Graduating from high school is a huge achievement that signals a transition from childhood to adulthood. As exciting as it is, it’s also really hard! Here are some of my favorite tricks and tips for coping with this massive change, as well as a comprehensive list of cheap and easy-to-make meals you can make with only minimal equipment that will fit in a dorm.
A dear friend (and my old college roommate, Marianna) has a baby brother who graduated from high school this year. (Congratulations, Aki!!!!) She reached out to her friends to create a scrapbook of sorts, asking us to share memories, advice, music, and cheap meal ideas to help a new graduate navigate the weird transition to adulthood.
I loved the prompt so much, I couldn’t help but want to post it. If you have a young adult in your life who could use a little encouragement or needs to know they’re not alone in feeling wigged out about their next steps, please feel free to share.
And, if you have any of your own essential songs, words of wisdom, or struggle meals that helped YOU get through a rough time, please feel free to drop them in the comments! Spotify playlists and recipe links are totally encouraged. 😎
Things I’d Tell My 18-Year-Old Self:
Consider this my Ooh La La — all the things “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger”:
- Be unapologetically yourself. Being authentically weird is way cooler than fitting in.
- No matter how old you get, life usually feels like ambling forward in the dark. That’s ok. It’s a weird, zig-zaggy path. You’ll end up where you’re supposed to be if you just trust your gut.
- It’s your life, so live it for you — not anyone else. Follow your heart and your dreams. Don’t settle to make someone else (anyone else) happy.
- Parents are flawed, and they’ll likely disappoint you as much as you disappoint them. The older you get, the more you realize they’re just humans like the rest of us and they definitely make just as many mistakes. Learn forgiveness, and, more importantly…
- Some people you love the most aren’t gonna be good for you. Create boundaries. Love them from a distance, but love yourself more.
- Chosen family is just as important and real as blood family. Make time and room for the people you love. Tell them you love them.
- Surround yourself with people who celebrate your successes like their own. Be fiercely loyal to them. Keep all the others at bent arm’s (or up to soccer field’s 😂) length.
- Give less $#!+s about what other people think about you. Stop trying so hard to impress other people. Work harder at impressing yourself.
- Find the person who makes you want to be better, not the person that tries to make you better for them.
- You’ll have your heart broken, several times. Each time, you’ll learn and grow. Don’t lose your optimism in love. Make a killer breakup playlist. Make sure Train in Vain and Somebody to Love are on it.
- Sometimes you have to break up with friends. It hurts just as bad or worse than breaking up with lovers. It also reminds you that your forever friends are the most precious thing in the world.
- F**K ALL THE DUMB $#!+. Let it roll off like water off a duck.
- Success isn’t final, failure isn’t fatal. Goals are a moving target. Just keep going.
- Some days suck. Booze never helps (it just delays the inevitable and adds a pounding headache and nausea to the mix). Walking outside or dancing with friends usually does. On that note…
- Save drinking for celebrations. Make sure you share the responsibility of being the DD (or paying for the Lyft) sometimes.
- Find beauty in the small things. Try to count at least 5 beautiful, awesome, or awe-inspiring things every single day.
- Listen to lots of music. Go to live shows. Dance (even if you look silly — nobody cares!).
- Keep a “Master Playlist” of your life. Consider it your own personal radio station. Add songs as you go — mine is currently 5 days and 14 hours long. 😂 Download it so you can listen to it on airplanes.
- Exercise often, but listen to your body. Don’t “play through the pain.” Arthritis sucks. Don’t help it along by forcing yourself to move through an injury. Going for a walk totally counts as exercise, BTW.
- Find an outlet for your anger/anxiety/negativity. For me, it’s maniacally scrubbing my house while I blast music and eat some adult gummies, cooking or baking something yummy, going to yoga & meditating, talking to friends, and taking long walks in nature. For you, it might be kickboxing class, going to the batting cages, or doing wind sprints until your lungs are on fire. Whatever it is, find your thing(s).
- Stop. Take 10 deep breaths. In through your nose, out through your mouth.
- Read and listen to things that inspire you. If something makes you say “Hell yes!” that’s a good sign.
