of ramen (your favored flavor)
    2 slices of american cheese ( or the same amount of your favorite 'melt friendly' cheese
    2 slices of bread.

    Boil noodles until el dente, drain except for about 1tsp or so. Return to the pan & mix in the flavor packet.
    Start grilling the bread ( as if you were making a grilled cheese )
    Put a slice of cheese on each slice of bread & melt.
    put as much of the ramen on one slice as you can.
    place the second slice of bread on top & carefully push down to stick them together.

    Grilled Ramen & Cheese sandwiches!

    It's better if there are 2 of you – make the whole package of ramen & you're good to go. The first time I heard about this, it sounded disgusting, but it's soooo good. I've actually added small amounts of finely diced sharp cheese to the noodles to glue them together & had it with tomato soup.

    You can also get some freeze-dried vegetables and rehydrate them while cooking the noodles & mix them in. When I get the chance, I will add some rough cut kimchi to the mix for a bit of a change-up in flavor.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm |
  47. Lisa

    I am reading this and wishing that I could still eat this food and not get fat! Now in my 30's if I even look at Mac and Cheese or Ramen Noodles I gain weight!

    September 10, 2012 at 4:13 pm |
  48. Janet

    Roomy and I existed on baked potatoes with NuMasca Margerine (and the bonus was a brightly colored bowl to keep when empty), Pot pies (four for a dollar) and large cans of Campbell's vegetable beef soup with saltine crackers broken up in it to make it like mush. That's what we lived on in 1968. No Ramen noodles yet. Wish there had been.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  49. John Lubeck

    Not a cook it yourself menu item, but I am so old that when we were really hungry on a cold day on campus in Colo. we would go to Round the Corner restaurant and get a massive plate of fries for 35 cents and a hot tea. They gave us free refills on the hot tea, pretty sure they were not supposed to. Even in those days a buck for a full meal was super cheap.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:12 pm |
  50. ItsDavy

    When I was in school, late 60's, I couldn't have a hot plate and microwaves weren't around. I made everything in a purke type coffee pot. It boild water for pasta and hardboiled eggs, mussels were cheap and I could steam them. also. ...I'd set an open can of what-ever in the water to heat it up and I could always make coffee.

    September 10, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
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