Sans Meal Plan: No money? No problem!

After a lovely week of sunshine, fried fish, and endless mudslides (the yummy kind, not the scary kind), we all find ourselves back on College Hill greeted by midterms and 40-degree temperatures. As the end of the semester fast approaches (#SeniorSpring #whatclasses), students who are either on or off meal plan are probably finding themselves in similar rock-and-a-hard-place situations. For those reliant on the Sharpe Refectory for nutrition and Jo’s for naughty food unmentionables, that special time of the semester when meal credits are starting to dwindle and flex points are virtually nonexistent has now arrived. For those of us off meal plan, the funds that were allocated for grocery shopping, whether from one’s own bank account or from the Rentals’, are somehow frighteningly tiny. But, luckily for myself and for starving college students everywhere (#firstworldproblems), there are ways to make the dollar stretch without eating from a fast food value menu all of the time.

Being somewhat of a foodie, I find it painful to imagine surviving the rest of the semester off of Ramen noodles and Stop&Shop-brand Easy Mac. After returning from Spring Break, I encountered a sneak peak into the rest of the semester if I were to never go grocery shopping again, and it was really really sad. Having no groceries in the house after cleaning out my fridge before spring break, I returned to Providence with a growling stomach, no food, and no time on my schedule to go grocery shopping for a few days. Although I would love to eat filet mignon every night, realistically, I have to make the dollar stretch a bit more for each meal if I want to still prepare my own meals regularly. Perhaps it was my semester abroad in France, or maybe it was my upbringing in sunny Southern California where the farmers markets are aplenty year-round, but I also have developed a bit of a food snob habit of snubbing meals without fresh fruits or vegetables. In general, it is extremely rare that I will voluntarily prepare a boxed meal and be happy. So, what to do?

Inspired by one of my favorite food blogs Feast on the Cheap, which breaks down the price of delicious homemade food by serving, I decided to make something that would feed me dinner for a week—and inexpensively, at that.

Psst... homemade lasagna rarely actually looks this neat.

Lasagna, both meatless and meatful(?) is a crowd favorite because it can be personalized for taste and accessibility to ingredients. If you’re feeling particularly homemaker-y, you can always prepare multiple lasagnas and freeze the extras after baking. Frozen lasagna will last for about three months, regardless of its innards, and is a great way to have a homemade meal at the ready any time.

To make basic and wonderfully easy lasagna, here’s what you’ll need:

To buy:

  • Oven-ready lasagna pasta: $2.00
  • 15oz tub ricotta cheese: $2.50
  • 16oz bag shredded mozzarella: $5.00
  • 6oz bag shredded Parmesan: $ 3.00 (you will have some left over — or maybe not if you decide you want to use it all. I don’t judge!)
  • Jar pasta sauce (26oz): $2.00
  • 1 egg: $0.20
  • 1lb ground turkey: $4 [optional, just omit if you want to be vege-tastic]

 =$18.70

=$1.57/suggested serving (12 per recipe)

=$2.34/ real human serving (8 per recipe)

 Already in your pantry:

  • Dried oregano
  • Dried basil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic/garlic powder
  • 9×13 pan/baking dish
  • foil

Note: I would err on the side of too much pasta sauce, because the no-boil lasagna noodles need to be basically completely submerged in the marinara to cook correctly. I always keep pasta sauce in my pantry (or canned diced tomatoes and tomato paste), so it was easy to add extra. If you don’t always have a jar or two at the ready, buy extra and just save the sauce in your fridge for another time… better to have too much tomato sauce than not enough for this recipe! Additionally, I usually try and bulk up my entrées with as many veggies as possible (that way, I can pretend my lasagna is actually healthy and not ooey-gooey cheesy goodness). I diced some onion, spinach, bell pepper, and mushroom that I had purchased for meals outside of this dish and added it to the meat sauce. No complaints here!

Now, here’s what you do:

  1. Preheat oven to 375.
  2. In a bowl, mix your egg with the ricotta cheese until fully combined. Add some Italian seasoning (basil, oregano, garlic powder, etc.)… I never measure this out, just do it to taste until the mixture is herb-speckled to your liking. Put this mixture in the fridge until you use it.
  3. Crumble your ground meat, if you decide to use it.
  4. In a large pan or skillet, brown your ground meat. I sautéed some onions, bell pepper, spinach, and garlic and then added my ground turkey. Cook until just brown; you don’t want to overcook, especially since your lasagna is going to be hanging out in a hot oven for another hour.
  5. Add pasta sauce to meat, and let simmer until the sauced is heated all the way through. Then remove from heat. If you’re bypassing meat, simply open your jar of pasta sauce and you’re done. Congratulations!
  6. Spread just enough sauce along the bottom of a 9×13 pan to cover it entirely. This will probably require ¾-1 cup worth of sauce.
  7. Lay down one layer uncooked pasta. Cover with 1/3 of the ricotta mixture, followed by a cup of mozzarella. Cover with another cup of sauce.
  8. Repeat step 7 two more times until all of the ricotta mixture is gone.
  9. For your top layer, lay down uncooked lasagna pieces and then cover with remaining sauce. If you don’t have enough meat sauce left over to completely saturate the dried noodles, open another jar of pasta sauce and use that, lest you be left with uncooked and hard pasta in the final product. Finally, cover your sauce with the last cup of mozzarella and then add about ½-1 cup Parmesan cheese (or however much you like). Alternatively, you could also slice some buffalo mozzarella to put on top, but I refer the sharpness of Parmesan.
  10. Cover your pan with foil and bake for 45-50 minutes.
  11. Remove foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes (or until done). I like to turn on my broiler at this point to create that nice brown cheese on the top layer.

This is a great and easy recipe that can either feed you for several days or feed a lot of people for little money. Word to the wise: lasagna creates a mouthwatering aroma when baking and may cause people to peek their heads in the kitchen asking when dinner is. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

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