- Go outside at least once a day for at least 10 minutes. No screens are allowed, but feel free to listen to music.
- Wait a few years until you’re used to feeding yourself on the regular, but consider getting a dog. There’s nothing like coming home to a buddy who will be totally pumped to see your face, even if you were only gone for 10 minutes. I legit credit my first pup, Mikey, with saving my life when I was going through a very lonely time.
- As a bonus, from my friend MacKenzie (who is decidedly more outgoing than I am): Network, network, network! Meet as many people as possible and nurture those connections — they may be helpful down the road. Also, set up phone calls and shadowing opportunities with people you look up to/have your dream job. This is where you'll learn the most!
Essential Songs For Adulthood
I’ve always loved listening to music — it can touch my soul, reframe my mind, get me wiggling, help me workout, and so much more. Now that I’m married to a musician, I’ve also seen the firsthand benefits of playing music. For all of you who have zero musical bones in your body (🙋🏼♀️), singing in the shower totally counts.
While I have a giant playlist that’s essentially the soundtrack to my life meets personal radio station, having more targeted playlists for a particular mood is always a good thing. Here are a few favorites compiled from my own playlists and those of friends:
- Anything that makes me want to sing along and/or boogie. Dancing like a madman and/or singing (badly) at the top of my lungs always makes me feel better.
- Love songs for when you’re pining after someone. Hearing your heart’s feelings captured in song? Priceless.
- Songs that make you take a deep breath and reset. For the next time you have a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day.
- Anti-love songs and sad music that weirdly make me feel better. Not sure why it works, but it does.
- Punk Rock Basics. From my husband, Joe. Consider this your intro to the world of punk, which also doubles as good rage music!
- Rage Music. From Spotify. Because sometimes you’ll be mad as hell and won’t be able to take it anymore! I recommend blasting your own personal rage mix at high volume while running or dancing. P.S. From Ani's quiet rage to Rage's rage-y rage, I promise — there's rage music for everyone. 😂
TV Shows To Combat Stress
If you, like me, struggle to quiet a racing mind filled with anxious thoughts, keep a TV show on standby to act as a mental palate cleanser before bed. Just don’t do the whole revenge bedtime procrastination thing, though. I’ve done it, and it never helps.
- Parks & Rec - Who can resist Leslie Knope’s eternal optimism? Watch an episode next time you’re in the doldrums — it’s infectious.
- The Office (American version) - Laughing and/or cringing at Michael Scott’s buffoonery is only part of it. Looking for beauty in the banal? That’s a life lesson right there.
- Schitt's Creek - Watching the family grow together is heartwarming AF. Their out-of-touch behavior as they're learning is uproariously funny.
- Ted Lasso - It’s hard to think of a more uplifting show. Ted’s enthusiasm rivals Leslie Knope’s, and that’s really saying something.
- Shrinking - This heartwarming tale is a great reminder that at the end of every grief tunnel, there are more good days waiting to happen.
Dorm Room Cooking Checklist
Moving into a dorm is both exhilarating (wooot! No parents!), but also jarring — especially if you’re someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen. Not to worry, though. With just a few simple pieces of kitchen equipment, you can basically make ALL the things. Here are my favorite recs that will see you through 4 years and beyond:
- Microwave/Toaster Oven
- Mini Fridge
- Instant Pot or Instant Pot with Air Fryer Lid
- Hot Plate
- Skillet and Pot
- Space-Saving Kitchen Utensil Set
- Grater & Slicer Set
- Chef’s Knife, Paring Knife, & Serrated Knife
- Cutting Board
- Washup Bucket
- Mildew-Proof Sponges
- Microwaveable Food Storage
- Coffee Maker
Struggle Meals For College Kids
These meals are made using mostly shelf-stable ingredients with little more than a microwave, hot plate, Instant Pot, or toaster oven. You can also check out all my favorite Cheap Eats.
