7 Best Healthy Meals for College Students on a Budget

by | Oct 23, 2019

Figuring out healthy meals for college students on a budget isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. I’m sure many of you would rather write another paper than figure out how to cook something edible. Because, you know, who has time for that?

Yes, it’s easy to grab some chicken ramen or nuke yet another frozen meal but one of these days those dishes are going to seem gross. And let’s not get started with the cafeteria food. 

Here’s a secret: it’s possible to create easy healthy meals for college students on a budget. We’re talking recipes that don’t take hours to make and it might even impress your friends (or that cute classmate that sits close to you).

Keep scrolling because you’ll learn some easy ways to meal prep, creating healthy meals and even some recipe ideas. 


How to Create Healthy Meals for College Students on a Budget

Before looking at recipe ideas, let’s take a look at how you can create healthy meals as a college student. These are simple ways to cut costs without sacrificing the quality of the food.

Set a budget – Ok, common sense but many people go to the grocery thinking they’ll be fine. Unfortunately, when you’re hungry, in a hurry or aren’t used to the idea of budgeting all food choices will seem drool-worthy. Instead, look at what you can realistically set aside each month and divide that by four (for each week you plan on going shopping, or however often you want). Then, make a plan if what you want to buy or bring only the cash you need so you’re not tempted to load up your shopping cart with dark chocolate and coffee.

Make a plan – You’ll want to do some digging to see what types of ingredients are filling, healthy and budget-friendly. This includes beans, oatmeal, and in-season produce. Also look at recipes you think you’ll like because you’re wasting money if you don’t eat the ingredients you purchase. Then, look through the weekly circulars at a bunch of different supermarkets to see if there are any sales and come up with a plan of attack.

Buy basic pantry items in bulk – Buying items in bulk can save you some serious moolah. However, make sure they’re non-perishable items and ones you’ll use often. Think of things like oil, rice, vinegar, honey, and flour. 

Make friends with the slow cooker – Trust me on this one, especially if you live in a dorm. There are tons of recipes where you dump in ingredients and a meal will be ready without you needing to watch over the stove. Other appliances include the Instant Pot and a blender. Heck, even a microwave will do, assuming you’re allowed one in your room or there’s a communal one.


How to Meal Prep For Healthy College Meals

Meal prep sounds like a fancy term for those with a lot of time on their hands but it can actually save you time. Think of it as having cooked meals on hand or ingredients ready now so your future self will thank you. It’s better than going hangry and busting your budget going to the nearest drive-through.

First, make sure you have something to cook with — look at the list above. You’ll also want to have staples handy like oil, spices, and grains. Then, take a look at what you want to purchase for the week and come up with recipes for everything. It might be a good idea to write down what you want to cook somewhere, like in your planner or on a whiteboard.

To make it easier on yourself, you can consider making the same meals. For example, you can get enough stuff to make overnight oats for breakfast the next week or cook a batch of pasta and veggies for lunch. That way, you don’t have to think each time what you need to cook — make the decision once and move on. 

When you first begin meal prepping on a budget, take it slow. As in, try out simple recipes and maybe prep for a specific meal (think only lunch or breakfast) before you go all out. That way you won’t feel overwhelmed and give up altogether. 


Ideas for Healthy College Meals

Here’s a handful of ideas you can try out that are both delicious and healthy:

  • Corn salad – get some canned corn (or frozen nuked in the microwave), black beans quinoa and some cilantro. Mix with olive oil and a splash of lemon or lime juice.
  • Veggie goulash –  Cut up some cauliflower and add olives, onions, and mix with a can of chopped tomatoes. Then sprinkle some Italian seasoning and cook until the cauliflower is done. For protein add in quinoa.
  • Pesto garlic pasta – Toss in some premade pesto, garlic and onions in a pan then fresh tomatoes and greens. Add in cooked pasta with a bit of oil and mix it all together.
  • Apple salad –  Grab a bag of mixed greens and add in sliced apples and walnuts (almonds also work). Use your favorite salad dressing, sprinkle on some feta cheese and you’ve got a hearty meal.
  • Maple cinnamon oatmeal – Heat up some quick-cook or instant oatmeal in the microwave. Add a tablespoon of almond butter, slice some fruit, a dash of cinnamon and a splash of maple syrup (or honey).
  • Thai style noodles – Cook some noodles (any is fine, even spaghetti) and leave some of the pasta liquid in the pot when done cooking. Stir in some peanut butter, hot sauce, and scallions, plus any other veggies you feel like.
  • Black bean soup – grab some chicken stock and boil it with some frozen veggies, cumin, chili powder, and noodles. Dump in a can of black beans (liquid and all) and cook for another few minutes. Totally optional but you can top it with some shredded cheese and crumpled up tortilla chips for an extra bit of oomph.


Cooking healthy college meals doesn’t have to be hard – whether you’re cooking a delicious feast, trying to bulk up on the cheap, or just rustling up some basic sustenance. With some simple tweaks here and there, it’s possible. You got this!

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