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. Paul B. Huntington III

    students dont eat like that anymore.

    students qualify for foodstamps if they dont have an income and can eat quite well.

    even students from wealthy familys can get food stamps if they dont work while going to school.

    most kids know where i live, as soon as they turn 18 they can apply for food stamps if they dont have a job that pays very good or just dont have a job.

    i know 2 18 year old kids who are still in high school and live at home and get food stamps. they spend it on soda and chips and stuff for their friends.

    September 10, 2012 at 1:11 pm |
    • nev

      Dude... You live in a very nice bubble. I am a college student now and I don't qualify for food stamps because a) I live out of state, and b) I apparently make "too much" (I get board expenses and very little living expenses–and I live on-campus because it's cheaper than living with roommates off-campus). Therefore, I eat stuff like ramen and soup all the freaking time.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
    • bobbiLee

      Paul, every party has a pooper. Congratulations, you win today.

      September 10, 2012 at 4:31 pm |
    • John Lubeck

      I will actually defend Paul. When I was in school, my rich kid friend and roomy went and got food stamps. But don't generalize too much. Later on, when I lost my minimum wage job trying to get through school by myself and was dead broke, the lady at the county didn't like the way I looked and refused to give me food stamps although I was on my last few dollars.

      September 10, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  2. slupdawg

    Split hotdogs in half lengthwise, cut balogna in half, fry up w/ onion slices and eat w/ ketchup (or mustard I suppose). Boil potatoes, mash with fork and add margarine, S & P. Pretty damn good.

    September 10, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  3. mike

    Sorry folks, I ate good regardless of being poor. Watched my spending at the grocery store, planned ALL meals, Shared dinners with roommates, ate meat – just less of it & lots of fruits and veggies.

    I remember making hamburgers in the popcorn popper ( old style ) in the dorm room. Delicious.

    Add canned tuna to the boxed mac & cheeze with chopped carrots, celery & onions = "Tuna Delight"

    Lots of stir fry with a little flank steak.

    Baked potatoes with all the fixins.

    Beef Stew, with not a lot of beef.

    And best of all, Lamb chops one a month, buy the shoulder cut not the good ones.

    Good eats often requires some smart thinking, not a big budget.

    Learned a lot back then on how to make the most of what I have available, carry that lesson learned on to this day with my own family & kids.

    A lesson worth learning, we would all be better off as a country maybe.

    September 10, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
    • Ally

      Not everyone focused on the food they ate quite that much. I could have bought more elaborate food as well. But sitting in a dorm with only a microwave makes it a hassle to do much in the way of cooking. No sink, no stove, no hot plate. Just my microwave and the water fountain in the hallway.

      September 10, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
      • mike

        True, dorm room was quite limiting for me as well. Moved into a house for the last 2 yrs, mostly so I could stop starving and cook for myself when and as needed. You need a real kitchen to ramp it up a bit.

        September 10, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
  4. KayJay

    Sardines, crackers, and hot sauce. Delish!!!

    September 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  5. Andy

    Cooked spaghetti dumped into a frying pan with an egg, a chopped up onion, and soy sauce. My 'college' version of a frittata. I still make it every now and again.

    September 10, 2012 at 1:07 pm |
  6. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    ramen + hot sauce + 1 egg + 2 slices American cheese = stick to your gut for hours meal

    September 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  7. slupdawg

    Ramen noodles, peanut butter, sriracha, soy sauce, a bit of margarine, little splash of sesame oil if you got it.

    September 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  8. Eat

    A bag of frozen veggies to dump in your ramen makes a big diff.

    September 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
  9. College McCollegeton

    Beer

    September 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  10. 99%

    Ive been on my own (not my choice) since i was 18, so I chose to attend a 4 year community college and worked full time. I got my bachelors degree and never starved. Had no loans, my own place, my own car, work experience and a diploma.

    September 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • Guest

      This is related how? Or do you just cavort around the internet all day tooting your own horn?

      September 10, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
      • 99%

        damn right

        September 10, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
    • bubba

      well its kinda obvious by your post why you are on your own.... no room for anyone else with your ego.

      September 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
      • Sam

        But we praise students who go to universities they can't afford so they are forced to eat ramen noodles? How does that work?

        September 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • Foodpimp

      Seriously dude. Who cares? Christ, I work with a guy just like you. Absolute tool and a self-centered schmuck.

