Frugal Meals for College Students

contest winner icon

As a university student, I often found times tight despite not being one to party like everyone else. I could just never understand why everyone always had money and I was often broke and pinching pennies for groceries. However, when I left school debt free and they spent years paying back credit cards, I was the one laughing!


Here are a few of my university student meals that I still love!

Curried Pasta Salad


  • Any short pasta (I used elbow macaroni)
  • Fresh stirfry mixes with peppers, broccoli, baby carrots, etc. (I bought these on clearance and usually cost under $2.00)
  • Miracle Whip (I bought store brand)
  • curry powder (Which you can get at a bulk store or bulk section of your local grocery)
  • salt and pepper


Cook a desire amount of pasta (rinse underwater if you will serve cold). Semi cook vegetables (al dente) (let cool if serving cold). Mix Miracle Whip, curry powder, salt, and pepper to taste. Mix together and enjoy either hot or cold!

Another Good Pasta Salad


  • canned pink salmon (without bone) (1 can usually makes 2 servings)
  • macaroni
  • tomato
  • onion
  • Ad
  • celery and carrot, if you have it on hand
  • salt, pepper
  • garlic (optional)
  • Miracle Whip


Cook pasta (rinse with cold water and strain). Dice tomato (about 1/3 cup per serving worked for me). Dice to desired size onion and other vegetables and garlic. Mix together salmon, pasta, vegetables and add Miracle Whip to desired consistency. Salt and pepper to taste. Best enjoyed cold.

A Good Sandwich!


  • cubed pork (I always bought the cut offs from the deli and you can usually get 5+ pounds for under $5)
  • onion
  • peppers (if available)
  • BBQ sauce (store brand original fine)
  • garlic (if you have some)
  • hotdog buns


Brown pork, add in onions, peppers and garlic. Cook until onions are translucent. Add in enough BBQ sauce to properly coat everything. Let thicken (about 2-3 minutes). Serve on buns.


A Good Way To Stretch A Meal

Not sure if it has already been posted but:

Buy cheesy Hamburger Helper. Buy the cheapest box of mac and cheese you can find. Cook both according to directions, adding onion to hamburger during cooking and a drained can of mushrooms. When cooked, combine and enjoy.

By Madaine from Nova Scotia, Canada

September 3, 20080 found this helpful
Top Comment

Our area paper (re small colleges in area) had an article this morning concerning this. There are many regional areas that have available monthly food supplies brought in bulk to those subscribing for the food. Usually, $75-80 worth of food for $25 cash donation. You can check with your local food shelves for schedules. These have no income guidelines requirements, and it specifically mentioned college students welcome!

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
September 12, 20080 found this helpful
Top Comment

Melt 1/4 c. butter and 3 oz. pkg of cream cheese. Add 1/4 c. parmesan cheese-the cheap kind in the can-and 1/4 c. whipping cream, half and half, or milk. Serve over pasta. Really good, really easy, and really cheap!

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
October 11, 20080 found this helpful
Top Comment

How to make the cheapest alfredo you've ever had. I don't really have "Amounts" I cook by taste.






Cook pasta (any kind, whatever is cheapest), then put milk in pan on 3 or lower so it cooks, but doesn't quite boil. It just bubbles slightly. Then you add parmesean cheese (fresh or packaged.) and stir. Now depending on how much milk you have in there add 1 tablespoon of flour at a time and mix gently until the flour is combined and there aren't any clumps. I usually end up using about 3 tablespoons to get the thick sauce consistency that I like.

You can also do this with the cheap cheese singles and make a cheddar sauce to go over your noodles. I add one can of drained chicken to this to make it a chicken and pasta dish.

So really to feed one person it comes to about 2.00 and if you used all the ingredients at once you'd be able to feed about 20 people. and It wouldn't cost you anything.

(This could also be good for fundraiser meals.)

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
October 13, 20080 found this helpful
Top Comment

I've found that Ramen makes an awesome stir-fry. if you're really broke just cook the noodles toss them in a fry pan with a little water, teriyaki sauce, and a little of the powder from the ramen (I found chicken or beef works best) If your budget is a bit more than 1.00 add frozen veggies and diced chicken or Steak-ums.

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
January 5, 20090 found this helpful
Top Comment

2 Cups of instant rice

1 Can Cream of Mushroom soup

1 1/2 cups of cooked frozen veggies(your choice)

1/2-1 pound of ground beef

Fry the ground beef once it's almost to the point of being done add the veggies cook for about 5 minutes then add the soup. Let simmer for about 10 minutes then add it to the cooked instant rice. This can last up to 3 days in the fridge and it's very filling. Plus kids like it too.

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
May 24, 20100 found this helpful
Top Comment

I am also a college student and I sympathize with your situation. Here are some recipes that are inexpensive, fast (rushing between classes etc), and relatively healthy.