Easy Breakfast Recipes for Dorm Rooms
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so why not make it delicious? Here are some of my absolute favorite quick & easy breakfasts to DIY:
Using your brain is hungry work! Make sure to keep your study buddies fueled up and enthusiastic with any of these deliciously sweet treats:
Easy Soups for the College Soul
When life gets tough, there's nothing quite like a bowl of soup to give you comfort. Here are some cheap, easy recipes you can prep in a flash and enjoy all week long:
Easy, Affordable Meals That AREN'T Soup
As much as I love soup, variety is the spice of life. If you're looking for some deliciously simple recipes to keep you satisfied, this is a great place to start:
Non-Recipe Recipe Ideas
The following are simple food ideas you can whip up at a moment’s notice, using whatever you happen to have on hand. Don’t expect precision or measurements — this is very much a place to play fast and loose.
- Jacket Potatoes filled with anything, just about. (Get one of these sacks so you can microwave them! Just remember to prick the potatoes all over with a fork so they don’t explode and make a mess 🤦🏼♀️.)
- Tex-Mex: Cheddar cheese, salsa, greek yogurt or sour cream, green onions
- Ballpark: Chili, cheese, and onions
- Breakfast:Scrambled eggs with cheese and/or veggies
- Broccoli & Cheddar: Frozen broccoli is awesome — no prep, so cheap, and microwaveable.
- PRO TIP: Grate your own cheese — it’s cheaper and tastes way better.
- Canned Tuna
- “Sushi Bowls” - If you've got a hankering for sushi, but can't afford it, you can wing it with canned tuna. Mix up some tuna salad with some mayo, sriracha, and green onion whites. Serve on top of a microwave bowl of sticky rice. Add toppings: green onion tops, sesame seeds, more mayo, more sriracha, crushed-up seaweed, etc.
- Tuna Salad - Whether you mix the tuna with mayo and dijon or whole grain mustard or opt for a zestier interpretation, tuna salad is a lovely choice for a fast and filling meal. Serve on toasted sourdough with any kind of lettuce or herbs for some green crunch. Swap in a baguette and add a layer of sliced hard-boiled eggs, a few kalamata olives sliced up, and some sun-dried tomatoes if you wanna get fancy.
- Things on Toast - Put just about anything on bread and you can call it a meal. Toast said bread for satisfying texture, and you have yourself a feast. Here are some of my favorite things to pair with bread:
- Beans & Greens - Vegetarian protein plus veggies plus toast? Sign me up.
- Avocado - Avocado on toast with some mayo and Cholula is one of my favorite quick meals. Add a pickled egg and some microgreens to make it feel fancy.
- Eggs - Scrambled eggs with a touch of cheese are the perfect thing to load onto toast when you're hungry.
- Cheese - A grilled cheese sandwich is always welcome, especially when paired with a mug of soup.
- Nut Butter & Fruit - Skip the jam and use real fruit like bananas or berries to keep the added sugar to a minimum.
- Chocolate & Jam - Or, make a dessert sandwich. I love using a bar of good-quality dark chocolate and raspberry jam, then grill it in butter like you would a grilled cheese. It's utter melty perfection. For an even fancier vibe, add a few slices of brie to the mix.
- Pasta - Get a microwave pasta maker so you don’t have to keep a giant pot in your dorm room. Or learn to make pasta in your Instant Pot. You can also buy microwaveable pasta packs, but they’re more expensive and far less eco-friendly in the long run.
- “Breakfast Pasta” - bacon, eggs, and cheese, but make it pasta. It's pure comfort food in a bowl.
- Dressed-Up Instant Ramen - Take those $0.20 packs of ramen and turn them into a serious feast by topping them with eggs, green onions, cilantro, tofu, meat, canned fish, etc.
- Cacio e Pepe - feel free to swap in parmesan or any other hard cheese that’s salty.
- Hacked Pasta Sauce - Sauté whatever veggies you have on hand, then add a jar of store-bought pasta sauce. Toss with whatever shape of noodles you have on hand!
- Other Worthy Convenience Foods
- Salad Kits - It’s an easy way to make sure you’re getting your veggies! I personally love to pair it with a frozen pizza.