      September 10, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
    • Steve ( another American ) - Why even mention?

      Here let us prepare your meal for you. Another plate of "dormant insecurity", a side of "narcissism" nad a AT ALL GLASS OF STFU.
      Oh and some vinegar and water because you're a douche.

      September 10, 2012 at 1:27 pm |
    • bam

      so u afforded liquor how?
      ah u had no friends

      September 10, 2012 at 5:31 pm |
    • VladT

      Most community colleges don't offer 4 year degrees......

      September 11, 2012 at 7:20 am |
  11. SoCalStephen

    Baked potatoe, margerine, thousand island dressing, sprinkled with artificial bacon bits (the last three items lifted from the school salad bar. Still get cravings, something about the flavor and crunch. Try it – you will be surprised. Also, oyster sauce on baked potatoe wtih butter. Oyster sauce on eggs, mashed potatoes, hamburger helper – well anything. Don't knock it until you try it – everyone tells me it sounds gross but when I made if for ALL of them and did not tell them what it was, they wanted more. Go figure.

    September 10, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • SoCalStephen

      Please ignore my Dan Quale moment .....

      September 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
      • Steve ( another American ) - Why even mention?

        Nice Save.

        September 10, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  12. Nolan

    Grilled cheese on the iron...we weren't allowed to have hot plates. I have to say, I not craved this since.

    September 10, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
    • Hal

      No Nola, you can't do that.

      September 10, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  13. Michael

    How about pickle sandwiches......or pasta ketchep sandwiches.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:59 pm |
  14. Meathead24

    Cup 'o Pizza.....the best pizza in a cup ever. This guy is unbelievable. He ran the old Cup 'o Pizza guy out of business. People come from all over to eat this!

    September 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  15. Abby

    Thin spaghetti topped with cut up chicken nuggets and srirachi/peanut sauce. (Still eaten in secrecy even though I'm an 'adult'!)

    September 10, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  16. jillmarie

    I still can't stomach Iceberg Lettuce- I made lots of salads with that during my college days. Plus any fruit I could grab from the student dining hall- I didn't have a meal plan but the workers there were nice to me and let me in anyway. I had access to the salad bar there and would take some home. They told me there was so much they had to throw out, so I never felt bad.
    I still make a cabbage soup that was a staple for me back then- it's still delicious to me, and I may use some more decadent ingredients in it like leeks, artichoke hearts, etc...
    I remember lookingin the dented can section of the supermarket a lot- a habit I still have, lol! And looking through the circular and only buying things I had coupons for. When I picked out the coupon items, my shopping was done. Thinking back, it streamilined my shopping trips!
    Also, lots of scallions, kiwis, and bananas as they tended to be low cost.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
    • jillmarie

      I forgot potatoes! I used to bake them or microwave them and season them simply with salt, pepper and chives. I'd steam up some broccoli to go with it- or whatever veggies from the school salad bar. Sometimes with a little butter. I did not gain the freshmen 15- I used the college gym and got in the best shape ever. More college students should focus on defying the dreaded 15- treat it like it's a challenge!

      September 10, 2012 at 3:08 pm |
  17. italiangirl17

    Raw hotdogs (on sale of course) was a go to favorite. The other was the cheapest bread I could find dunked in italian salad dressing.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  18. Monica

    I lived on these REALLY cheap off-brand frozen pizzas. I think they were about 70 cents each (circa 2003-2004). I'm sure they had more sodium than I needed in a week and more calories than should be consumed in one sitting, and I'm not entirely sure the "pepperoni" was real, but I was broke. Whatcha gonna do.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  19. Erica

    Ramen Noodles with the seasoning packet, soy sauce, hot sauce, 1 egg, frozen peas and/or corn, and pepper

    September 10, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  20. jbly1010

    Cheap chicken legs or thighs with a ketchup/mustard/garlic powder/onion powder paste smeared all over and backed. The paste flavors would bake into the chicken and it rocked!

    September 10, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  21. Michael

    Staples are important. When you have some money make sure to get olive oil and a few spices.