Stir fry

Small piece of boneless skinless chicken

(I use frozen chicken breast strips which I buy when they are on sale $7 for 3.5 pounds)

Frozen Broccoli, Green Beans or Asian Mix veggies ($1.50-$1 on sale)

Garlic (2 cloves)

Half an onion

Rice or Noodles (I prefer brown nice but it takes a while to cook)

Soy sauce

Brown the chicken in a little oil add onions and garlic until translucent. Then add frozen veggies until they are cooked all the way through. Serve over rice then add soy sauce. Or if you have time add the soy sauce to the chicken and let it marinate in that or teriaki sauce if you have it on hand.

This whole meal will cost you and your boyfriend about $3.50 depending on what's on sale and how much chicken you want. Depending on how much you eat you should have left overs for lunch!

Variations: Add noodles (linguine or fettuccine, or add ramen noodles that you cooked without the seasoning packet)

Fried Rice

One piece of boneless skinless chicken breasts

Cooked Rice (brown or white)



Frozen peas and carrots

Frozen Broccoli (if desired)

2 eggs

Cook cut up chicken with onions and garlic in about 3 tablespoons of oil, add frozen veggies, once they are cooked add the rice. Then scramble the eggs with a little pepper and add over the mixture and begin stirring the mixture until eggs are cooked through (about 2 minutes) serve with soy sauce and/or asian hot sauce/chili paste.

About $3 for two people. It's very filling.


You could also add left over beef or pork cubed. If you don't have meat you can just add more eggs.

Bean and Rice Burritos

There is a reason they are on the dollar menu at your favorite mexican place. They are very cheap to make. Here is how...

You need

One Can of Black Beans or re-fried beans

One cup of cooked rice (or 1/2 cup uncooked and prepared)

4 flour tortillas

(these can be expensive depending on where you live, you can also use 6-8 corn tortillas and make them into tacos)

Green Salsa

(or whichever salsa you prefer a small can in the hispanic food section of the grocery store is about 60 cents)

Cheese if desired

Veggies if desired (peppers and onions are my favorite!)

Combine cooked rice with beans in a pot and heat slowly add cheese if desired of veggies (honestly even broccoli works here). Scoop into tortillas which you have heated over the stove (if you have gas) or in the microwave add salsa and/or hot sauce.

This will keep you full for hours and is very portable if you are running late for class. If you want double this recipe and keeps some burritos in the fridge that you can take with you to class or have for a quick dinner.

Also about $3-$4 for two people with lunch left over.


Add left over chicken or whatever you have to get in more protein but the rice and bean combo should give you enough protein. You can make it fancy if you entertaining by placing the burritos in a baking dish and covering them with red salsa or enchilada sauce and cheese.

Staples to have on hand

The grocery store can seem scary especially when you are cooking on your own for the first time. You should try to stock up on these things when they are on sale. Even when they are not on sale they are inexpensive. They are something that you should always have in your house since they are so versatile and allow you to make food in only minutes.

Frozen Chicken (in small portions)

Even though you are two people chances are you are not going to go through a multi pack of chicken in a week (and for the sake of your budget you shouldn't!) When you get home from the grocery store freeze the chicken in individual zip lock bags write the date and type of meat with a Sharpe) Oftentimes the butcher case has better deal on meat then the pre packaged meat so make sure you check it out.

Frozen Veggies

We have all seen veggies languish in the bottom of the fridge. Frozen veggies are always ripe and never rotten they can be stored in the freezer for a about a year. Don't buy the veggies with sauce on them they are more expensive and unhealthy. Get broccoli florets, frozen peas and carrots and green beans. Trader joes has a good frozen peppers and onions mix. Try to buy them on sale but even if there not on sale the store brand is normally $1.50 a bag.

Brown Rice

I like brown rice but it is a pain to cook. So make about 6 servings at once and then keep the left overs in your fridge. Brown rice and beans is a complex protein. It's only slightly more expensive then white rice and keeps you fuller longer. You can buy it in bulk at health food stores etc.


A can of beans is around 90 cents and can act (coupled with rice) as a meat substitute. Make sure you rinse the beans well because often they are covered in salty bean water. You can make these yourself by soaking them over night and then boiling them but for me it's not worth the effort to save a couple cents. This way you always have them in your pantry ready to go. You can use black beans, kidney beans, etc for chili as well.


A college stable I prefer whole grain pasta because it keeps me fuller longer. I buy it when it goes on sale. You can get it for $1 a pound. But if you love white pasta you can use it just be aware that you shouldn't have it for every meal! It's fast to make and can be used for asian as well as italian meals.

Soy Sauce

A great addition to any Asian meal! I get the low sodium kind don't get a name brand if you have a trader joes near you their soy sauce is only $2.50 for a large bottle.

Chili Sauce

That bright red sauce in the asian food section of your market. It spices up any dish and can be added with soy sauce if you don't want it that hot.


You can buy it cheap in the HISPANIC section of a normal grocery store or even better at a mexican market (they also have cheap produce) get the cans to start off with to see what you like then invest in a jar.

