Ramen noodles are a stereotypical staple food for college students strapped for cash, but ramen isn’t especially nutritious.
One pack of ramen has almost 400 calories, 140 of which come from fat because the noodles are fried before they’re dried and packaged. There are also 1,660 mg of sodium, which accounts for about 70% of your daily sodium intake, as well as 52 g of carbohydrates in one pack.
There are a lot of things you can add to ramen to make the meal more nutritious while keeping it affordable under a tight budget.
To save yourself some calories, run some hot water over the noodles after you cook them to rinse off some of the oil used to preserve the noodles. Then, only use half of the packet of flavor and add an entire can of green beans, water and all. You’ll still get that salty ramen taste from the green bean water with some added vegetable nutrition. You can re-add some water and pop the whole thing in the microwave to heat the noodles again with the beans. For some healthy protein, drop an egg white into the hot water after you’ve cooked the noodles and stir until the egg has turned white like in egg drop soup.
Another cheap favorite food of college students is hot dogs, which are available at most grocery stores for about a dollar if you don’t mind a mixture of beef, chicken and pork. Hot dogs have a lot of salt, so chop up one or two and add them to your ramen as you cook it so the noodles get that hot dog flavor, then drain the whole thing together. Add half of the flavor packet back to the noodles and drop in some canned corn, which pairs well with the flavor of hot dogs. For a sweeter flavor, add the corn water instead of plain water.
Another idea is to cook and drain the noodles like spaghetti. Instead of adding the flavor packet, add a little bit of olive oil and chopped up string cheese, which tends to be part skim mozzarella and is on the cheaper side. Then add Italian seasoning, which can be found at most grocery stores for under $1. You can also add some Parmesan and garlic for an authentic Italian flavor. Another option is red pepper flakes, which also come pretty cheap and can add a little heat to your noodles.
You can also sauté some cheap and fresh vegetables to serve over your noodles. Celery, baby carrots, zucchini, onion and broccoli are cheap and have high nutritional value. Chop them up and cook them with a little bit of vegetable oil and soy sauce. Stir them often so the flavors meld together and serve them when everything is soft and tender. Cook the noodles in normal water and rinse them to get rid of the extra oil, then pour the vegetable mixture over the noodles. You can also cook in some peanuts, hot peppers and orange slices for a sweet and spicy Thai flavor.
For many students, nutrition comes last on the list of work, studies and a social life, but making small healthy additions to affordable foods can make a difference.