    Rice + Curry powder + Frozen soybeans (or other cheap frozen vegetable) (about a 1$ or less a meal)
    Frozen soybeans (or green beans) + an avocado + garlic + lemon juice & cilantro if you have it
    Canned chicken + cilantro + garlic + cherry peppers if you have them (or crushed red pepper, sometimes free with a pizza) mix and put on toast.
    Cream of mushroom soup + tuna on toast.
    Mixed frozen vegetables + ramen noodles.
    Canned chicken or tuna + garlic or salt and pepper to taste (curry works well too) folded in lettuce leaf (stores for a day or two, to get multiple meals in)

    Invest in cheap tupperware and store left overs. Dump them in a big pot every couple of days and make soup. Drop in everything you have including the bread crumbs and cracker crumbs and chip crumbs for flavor and extra calories. Freeze left over soup for another day.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:54 pm |
  22. Rachel

    Rice topped with a sauteed mix of canned veggies from Costco (usually tomatoes, asparagus, mushrooms, and garlic). Dash of salt and pepper!

    September 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  23. Justin

    Fancy Chips: Tortilla chips with cheese melted on them in microwave- known as nachos to most, but then you add anything else in the fridge that is about to expire or just because you grabbed it, namely Bacos and jalapenos

    September 10, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
    • Amanda

      I'm pushing 30 and living just fine, but this is still my favorite late night go-to (secret) snack. :p

      September 12, 2012 at 5:05 pm |
  24. Bob

    Always money for beer though!!!

    September 10, 2012 at 12:51 pm |
  25. hop

    Never ate a salad until college. Student Union had a plate of salad for two bucks–I learned to eat salad. We used knives and full size club crackers to concoct a scaffolding that would create a plate o' salad that was almost two feet across! That lasted a month until the Union went to "pay by weight" salad and I went back to Ramen.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  26. emmDFW

    REAL rice - not that fancy boil-in-the-bag kind - cooked with a can of chunky chicken & vegetable soup.
    Spaghetti with "clam sauce" - I mean, a can of chunky clam chowder soup.

    When I didn't have a dollar for a can of soup, it was just rice or spaghetti, maybe with some Parmesan cheese.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  27. Kevin

    Hamburger helper.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • PickyEater

      No...just "helper" Can't afford hamburger

      September 10, 2012 at 12:56 pm |
  28. ange

    Fried rice with spam, egg and ketchup!

    September 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • paul

      i thought i was the only one that ate spam fried rice.
      but i did it after college. i has a job – why?

      September 10, 2012 at 1:14 pm |
  29. Mike the American

    Store brand bread, store brand deli meat (low-sodium of course), pickles, mayo, cokes, store brand ruffles and french onion dip. Add some decent baby spinach to the sandwich (you can get a cheap bag of it for like 4-5$).

    September 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
  30. Old Fashion

    I'm not a college student anymore but I still love and eat ramen noodles. I usually stir fry vegetables with a little bit of meat or any left over you have in the fridge then add the boild ramen noodles. Oh,,,it's so good.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Mike the American

      Man I was never that broke in school. Ramen noodles. May as well eat canned cat food. yuck.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
      • Mmmeow

        I highly recommend ramen with 1/2 a can of Fancy Feast....

        September 10, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
      • Steve ( another American ) - Why even mention?

        Dude, happy for you that you were never that broke. Maybe you ought to post in a thread that caters to those that "were never that broke". And uhmm,is there something you're trying to prove by mentioning your an American as well?
        LOL, I'm sure you've eaten / done worse.

        September 10, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
      • VladT

        What does financial standing have to do with anything? I never was broke ( not bragging, just my family was always steady middle class, and with the exception of the first few months after college of working at Del Taco, I have been too ). However, my sister and I always loved making Ramen, whether it was straight from the package, or simply adding veggies and chicken. Good stuff.

        September 11, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • ange

      Same here. However, I've upgraded from $0.25 packets of Maruchan to the fancier offerings like Shin Ramyun Black from Asian supermarkets. I add some fresh bok choy, chicken breast and an egg to make a pretty decent meal out of it.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  31. audra

    boil in a bag rice with butter (who am I kidding, margarine) with salt and pepper. Me and my two roommates would sit down on the couch and pass it around. If we were lucky and we had some extra cash (not spent at the bar that night) we would also share a bottle of cherry 7-up (Yuck). Those were the days. I don't see how anyone can gain the freshman 15 when you can't afford to eat. I lost the freshman 15.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Try again...

      Extra money "not spent at the bar that night".