Hot Sauce

When in doubt add hot sauce! That is my mantra. You can get tapatillo for 60 cents a bottle. You can add it on eggs, mexican food, mac and cheese, the possibilities are endless!

Salt, Pepper, etc.

I highly recommend that before you go to the spice section of your grocery store you check out the hispanic food section. They have packages of pepper for very cheap. As well as entire and crushed oregano for 60 cents. Cheaper then the Italian spice blend. But even if you have to pay full price for store brand it's a good investment to get some chili powder (for chili), salt, pepper, and if you want taco seasoning envelopes to make ordinary dishes more exciting.


Learn to love them they are cheap (aprox 67 cents a pound) and portable. Have one for a quick breakfast or a snack in class. You'll still need variety so get whatever other fruit is on sale make sure you weigh it first and calculate the cost so that you don't get surprised at the check out.

I hope that helped!

I have to run to class but if you want feel free to contact me or comment on this and I will write more ideas.

Happy Cooking!


ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
March 23, 20120 found this helpful
Top Comment

All these ideas are great except for one thing: they are mostly low in protein. You really need protein to stay sharp and healthy. In place of the canned salmon you could substitute Jack Mackerel. It costs about a third of the salmon and we think it tastes milder. Watch for sales on chicken breasts.

Better yet, get a rotisserie chicken, and use the meat for 3 meals, then simmer the carcass with some carrots, onions and a potato (sliced and peeled) for a yummy and protein-rich soup. If you are near a big-box store, get a 10-pound box of frozen hamburger patties. Cheese is a good protein source.

Make a big batch of macaroni and cheese. Freeze what you don't want right away. Tacos are always easy and nourishing. We like soft tacos out of 6" tortillas, bought when they are on sale for .99, and filled with ground beef, cheese, lettuce and taco sauce. But you can fill them with scrambled eggs and salsa, or any kind of meat and trimmings.

Beans, of course, are wonderfully cheap. One pound of pinto beans will cook up into about 10 servings.

I knew of some college students who would fill a jar with milk and a little bit of yogurt for a starter. They used powdered milk, but that's not cheap anymore. They would put it in a warm place - in their case the window sill - drape a cloth over it to keep out the sun, and when they came back to their apartment in the afternoon it would have set up into yogurt. They used the last bit of that yogurt to start another batch, etc. They never got sick when the flu bug went around their classmates, interestingly enough.

They also kept a large flower pot in their window sill and planted the root section of green onions in the soil. Those grew and made more green onions. In the cold weather, they had a big garbage can in a sunny spot, and planted some Swiss chard which provided about three servings a month, and some lettuce, which comes up very quickly and gave lots of salads. Oil and vinegar with salt was their standard (delicious) dressing. They ate cheaply, but well. Both were nutrition majors. Hope this helps!

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
September 3, 20080 found this helpful

I am happy to gift you with my Ph.D. in economics! Or maybe common sense! Love it!

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
September 5, 20080 found this helpful

Yummy ideas. I often pass these kinds of recipes on to my teenagers for simple 'fend-for-yourself' nights. Everyone can cook in my house, college age down to the youngest, 13--and my 2 married sons often cook for their families.

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
January 18, 20090 found this helpful

The cash donation things you are talking about is called angel food ministries. They are a nation wide company that is usually associated through local support groups and churches. You can google them to get their address and their monthly box information. As well as they have what they call "add on" boxes that are like 20 bucks each that you can add to the regular box and get some really great deals.

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
January 25, 20090 found this helpful

Take your favorite flavor of ramen noodles. Boil and stir constantly until it starts to separate. Don't boil all the way because it will get too mushy. After everything is separated and the noodles are soft, strain them. Turn heat to low, add butter to the pan, add the noodles and the sauce pack. Stir everything to combine well. Enjoy. We were very poor growing up and this is one of the things my mom used to make the most.

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
March 25, 20120 found this helpful

Anytime you use canned soup in a recipe the I wouldn't necessary call that inexpensive. Canned soups are not cheap.

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes

Add your voice! Click below to comment. ThriftyFun is powered by your wisdom!

In This Article
Money Saving Tips for College Students, Students studying at a table.
Money Saving Tips for College Students
< Previous
Food and Recipes Recipes Cheap MealsSeptember 2, 2008
college students
Inexpensive Activities for College Students
Pair of fun glasses sticking out of a gift basket.
Gift Basket Ideas for College Students
Pink piggy bank wearing graduation cap with money in the slot.
Saving Money for College
College Student
Gift Ideas for New College Students
Halloween Ideas!
Ask a Question
Share a Post
You are viewing the desktop version of this page: View Mobile Site
© 1997-2016 by Cumuli, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Published by . Page generated on October 22, 2016 at 7:07:13 AM on in 4 seconds. Use of this web site constitutes acceptance of ThriftyFun's Disclaimer and Privacy Policy. If you have any problems or suggestions feel free to Contact Us.
Loading Something Awesome!