Eating on a College Budget: Ideas for a Week of Cheap, Hassle-Free Dinners

39951a4qcamxjdkBy Amanda Ferrara, Student at New York University

Dealing with your busy college schedule, living on your own for the first time and being financially independent is hard — but wait, you still have to feed yourself! Whether you have a deluxe kitchen or are depending on the run-of-the-mill microwave, I have some cheap and healthy ideas for you try out.

The days of relying on granola bars and pre-made dining hall sandwiches are forever over!

First here are some suggested items to buy and keep on hand with their approximate prices (depending on where you shop). It may seem costly at first, but these items can last for weeks and can be used in a variety of ways for different meals.

  • Frozen, pre-cooked chicken, $4
  • Pita bread (these can be frozen for later use!), $2.70
  • Frozen veggie burgers, $4
  • Eggs, $3
  • Individual packages of tuna, $4 for a 4-pack
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese, $2.50
  • Butter, $4.50 for a pound
  • Pasta, $1.50
  • Salad dressing of your choice, $2.50
  • French bread (cut this in slices and freeze!), $1.70
  • Apple sauce, $2

Things you can “swipe” from the dining hall: packets of ketchup and mayonnaise, salt, pepper and other spices. Just remember to only take two or three at a time!

Total to start = approximately $32

The key is to make the most out of what you buy each week. Things to buy for your next five meals are:

  • Can of corn, $2
  • Can of olives, $2
  • Can of chickpeas, $1
  • Lettuce, $1.50
  • Tomatoes, 50 cents each
  • Apples, 70 cents each
  • Canned tomato sauce, 75 cents

Dinner for this week: less than $8.45

Monday: Chicken and Chickpea Pita Sandwich
Whether you eat “faux chicken” or real chicken, this sandwich is guaranteed to taste delicious! For this recipe, cook chicken breast as per the directions and chop it up. Mix the chicken in a bowl with chickpeas, corn and black olives. Add a dash of salt and pepper as well as just enough light mayonnaise to coat the salad. Put this mixture in the pita and top with some of the romaine lettuce you just bought. You can warm this sandwich up in the microwave for 30 seconds if you would like. (Recipe from The Cooking Photographer)

Tuesday: Italian Meal
Cook some more of that frozen chicken (or imitation chicken) and top with sauce and melted mozzarella to create some chicken parmesan. You can also make accompanying pasta on the stove or by filling a microwavable bowl with half a cup of pasta and enough cold water so that the pasta is a few inches below the surface. Once it is cooked, pour warm tomato sauce on top.

As a healthy side dish, let’s put that lettuce to good use and make a good old-fashioned salad. Wash the lettuce and combine it with some chopped tomato and olives. If you have access to a stove, you can hard boil an egg and throw some slices into the salad. Top it off with dressing and homemade croutons (pieces of French bread or toasted pita!).

Wednesday: Veggie Burger
Veggie burgers are an excellent source of protein and are quick and easy to make! Microwave one patty and put it on that French bread. Then you can top it with ketchup, lettuce, tomatoes or all three.

As a side dish, try some yummy tuna pasta salad. Begin by cooking the rest of the pasta from Tuesday. While it is cooking, combine a package of tuna fish with mayonnaise and tomatoes. Throw in salt and pepper and then combine this concoction with the pasta (Hint: this is best served chilled!).

Thursday: Breakfast for Dinner
Who said you can’t have breakfast for dinner? Make a frittata by scrambling up two eggs in a bowl and adding diced tomatoes and olives. Put this mixture in a greased-up pan, adding a handful of mozzarella halfway through if you would like, until it is light and fluffy.

No stove? No problem! You can melt butter in a microwave-safe pie plate and then cover and cook your egg mixture for one to two minutes (or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean). Throw ketchup on top and pair this with toasted French bread.

Friday: Personal Pizza
What week would be complete without a pizza day? Have a few friends over and make these quick and healthy personal pizzas!
Use your extra pita and spread on some tomato sauce on one half of the bread. You can top your pizzas with anything you’d like such as pepperoni slices, black olives, onion or leftover veggies from the week. Finally, throw on some of that mozzarella cheese and pop it in the microwave until the cheese is melted.

Later that night you can treat yourself to a baked apple for dessert … it is Friday after all! Peel and core one Granny Smith apple and put 1 ½ teaspoons brown sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon and 1 teaspoon butter into the cored out section of the apple. Microwave in a bowl for one to two minutes and enjoy the end of your yummy, budget-friendly week! (Recipe from

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