Instant ramen isn’t the healthiest meal, but when money is tight, it’s often what you have and can afford. Here are ways to make it better.

If you have stock or broth on hand, you can avoid using the flavor packet to cut down on the sodium and preservatives. If you do use the packet, adding it at the same time to the boiling water with the noodles infuses the flavors.

Ramen, on its own, isn’t very filling, but it’s a good “base” and can be heartier with ingredients you already have on-hand. Since the noodles cook for three minutes, cracking in an egg adds flavor and protein, as will leftover cooked meats from a previous meal. A handful of shredded (or a slice) of cheese also makes for a delicious improvement over plain ramen. If you’re adding cheeses to your ramen, you’ll want to add at least a half-tablespoon of butter or margarine (or else the cheese will clump and be gross).

Other items you can add:

  • Fresh (or thawed frozen) vegetables;
  • The chicken flavored varieties can be turned into a quick mock-satay with a tablespoon or two of smooth or chunky peanut butter, a dash of cayenne, and a sprinkling of green onions;
  • Pepperoni, a handful of mozzarella cheese (with at least a half-tablespoon of butter or margarine) in beef ramen creates a tasty “pizza” soup – and there’s no reason not to add other pizza toppings (cooking them as appropriate);
  • Leftover taco filling (beef or chicken), cheese (plus your butter or margarine) and a dash of taco sauce or a few tablespoons of salsa works well, and the result can be garnished with your favorite toppings.

So what is Doc’s favorite jazzy ramen recipe?

  • packet of ramen noodles
  • tablespoon of miso paste
  • 1 cub of frozen veggies (peas, diced carrots, corn)
  • 1/2 cup shredded chicken (doc pre-boils, shreds and freezes a few pounds at a time)
  • pepper, wasabi or red pepper to taste

Cook the noodles normally, adding the frozen veggies, chicken (pre cooked) and miso paste into the boiling water. BAM! Instant jazzed up and healthy meal instead of a barely filling sodium laced snack! For added protein, sometimes Doc will poach an egg in the mix!

Vegetarian options: You can toss the flavor packet and replace it with a vegan bullion or stock with a few tablespoons of tomato puree. Add mushrooms, vegetables, or beans for a more satisfying meal.  Or, you can even use plain, cold noodles and add Italian dressing and tomato, cucumber, or any other salad topping for a quick and cool pasta salad.

Why not grab a ramen cookbook and a ramen microwave cooker (they really do work!) and give it a try!