Quick meal ideas for college students

College life is hectic, and for many students it’s their first time living independently. College students need quick meal ideas they can prepare in between classes or after late-night study sessions. If you’ve never had to do it before, learning how to make quick, simple, and affordable college meals can be difficult. 

These recipe suggestions are ideal for college students who are tight on cash and don’t have a lot of free time to cook. Make sure you know how to cook simply before you go to college. Learn how to cook chicken in a skillet or the oven, how to make eggs in a few different ways, and how to brown ground beef. Then take into account these two suggestions to make meal preparation and planning in college simpler:

Tip 1: Embrace the Freezer 

The first piece of advice for cooking while in college is to use your freezer, so take note of that before we continue. You can only use what you need for a meal by keeping the remaining meat and vegetables in the freezer. If not, either you’ll eat the same thing every single day or you’ll throw away food that you forgot to finish. 

Microwave defrosting is an option for frozen cooked meats. To defrost meat so it’s ready to add to your recipe, use the defrost setting for 20 seconds at a time. Alternately, you could warm the meat through while adding any seasonings (such as taco seasoning), keeping the meat moist by adding a little water to the pan.

Tip 2: Eat What You Have 

You might be accustomed to having a fully stocked fridge and pantry full of a variety of foods when you live at home. You’ll have a much smaller selection of tools at your disposal once you start college. It’s crucial to start learning new ways to eat the food you have on hand as a result. 

You can eat the same ingredients multiple times without feeling like you’re eating the same meal by combining similar basic ingredients in various ways in the meal ideas below. Include fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet; just buy a small quantity at a time and consume them all. If you buy a cucumber, for instance, you might chop it up and add it to a salad, sandwich, pasta, etc. until you’ve consumed the entire thing. Avocados can be used in sandwiches, toast, quesadillas, nachos, and other dishes. 

Before you buy new items, get used to eating the food you already have, and always try to include some fresh fruit or vegetables in your meals. You can always keep some on hand because apples, bananas, and carrots are so cheap.

Making inexpensive meals is simpler than it seems. These quick and healthy meals are more affordable for college students than fast food:

1. Chicken and Veggie Baking Sheet – This recipe uses accessible, reasonably priced ingredients. Only a knife and one dish are required for preparation. This is an inexpensive, wholesome, and healthy meal option for college students. The leftover chicken and vegetables can be kept and used for additional meals later in the week.

2. Tater Tot Casserole – The only ingredients you’ll need for this recipe are ground beef, soup, tater tots, cheese, and any vegetables you like. Once it’s in the oven, you can quickly enjoy a hot, delicious college meal with extra leftovers.

3. Ramen Price – Ramen noodles are among the cheapest and most practical meals for college, costing between $0.25 and $0.45 per serving. To prepare them, all that is needed is water and a microwave. They are shelf-stable, so you can keep some on hand for a quick meal or snack

4. Mac and Cheese – College students who are busy will value how easy it is to make mac and cheese, a classic. It can be made with just a pot, milk, noodles, and butter. You can also quickly reheat leftovers.

5. Simple Egg Dishes – Eggs are a staple in meals for college students! They are incredibly affordable, strong, and a fantastic source of protein. Additionally, if you want to make brownies, you’ll need to keep some on hand.

6. Fresh Egg Sandwich -A toasted English muffin is topped with a cooked sausage patty, a slice of cheese, and a fried egg. Cooking bacon or sliced ham in place of sausage is an alternative. Consider getting one of these incredibly practical breakfast sandwich makers if you like breakfast sandwiches!

7. Two Scrambled Eggs and Toast – No matter what time of day, breakfast is the best. A cheap and satisfying protein option, eggs go well with cheese and vegetables. To complete this inexpensive college meal, add toast with butter or another topping of your choice.

8. Egg burrito – Thaw a frozen hash brown patty as instructed on the package, then cook it in a skillet, microwave, or as instructed on the package. Eggs that have been scrambled with sausage, ham, or cooked bacon. The cooked hash brown patty, eggs, meat, cheese, and salsa, if desired, should all be combined in a tortilla.

9. Omelet – Making an omelet is the best way to use up leftover meat and vegetables! Slowly cooking eggs in a pan with butter should be done until they are puffy and almost cooked through. If desired, top with cheese and any cooked leftover meat or vegetables. Fold it in half and eat it.

