Cents and Sensibility An Ode to the Food I Ate When I Was Broke Mary Dacuma

A woman found a spider in her Chef Boyardee ravioli last month. My first thought upon hearing the news was, “Ew.” My second thought was, “What are the odds?!” Because when I was a broke college student, I had Chef Boyardee almost every day for lunch. And I really mean almost every day. I’ve tried the whole spectrum of Chef Boyardee products many times over, including the Italian Sausage line. There was nary a spider to be found. I guess I’m just lucky.

Before you judge me for living off a diet of canned, processed food that has the texture of kindergarten paste, understand that when you are a college student who is both low on time and money (especially money), you make do with a lot of questionable food choices. At some point, you improve your predicament and one day you might even shop at Whole Foods! But in an effort to remember my beginings, I want to take a moment to honor the terrible, unhealthy, dirt cheap staples that allowed me to survive in my leanest years.

1) Ramen – Ramen is the base of the broke girl’s food pyramid. Five bowls of soup for a dollar? Hell yes. Plus, if you throw some veggies in there, you can make it healthy. Kind of. Just don’t look at the sodium content.

2) Hamburger Helper – On Fridays, when I really wanted to spoil myself, I picked a Hamburger Helper meal and a tube of ground beef. (I find that the tubes are always cheaper than the freshly packaged stuff and I don’t want to know why.) That boxed beef stroganoff was heavenly and I honestly don’t care that it was bathed in a white lake of partially hydrogenated oils.

It should be noted that as a Catholic, this became Tuna Helper during Lent. It wasn’t as tasty, but it cost about the same.

3) Boxed Macaroni and Cheese – Cheese is expensive. Wait. Scratch that. REAL cheese is expensive. And let’s be real. When you have papers to do and a hangover to nurse, grating is both dangerous and a waste of time. Boxed mac and cheese really hit the spot when I wanted something warm, salty and gooey. I mean, who needs baked brie when you’ve got something that resembles melted cheddar? (Actually, that’s a lie. I totally would have preferred some baked brie.)

4) Cheap Wine – I don’t have a very discerning palate when it comes to wine. My knowledge of vinology only goes so far as red goes with steak, white goes with fish and champagne goes with breakfast. So when I had some celebrating to do, I gathered up the change from my sofa cushions and picked up a bottle of the cheap stuff – Andre Champagne, Barefoot Wine, maybe even the boxed stuff if I was having a lot of people over. I kind of wish I had HelloGiggles around back then to give me recommendations. But for the most part, if I poured the wine in the kitchen so my guests never saw the bottle, they never knew the difference.

5) Drugstore Chocolates – Just because you are in constant danger of overdrafting your checking account doesn’t mean you can’t indulge. You just have to be smart about it. A box of Russell Stover Chocolates will last you a week or at least two days if your boyfriend dumped you. Although, if it’s the latter you may want to opt for Dove chocolates, since they come with inspiration.

Image from ZOMGCandy.com

In the years since my broke college days, I’ve become quite the foodie/beer snob/Farmer’s Market advocate. But there will always be a special place in my heart of the sustenance of my poor youth. And to those of you who are still in the trenches of budget warfare, fear not and feel no shame! There is a light at the end of the tunnel and that light comes from the candlelit glow of a hipster tapas bar. Until then, your processed goodies will do just fine. And honestly, you’re probably not going to get any spiders.

Image by Shutterstock

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  1. When I first moved out I lived solely off of Ramen noodles for 3 months .

  2. I am definitely in that stage of my life right now… and let me just tell you, during fall semester my body mass will be 70% Kraft Mac N Cheese.

  3. I sympathize with this so much! I’m in my senior year of school and so ready to enjoy the finer things in life.

    Thanks for boosting my self esteem about 39059035 points. I don’t feel like I’m the only one.

  4. Hahaha– totally agree about Dove chocolates being worth it because of the inspirational quotes.

    • Not to go all “fangirl” on you, but the fact that you laughed at something I wrote pretty much fulfills my creative aspirations. Breaking out the Andre champagne right now.

  5. Andre champagne is my fave!! I’m 28 and my cheap arse still drinks it!

  6. yeah ramen!

  7. Awesome article doesn’t. Make me feel so bad about being married so young and poor lol

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