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Mary Dishigrikyan is a fourth-year Psychology and English student at UCLA. She is a logophile with a passion for puns and Disneyland.  


For most students, being in college means constantly having to check in on your bank account to ensure that there’s enough money to acquire textbooks and still somehow be able to eat throughout the week. If you’re ever worried about making what you have last while still having quality, fulfilling meals to eat, don’t worry – we’ve all been there. Here’s a list of the affordable 10 best meals you can prepare yourself and eat when you’re on a most unfortunate budget:

1. Pasta Doesn’t Make you an Im-Pasta

Pastas and spaghettis are amongst the easiest things to work with in a recipe, providing an easy fix and cheap solution for your dinner needs. My personal favorite recipe includes penne pasta mixed with olive oil, green beans, Parmesan cheese, and pesto. Cut up some sausage, toss it in, and you have in front of you a (relatively) healthy, light, and (definitely) affordable meal.

2. Check-in with Some Chicken

If you’re craving a dish centered around meat, chicken is a good way to go. Dipping chicken breasts in eggs, flour, and Panko breadcrumbs gives you a fast and easy way to produce chicken strips. If you want more flavor, feel free to mix it up with Parmesan and/or top it off with some marinara sauce!

3. Boast about Toast

As a college student, having milk and cereal for breakfast about 98% of the time, and having to say that pouring milk and cereal in a bowl is the extent of your culinary abilities, is kind of sad. Try mixing up your mornings by slicing the bread you’ve had in your pantry (or the bread you can buy at the grocery store for five dollars) and dipping it in eggs, milk, and a dash of cinnamon before taking it to the stove. Slice up some fruit for the side to go perfectly with your French toast!


photo credit: Andrea Goh via photopin cc

4. Messin’ with Mason Jars

Breakfasts and snacks on-the-go are undoubtedly going to become a necessity in every college student’s life at some point (probably around finals week when you’re too tired to be trusted to cook). If this is the case for you, prep a mason jar parfait for yourself using three simple ingredients – oats, along with your choices of yogurt and diced fruit.

5. Heat up some Fajitas

For just under twenty bucks, buy some meat, bell peppers, avocados, lime, onions, and marinade (Marinade-in-a-bag! It exists! And it’s not half bad!), cook the meat, and add the rest of the ingredients in a tortilla. It’s not at all time consuming, it’s very filling, and it’s so delicious you’ll feel like you’re fit to have your own Food Network show.

 6. Rice is Nice

Buying jumbo packs of ramen always seems like a great idea. It’s cheap, and basically every college student in popular media (and real life) eats it. Don’t fall for this trap. Rice is actually cheaper and more filling than ramen, thereby acting as the perfect substitute. Cook some rice and top it with cooked pork chops mixed with soy sauce, garlic, peanut oil, and scallions – voila! Stir fry that will have you leaving ramen in the dust, alone and deserted.

stir fry

photo credit: SweetOnVeg via photopin cc

 7. Bring Soup in the Loop

Get a box of chicken stock for about five dollars, and make any soup to your liking. Sauté some onions, and add those along with celery and carrots, and then feel free to make it your own by playing around with a few additional ingredients. Garlic bread on the side can be made easily – rub some garlic oil and sprinkle oregano (cheese is optional) onto Italian bread before popping it into the oven.

8. Fish and Chips with a Twist

Potatoes and salmon go well together, the latter of which can be purchased for a low price if you ask your local grocery store for a small portion, or freeze it after purchasing it in bulk. After prepping the salmon, prepare roasted potatoes buy baking them with olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper. It’s good, it’s fresh, and it’s probably sooo within your price range.

9. Eating your Veggies

Your parents probably told you as a kid to “eat your veggies” – they were right in a number of ways. The health and fiber you gain from your veggies is a plus, and buying them and storing them in your freezer for extended future use is a huge, vast, fifty-foot-high plus, economically speaking. Buying anything in bulk and storing it for long periods in your freezer saves you money, and you can use vegetables that you’ve stored to put it together with chicken and rotini for a nice and easy pasta dish.


photo credit: mhaithaca via photopin cc

10. A Kabob Story

Kabob skewers are easy to put together, especially when you’re able to purchase lamb kabobs that have been pre-seasoned (at Trader Joe’s, for instance). Pita bread and hummus on the side makes for a mighty marvelous Mediterranean meal, without the hassle of having to wait at a restaurant and pay twenty bucks for a plate put together by somebody else. You can also try the seasoned rack of lamb that Trader Joe’s (or any other grocery store) sells and put it right in the oven for simple and delicious lamb chops.

 Special thanks to Kiran Sanghera for assistance in the compilation of this post.

What do you like to eat when you don’t have much to spend?