10. Avocado Toast w/Egg – On top are a sliced tomato, a half-cut avocado, and whole grain toast. Place one fried or poached egg on top. Optionally, you can mash the avocado with some salsa to boost the flavor.

11. Sandwiches – The best fast food is a sandwich. Keep some whole-grain bread on hand because it is more filling and durable than white bread. You can even freeze half of the loaf if you don’t think you’ll finish it before it goes bad.

12. Peanut Butter Pairing – Look for other foods that pair well with peanut butter besides jelly to make sandwiches a little bit more interesting. Whole grain bread, peanut butter, banana slices, and a few chocolate chips make up our favorite sandwich. Apple slices and peanut butter, a delicious combination, are an option.

13. Open Face Avocado and Hummus – Spread hummus on whole-wheat bread and top with slices of avocado and tomatoes.

14. Pizza sandwich – A slice of bread should be spread with pizza or spaghetti sauce, followed by mozzarella cheese and any additional toppings. As with a grilled cheese sandwich, top with another slice of bread and cook in a skillet (optionally with some butter).

15. Taco Salad – Chop lettuce. Top with leftover taco meat, beans, salsa, corn, avocado, etc., and top with ranch dressing if desired. Optional swap: use canned chili instead of meat and beans 

16. Chef Salad – You should slice up any lunch meat you have on hand, like turkey and ham, and combine it with cheese, a hardboiled egg, and any vegetables you have. Serve over chopped lettuce with your preferred dressing.

17. Pasta Salad – You can boil however many noodles you want. While you wait, prepare a few chicken tenders or strips (or defrost frozen cooked chicken). Chop any available vegetables, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and onions, and dice some cheddar cheese. Pasta, chicken, vegetables, cheese, and any salad dressing you have on hand should be combined before serving hot or cold.

18. Tortillas are a fantastic component for college meal plans! They can be quickly filled with a variety of fillings and, when stored in the refrigerator, will last longer than bread.

Choose one of these options: 

  • Bean and cheese burrito: Before adding taco sauce or salsa, grated cheddar cheese, and refried beans, a tortilla should be spread with the beans. After 30 second intervals of cheese melting and beans cooking in the microwave, roll up and eat.
  • Quesadilla: A second tortilla can be placed on top and grilled in a large skillet to create a quesadilla. Cheese may optionally be combined with chopped onion before baking. The quesadilla can be cooked until it is golden brown and slightly crispy, flipping the tortillas over halfway through cooking. The quesadilla is a classic Mexican dish that is typically made with two tortillas and a filling of melted cheese and beans.
  • Soft Tacos: Cook 1 pound of ground beef as directed on the seasoning packet, then combine with water and taco seasoning. To make tacos, fill a tortilla with lettuce or salad mix, cheese, salsa, and ground beef. Taco meat that you don’t use in individual servings can be frozen.

Other Tips to Reduce College Food Costs

There are numerous additional ways to reduce the cost of college meals. They might require some advance planning, but the cost savings will be worthwhile.

1. Use Coupons and Create Checklists 

Make a list of everything you’ll need before visiting the store to help you organize your shopping trips. Follow your list to prevent making impulsive purchases. In advance, look for money-saving coupons and access savings apps to find the best prices on the things you need. To make the most of your shopping trips, create a checklist that includes items such as school supplies, textbooks, technology (laptop or tablet), clothing, dorm furniture and accessories. Then, set a budget and make sure you stick to it.

2. Meal Prepping 

Meal prepping is the practice of preparing all or part of your meals in advance so that you can maintain a healthy diet despite a busy schedule. Even more money can be saved if you can prepare inexpensive meals ahead of time, portion them out, and freeze them for later use. Get a Meal Plan Buying a meal plan allows for simple college meals without the need for cooking, shopping, or budgeting. Meal plans can save you money depending on the cost of food in your area. Costs vary based on options and schools.

3. Check out Your College’s Food Pantry 

You are not alone if you find it difficult to pay for your groceries. Over 29% of students in four-year institutions are reported being food insecure. However, support is accessible. You might be able to visit a food pantry at your college. If not, look into off-campus options that are close by.

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