Money is hard to come by in college. Between books, classes, and the $8,000 parent loan you took out, it is probably safe to say that money is tight. Shopping can be hard and takes a lot of effort, especially when you are stressed and have 15 things due by Friday. We are here to help make that just a little easier, not by offering to write you an essay (we’re sorry), but by offering 10 cheap college meal ideas to help you make quick meals and still find the energy you need for a clear head.
Prior considerations for you: in the list below I will reference crock pots and blenders a couple times. These are great, cheap tools to get you started in making better, faster, and cheaper meals with minimal effort. Not all college students have access to a stove, microwave, or oven, which drastically narrows down food choices to the food court, cheap snacks, or not eating at all. So, if you are able, consider investing in a small crockpot (about $20) and a cheap blender (about the same) to help you open up your meal options again. Now, without further ado, let’s get to the food.
Rice and Beans
She ain’t pretty, but she’ll get the job done. Both rice and beans are cheap and are easy to use. If you do have access to a stove, cooking rice is really easy; but a crockpot is not much harder and can do the trick too. The rice from a crockpot may even taste better as it usually creates more steam. You can buy white and brown rice in bulk for a cheap, ample storage supply for future meals.
The minute-made rice packets (which are still inexpensive) are great too if you want a little more built-in flavor. Beans come canned, dehydrated, and refried. Whether you are using refried beans for a burrito night or canned beans for huevos rancheros, all options are cheap and give you a lot of variety to work with. Word of advice: if you’re on a budget, be creative with these options. One or two ideas are listed below.
Here you can choose between canned chili, a variety of soups, or something like pork and Beans. Running usually a dollar or two any one of these canned foods can serve as a full meal. There are several brands of chili that taste good and have the calories you need.
Soup choices are endless and, if one can be going to be your whole meal, consider getting a higher calorie, usually thicker soup, to help tide you over. The legendary pork and beans speak for themselves.
Smoothies can be cheap too. If you get a gallon of milk and some fruit mix, you can have a smoothie each day for a week. Frozen fruit can be a little expensive, but think of how many meals you are buying with it. If you can afford some protein powder, then add some in to make the smoothie a complete breakfast or snack. If not, maybe your store has peanut butter powder or the like, which can offer some longer-lasting fuel if you can’t afford the protein powder.
Sandwiches are a must option for any list of cheap college meals that students are looking for. You can find well-priced bread around $3-4 per loaf and a good portion of deli meat — whether it be turkey, bologna, or roast beef — for about the same. If you’re bored of bread, consider substituting for some tortillas to make a wrap instead.
Spending $3-4 on mayo and mustard can feel like a lot, but think of it as buying enough for an entire month, as they last a long time. As for veggies, sometimes buying luxurious greens and avocados can really hatch up the price. Consider buying a few Roma tomatoes and a cucumber or two instead. Both will run you just a couple of bucks and they are healthy, tasty additions to any sandwich.
Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches
What would a sandwich list be like without PB&J? Incomplete. Peanut butter options range from really cheap to pretty cheap, making it a great option for any college student on a budget. Peanut butter is also a great source of protein, fat, and energy that can help sustain your head working brain.
Jelly is relatively inexpensive as well, and honey, another sweet substitute, is a little more but usually lasts even longer than jelly. With only a couple bucks spent between bread, jelly/honey, and some peanut butter, you’ll be well on your way to making delicious PB&Js in no time.
With those rice and beans that you bought earlier, you can make a quick burrito by adding a tortilla and some cheese. You can use base refried beans or canned beans with some rice. If you have a little extra to spend this next grocery trip, consider buying a rotisserie chicken or some low-priced raw chicken that you can cook in your crockpot.
For veggies, you can add the tomatoes and cucumbers to the burrito too for a complete meal. Either way, this burrito can be easy to make and can add some much-needed in meal options to a low-budget diet.
The Classic Ramen
College students often boast of their years of living solely off of Ramen packs for three meals a day. Running at 25 cents per individual pack, or a little less if you buy the bigger pack, it’s impossible to beat the price. If you don’t have a stove to cook it on, you can use the crockpot, but it’s not the best option.
Instead, buying the microwavable Ramen packs serves as a good substitute if you are stoveless. Ramen’s nutritional aspects are hardly boast-worthy; but, consider adding in an egg to make it feel like fried rice from your local Chinese restaurant, or even some meat to give it a kick of protein. Think of ramen as a canvas that can be painted in any way you want it
Whether it be scrambled, hard-boiled, microwaved in a cup, in your burrito, chopped in your salad, stirred into your ramen, or served by themselves, eggs are the epitome of versatility and are great options for anyone looking for a cheap college meal.
If you don’t have a stove, the crockpot can help you out here again. Not only can you easily make hard-boiled eggs in a crockpot, but you can also scramble them there as well. If you have a stove, then things will be even easier.
Noodles & Pasta
Lasagna, spaghetti, macaroni, linguini, ravioli, rice noodles, penne, shells . . . you get the point: there’s a lot to choose from. Noodles are as inexpensive as they come and, like eggs, can be used in a myriad of ways.
Whether you’re buying some macaroni and cheese, assembling spaghetti and meatballs, or doing never-before-done lasagna noodle and scrambled egg crossover, options are endless. So be creative and see what noodle combination speaks to you.
Celery and peanut butter are a great option for a small meal or snack. Celery can be replaced with apples, carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, and several other veggies. Any way you cut it, this is a cheap and effective quick bite. If you have a toaster you can also pull for the new classic quick bite, avocado toast, or the renowned bagel and cream cheese for some quick energy.
We hope these suggestions inspired the realization that it doesn’t have to be hard to find cheap college meals, and that you can still get the energy that you need — even on a budget.