Now that you’ve been living on your own, you have probably come to a sad realization – feeding yourself is expensive! You may have wondered why you couldn’t talk your parents into going out to eat more often when you were younger; you probably didn’t realize it was in the name of frugality. Food is a serious budget eater (pun intended), especially for real meals. As a college student, you may get tired of the dining hall food or not have the budget to buy a meal plan. Enjoy a homecooked meal that’s easy to make for chefs of all skill levels.7 Basic College Cookbooks
Whether in the dorms or living in an apartment, here are easy to make meals for college students that are budget friendly (because eventually eating ramen every night will catch up to you.) Some cheap places to buy food include Aldi, Wal-Mart, Costco, and Trader Joe’s. These ideas are not intended to be your top-of-the-line healthy eating plan, but they are real meals that will save your budget and taste better than microwaving Easy Mac or Ramen every day. Don’t fall for the trap of eating fast food all throughout college. Healthy meals are the foundation of a healthy body and mind so you can concentrate in each class.
Pro tip: Buy your grocery store’s BOGO items for the week so you can stock up on items and create more meals while paying half the price.
Easy to Make Meals for College Students
Our Favorite Cheap and Easy College Breakfasts
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, especially for college students. You can meal prep some of these options for a quick meal. Most of these quick meals for college students will take less than 30 minutes and even as little as 3 minutes!
- Overnight oats
- Bagel, cream cheese, and a side of fruit
- Omelets with a variety of vegetables
- Yogurt and granola
- Smoothies with a combination of fruit and vegetables
- Breakfast burritos
Our Favorite Cheap and Easy College Lunches:
These lunches are the perfect way to eat healthy in the middle of the day. Having a good lunch can prevent you from getting a mid-day energy crash. Every college student should be having a great lunch with an easy recipe every day.
- Grilled cheese with carrots sticks, banana, and green beans
- Peanut butter and jelly sandwich with celery, peanut butter, and a banana
- Tortilla with refried beans, spinach, salsa, and an apple
- Tuna sandwich with celery, peanut butter, and carrots
- Salad or pasta salad with canned tuna or chicken, chickpeas, your favorite vegetables, and a side of seasonal fruit
- Tortilla with hummus, canned chicken or tuna, vegetables, and dressing
Our Favorite Cheap and Easy College Dinners:
After a long day of classes, you’ll be hungry for something delicious. These dinner recipes are easy to make meals for college kids and are a great replacement for Ramen noodles. You can even make enough to save for the next day to cut down your cooking time.
- Burrito bowl with rice, chicken, favorite vegetables, beans, and dressing to keep you full and focused
- Alfredo sauce/pesto sauce/marinara sauce, spaghetti noodles or your favorite pasta, garlic, onions, and meat for a taste of Italy (you can even make this without meat!)
- Meat, vegetables, rice, and soy sauce for a hearty stir-fry
- Tortellini pasta, broth, carrots, celery, and onions for a homestyle soup
- Chicken breasts, thighs, or legs in your favorite seasonings with a side of baked potato and butter
- Green bell peppers stuffed with taco meat, rice, tomatoes, and baked with cheese on top
Building cheap college meals around the groceries you already have is a great way to save money and have cheap breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Just because you’re wanting cheap meals as a college student doesn’t mean they can’t taste great! Our biggest tip to avoiding bland meals that taste cheap is using a variety of seasonings in your food. There can be two pieces of chicken in front of you and they would taste completely different because of the seasonings used on them. Here is an essential grocery list for cheap college meals so you’re prepared for amazing meals.
- Frozen vegetables (they last longer and make it easy to buy in bulk)
- Seasonal produce since it’s cheaper than non-seasonal products
- Variety of canned or dried beans (black beans/pinto beans) – a great source of protein
- Bag of rice or cauliflower rice
- Seasonings such as salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, and no-salt seasoning to fill your pantry with essentials
- Canned vegetables
- Canned soup
- Red onions
- Sweet potatoes
- Greek yogurt
- Peanut butter or almond butter
- Canned tuna
- Canned chicken
- Meat that is on sale
- Salad dressing
- Cream cheese
- Cheddar cheese, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese
How to Budget for Groceries
Budgeting for your monthly or weekly groceries can seem like a lot at first. How we like to budget is to find out the cost per meal while cooking. If you have a dozen eggs that cost $2.99 then each egg is about 25 cents. If you have a loaf of bread that costs $3.50 and it comes with 10 slices then each slice is 35 cents. An egg sandwich would then cost you $1.20 if you use two eggs and two slices of bread. If you eat that every day for the whole week as your breakfast, you would spend a total of $8.40 that week for that meal – that’s a great deal!
Another way to save money on groceries and create cheap meals while you’re in college is to use coupons. Coupons aren’t sent to your home like they used to be before but now they’re available online. You can sign up for emails and get coupons from your favorite stores to shop at. Some grocery stores will even do a price match on their items. If you see your favorite yogurt at one store for $1.99 but you usually get all your groceries from another store where it’s $2.75, the store could price match it for you. Saving 76 cents may not seem like a lot at first. When you’re buying 25 items and the price difference is between 50 cents to a dollar for each one, you could save up to $25 for each trip.
Moving away from home can feel intimidating at first, especially in the kitchen. When you are equipped with a good and simple ingredients list and ideas for cheap meals, navigating college will be much easier. Creating cheap meals for college doesn’t mean you eat instant noodles and dry chicken every day. You can make hearty and delicious meals when you know what you’re buying and making. Prepare your dorm or student apartment kitchen for your professional chef skills and it won’t feel like you’re making college meals on a budget!