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Affordable Meal Ideas for College Students

Higher Education Articles April 6, 2013

College tuition is expensive, but your college meals do not have to be. In this article, we will discuss ten of the hundreds of healthy, affordable, and fast meal ideas that are perfect for a college student’s schedule and budget.


Are you looking for creative ways to use those leftover rice and beans? Throw them on a tortilla with some cheese for an easy and quick burrito. Add some salsa for a little Mexican flavor and consider grabbing some beef, chicken, or fresh veggies to round it out.

Ramen Noodles

These are low cost meals and you can get a package for as low as $0.07. But, if you are tired of tossing seasoning powder and noodles in boiling water, you can try out various other recipes, using these noodles as a base. For instance, you could add snap peas, carrots or other vegetables; in addition to proteins in the form of shrimp or chicken. Or lightly cook the noodles, then stir fry them with veggies, coconut milk, and peanut butter for a Thai flavor. You will notice a lot of unhealthy sodium in the original recipe, if you leave out the seasoning package and get creative with your own flavors; Ramen will become a healthy, affordable, and delicious college meal.


If eaten in moderation, eggs are healthy besides being cheap and delicious. Scramble a couple with veggies or poach them and eat them with toast. If you would like a nice cultural combo, mix your burrito and you will have a breakfast with a Mexican flavor that is made entirely with leftovers. Or else, drop an egg into boiling water and use it to dress up any soup or even your Ramen. You could even stir fry an egg or two and use as a base for fried rice.

Frozen Meals

Frozen dinners are great during all-day study session or on lazy days, but do not fall back on these as your default. The cost of frozen meals will add up when compared with buying bulk or fresh ingredients and the majority of frozen dinners contain a lot of fat and salt. If you want to avoid the freshman fifteen, then shop wisely. You should look for dinners designed for weight loss or marked “healthy,” and check the calorie, carbohydrate, and fat content (bad) against the protein and fiber content (good).

Veggies and Chicken Breasts

If you cannot afford chicken breasts, the low fat protein source, you should consider saving money by buying tenders or breasts frozen in bulk. Pan fry, or roast and poach them using very little oil. Steam some general veggies like cauliflower or broccoli, cook up some white rice, and you will have an affordable, healthy, and fast meal in no time.

Rice and Beans

A college student’s best friend is the bulk aisle in the grocery store. Here, you will discover important staples such as rice, beans, and other grains for pennies on the dollar compared to pre-packaged products. Brown rice and beans provide necessary proteins, and the meal is cheap and easy with lots of leftovers. Cook up your beans with some garlic and onions for extra flavor and throw in some sausage if your budget and diet allow. Just a reminder, brown rice usually takes approximately forty-five minutes to cook, and dehydrated beans need to be soaked overnight.

Soup and Grilled Cheese

All you need is a bit of cheese and butter, a loaf of bread, and a can of soup. Great for rainy or sick days, this simple classic is both light on the wallet and hearty.

Deli Sandwiches

Do you want more than just cheese between your bread? If so, stock your cupboard with healthy condiments (mustard and dill pickles), then get creative. Individuals who are meat eaters will find sliced pastrami, ham, turkey and more in the deli aisle and vegetarians may load up with their favorite raw veggies. For additional protein, cheese is a great source. Another classic sandwich option is tuna. Whip up a can with some celery, red onions, and a little mayo and you will have a versatile and delicious tuna salad that can go on crackers, bread, or straight to your mouth.


Try an easy and cheap combination of jarred pasta sauce and spaghetti noodles and spruce up the sauce creatively with turkey or ground beef or bell peppers, garlic and onions. This will taste much better if you can get a wedge of parmesan from the deli area of the grocery store and sprinkle a little on top.


If you are looking for a healthy way of cooking, try stir-frying. Heat just a little oil in a wok or skillet (olive oil is ideal), and stir fry some veggies with garlic and fresh ginger. If you prefer meat, you could have some sliced beef or chicken instead. Some bottled sauce added to the mix will enhance it nicely. You could try and save some more money by making your own sauce. You could try a combination of garlic, ginger, crushed red pepper, chicken stock and soy sauce. A couple of tablespoons of cornstarch mixed and poured over the stir fry and allowed to stiffen by simmering the mixture will make for a perfect addition to noodles or rice.

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