      You were never too poor to eat well. You just didn't have your priorities straight. 2 beers at a typical bar (conservative quantity) is about $3 these days. If you do that every night, that's $21 a week. My typical grocery bill, without being to careful, is $30.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:55 pm |
  32. Michael Vick©™

    Dog meat stew. Stray dogs are free if you can find them.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
    • Mike the American

      Good to see you here Ron Mexico.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
    • Michael Vick©™

      Ramen noodles has too much MSG and has no protein at all. The best college food has to be dog meat stew. No MSG and rich in protein. Dog liver contains tons of vitamin B complex and that's like food for your brain.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
    • VladT

      Watching people attempt comedy is usually more funny then the "joke" itself

      September 11, 2012 at 7:11 am |
  33. Larry Francis Jr

    Beef Ramen with a small can of mixed vegetables or fried and diced up luncheon meat. 12 and a half years later out of college and I -still- find myself craving that now and then.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  34. Chuck Anziulewicz

    There is nothing wrong with ramen noodles. They can turn a few spoonfuls of leftover stew into a filling meal.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  35. steve

    Fried bologna sandwiches with cheese & mustard.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      That actually sounds kinda delicious.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:45 pm |
    • Larry Francis Jr

      Depends on the brand of bologna, but yeah, good stuff.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
      • slupdawg

        The best is if you have them slice it double thick at the deli.

        September 10, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  36. ME

    Mix all of that with your weekend allotment of MD 20/20, Thunderbird, and Fighting Cock, and you've got a gut full of pain come Sunday.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
  37. Michele

    instant potatoes with cream of mushroom soup gravy- OMG good!

    Ramen cooked with frozen veggies, drained, cook a beaten egg in a little water and the seasoning packet. Pour over ramen. Yum.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:38 pm |
  38. Art

    Cheeto Burritos.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  39. ohhai

    Art school huh? Surprised you're not still in poverty! (not a jab, just know how hard it is to make $ with art!)

    September 10, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Ha! I even went on to grad school and got an MFA in metalsmithing. I...don't do that anymore.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  40. truefax

    I had a meal plan, and they made the BEST Egg and Cheese buiscuts I have E V E R had. Boy's I suppose just got the meal plan and ate the food, the Z grade meat I remember tasted great it doesn't have to look good to taste good. Go figure.

    But for those times when I was hungery and missed the meal for whatever reason... Ketchup sandwiches and noodles.
    Bread + ketchup (and anything else edible). Spagetti with ketchup was for when I had people over, I also used to make a mean tuna salad for those special occasions (no ketchup involved).

    September 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  41. blahblah

    Oh college. I remember those food lacking days vividly. I went to school earning a whopping 50 bucks a month and a meal plan. We would do our best to steal as much food from the cafeteria during scheduled meals as possible but transitioning from a practical buffet in the parents house to the starvation that was college was tough. I totally agree (although your meals were much much fancier) with buying noodles, peanut butter, and margarine if you were lucky. We would often just put cajun seasoning on cooked noodles and call it a meal daily. I remember a few extreme moments of just eating raw peanut butter with a spoon to increase calorie intake when funds had dried up and we missed school meals. We all had those friends that went and donated plasma to multiple places just to increase the monthly funds. Thank goodness those days are over. I

    September 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  42. Alex

    Macaroni and cheddar cheese soup.
    Canned tuna and blue cheese dressing tacos

    September 10, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  43. Dave

    Saltines w/peanut butter

    September 10, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
  44. Jethro

    Cook a boil-in-the bag rice packet. Strain some canned beans. Microwave a handful of frozen corn. Mix it all together with a packet of "taco seasoning". It's actually fairly decent, and healthy.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  45. Rick

    Ramen with one egg & soy sauce– egg drop soup!

    September 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  46. Victoria Wroblewski

    If I was flush with some cash to spend (went to college in the city of Chicago, no car so the only grocery store was the neighborhood one, NOT as cheap as mega marts) it was a jar of Prego (the mushroom one) and a loaf of french bread for dinner. Hit sauce, tear off bread, dip and eat.

    If I was not a flush with cash and there was a sale, it was a container of French onion dip and a box of breadsticks.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  47. JellyBean

    French fries and mayo.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  48. Jess

    Instant potatoes; instant stuffing... anything that was, well... instant & horribly cheap.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  49. AleeD®

    Ramen, 1/2 the flavor packet, turkey ham, parm cheese

    September 10, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  50. Mildred

    French fries with sour cream.

    September 10, 2012 at 12:13 pm |
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