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The Off-Meal-Plan Plan: Monthly experiments in eating on a budget

For January, making the most out of unassuming dining hall foods

Hello dear Herald readers, 

Last semester I embarked on a personal challenge: dedicating myself to maximizing the off-meal-plan lifestyle while minimizing cost. The foundations for my cooking came in a fit of strategy that mainly involved gathering a few supplies from the Ratty whenever I could get an underclassman to extend me a guest swipe. After hearing word of my “expertise” in not only cheating surviving off-the-meal-plan but also making it a creative and exciting experience, The Herald invited me to detail some of my most successful recipes. I’ll start by sharing my roots and highlighting the versatility of unassuming dining hall foods. 

Tomato Egg Noodles

Cherry tomatoes: Veggie costs can add up! So these tomatoes — easy to find at the Ratty — always come in handy and last a good few days in the fridge. I love using these in Chinese egg and tomato stir-fry poured over Chinese noodles (because I’m too lazy to cook rice) topped with scallions.


Every Chinese family has their own way of making this dish, so I’ll just tell you how my mom likes it. Beat the eggs, fry them until they’re scrambled, then take them off the stove and place them back into the same dish you used for mixing in order to gather any leftover uncooked eggs. Add oil, chopped garlic and cherry tomatoes to the pan and simmer until the tomatoes are soft and jammy — I add water and cover the pan with a lid to speed this process. Once the tomatoes are juicy, add the eggs back and season with soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and — most importantly — sugar to cut the sourness of the tomatoes. Add your noodles and season to taste. I also eat this with Lao Gan Ma (delicious chili oil).

Peanut Noodles

Peanut Butter: Creamy, crunchy… the Ratty has them all. A cup of this stuff lasts me weeks. For another noodle dish I mix peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, oyster sauce (if I have it) and water in a hot pan to make a super simple and delicious sauce. I measure these out by heart, but you can do what feels right. This is also the perfect dish for clearing out leftover vegetables in your fridge since you can just throw them into a stir fry and add the noodles and sauce (I also like the Ratty cherry tomatoes in this). Top with scallions and sesame seeds!

Egg and Edamame Stir Fry

Edamame: How I love it when the Ratty salad bar has edamame! For another easy Chinese dish, whisk some eggs and fry them with edamame. Season with soy sauce, sesame oil and salt, if needed. Pair with rice (this dish is, unfortunately, not saucy enough to eat with noodles).

Hopefully, these ideas will inspire you in your on-campus — or off-campus — cooking adventures. Next month I’ll find a sweet recipe to share!


Jennifer Chen

Jen Chen is the illustration co-chief and a junior studying Computer Science. She's especially interested in medicine, art history and environmentalism. Jesus is her passion and studying is her game.

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