- Quick Cooking Oats - Skip the pre-made packets. It’s cheaper if you buy a tub and get your own mix-ins like brown sugar, raisins, nuts, bananas, peanut butter, etc. Plus, savory oats are delicious, so they can play double duty for breakfast or dinner.
- Plain Mashed Potato Flakes/Instant Mashed Potatoes - Mashies are my all-time favorite comfort food. You can dress these instant fellas up when the time comes. We usually use greek yogurt, some butter, salt, pepper, and green onions. If you have bouillon, that’s a good add-on in place of plain hot water. Anything you’d put on jacket potatoes or on top of grits is also a good bet.
- Bouillon Cubes or Powder - I also love Bouillon Paste if you have refrigerator space, and/or instant miso soup or powdered broth of any kind. It's perfect for when you're feeling under the weather, snacky but don't feel like chewing anything, or for adding flavor to soups and sauces.
- Canned Fish of Any Kind. Anything smoked is usually pretty good with horseradish and canned or pickled beets. Plain sardines are a good stand-in for tuna. If possible, get the kind that’s packed in oil instead of water.
Letter to Aki
I know you don’t know me all that well. We’ve only met a few times — once when you were a mere babe and your sister and I roomed together in Chicago. I watched you for a few hours while your sis was in class.
We had a grand ol’ time dancing around the kitchen, you on my hip. I couldn’t figure out how your stroller worked once we got out of the apartment — I’ll spare you the details, but that was one of the funniest moments of my life. I still look back on it and crack up at how ridiculous it all was.
At the time, Marianna and I were really just kids ourselves, only 20, having lived a very sheltered life. Your sister was enamored with you right from the start and couldn’t wait to show you off to all her friends. Her enthusiasm for you hasn’t waned an ounce since. (Obviously, considering she’s having her buds all write you a letter!)
We also met once at your Mom’s funeral. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose my Mom so early in life. My heart was broken for you both. It was also the first time I had ever been to your childhood house. I saw all your Mom’s beautiful quilts, and I remember thinking that if I were you or your sister, I’d want to wrap myself up in one of them and never take it off.
The last time we met was when your sister got married and had a celebration in Ann Arbor. I remember seeing you, so friggin’ tall and handsome, I could barely believe my eyes. It felt like barely any time had passed since you were a baby in my arms, and yet there you were as a pre-teen, sweaty and pink-cheeked from playing soccer.
Anyway, I guess the point is this — your sister is one of my forever friends, the kind that you can pick up with right where you left off, no matter how much time has passed. You’ve been something of a timekeeper in our relationship. It’s wild as hell thinking enough years have passed for a whole brand new adult human to have been formed since she and I became buddies.
If you take just ONE thing from my words, it would be to find your own forever friends. The ones who will be there through thick and thin, who will love you no matter what, and who will have all the stupid, embarrassing stories of the things you did when you were younger. The ones who help you mark the passing of time, who you can say you’ve known for 20 years and counting.
Life will take you to lots of places, and you might not always be in close contact with those friends. You might not know all the details and stories of their life as you get older, but the bond you share is more precious than gold. Those friends are your chosen family, the family you’ll grow as life goes on. And it’s those people that make life worth living, even when everything else is complete $#!+.
At the end of the day, know you’re lucky as hell to have a sister like Marianna in your corner. She’s the kind of cheerleader/quasi-therapist/lifelong support system I wish everyone had. She’s been one of my nearest and dearest since we were just your age, and I wouldn’t be the person I am today without her.
Above are some of the things I wish I had known when I graduated, and some of them I learned from your sis. Take ‘em or leave ‘em. Just know that no matter what, you’re not alone — you’re part of my extended family, too, because Marianna is my sister till the day we die.
With all the love, hope, excitement, and support you’ll let me share,
More Resources to Keep Your Grocery Budget Low
- Surprising Secrets Revealed: 13+ Unconventional Ways & Places to Slash Your Grocery Bill
- 21+ Egg Substitutes & Egg Replacements For Cooking, Baking, Breakfast, & More!
- Food Insecurity - Organizations Working Toward Change
Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below! What other resources would help you live your best adult life?
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