Cheap and Easy Food Hacks for College Students on a Budget

Young Couples Having Dinner at Home


Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site.
Students Walking  On The University Campus

Cheap Eats

Making healthy meals three times a day can be a challenge for many college students on a budget. But not all hope is lost. By implementing strategies from these thrifty Redditors, students can save time and money while ensuring they have nutritious and satisfying meals to last the week. 

From learning how to make large batches of nutritious meals to stocking up on essentials, these hacks will help students explore their creativity in the kitchen while maintaining a healthy lifestyle to make the most of their college experience.

Bacon mashed potatoes with cheddar cheese and parsley

Make Large Batches of Mashed Potatoes

"Mashed potatoes with frozen vegetable bits stirred [in] was my university go to," writes one Redditor, adding that you can spruce it up with hot sauce or other condiments. "Sometimes with sriracha drizzled on top." (Yum!) By incorporating frozen veggies or bacon bits for extra protein, students can add flavor and texture to their mashed potatoes, while still making sure they're getting all the nutrients they need.

Woman volunteer hands holding food donations box with food grocery products

Check Local Pantries or Churches

"Don’t be afraid to use local food pantries or churches," writes one Redditor. Many agreed with tapping into this local resource. "This is one thing I regret about being broke and young without YouTube and Reddit around at the time," writes another user, adding, "I had no real understanding that I could have been eating actual food had I known that it was ok to go to the food pantry."

Anonymous Afro-American Woman Pouring a Smoothie Into a Glass

Make Nutritious Smoothies That'll Keep You Full

Stocking up on items that won't easily go bad, such as peanut butter and frozen fruit, can be another cost-efficient way to stretch your meals and budget, users say. "I like to get store brand frozen fruit, a big tub of yogurt and some OJ. Add a scoop or two of [peanut butter] and you have a surprisingly filling breakfast smoothie for pretty cheap, and then you don't need a huge lunch like you would if you just ate cereal," writes one user. 

Canned Goods on Kitchen Pantry Shelf

Stock Up on Cheap Non-Perishables

"Rice and [beans] are going to be your best friends," writes one user, adding that incorporating frozen veggies and other cheap ingredients like chickpeas and lentils can help save a lot of money and result in a balanced meal for less than a couple bucks per serving. "Beans/chickpeas/lentils/peas are also a source of protein. So rice and beans can be a complete meal," says another Redditor. Indeed, some studies have shown that eating legumes can improve blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, lower the risk of heart disease, and even facilitate weight loss.

Rotisserie Chicken Costco

Buy Rotisserie Chicken

If you have limited cooking appliances in your dorm, consider buying rotisserie chicken to make cheap, delicious, and easy meals. "I had zero cooking/storage ability beyond a microwave and mini fridge in college," writes one Redditor, adding, "A couple Sundays a month I'd buy a rotisserie chicken with a broccoli cheese rice frozen veggie pack and salad mix. The leftovers would make several meals for the rest of the week." Smart!

Related: 10 Quick Recipes to Make With Costco's $5 Rotisserie Chicken

Moroccan Sweet Potato Lentil Soup Garnished with Fresh Herbs
Candice Bell/istockphoto

Whip Up Some Curry

"One thing that I always made at university was curry," writes one Redditor, explaining how curry is versatile, easy to make, and re-heats well. "With this, you can make a big batch of healthy curry which will keep you full for days, with rice/naan on the side to pad it all out," says the user. Indeed, curry is not only easy to make in just one pot, but also offers a wide range of flavorful ingredients that can be tailored to different preferences and taste profiles. 

Related: 12 Creative Ways To Use Canned Coconut Milk

Breakfast Stills: Scrambled Eggs

Eggs Are Your Friends

As the price of eggs finally starts to cool (what a bizarre time that was), Redditors suggest stocking up on eggs because they are versatile, nutritious, and delicious. "For breakfast, eat lots of eggs (I had omelettes and fried eggs almost every day), they are very cheap, healthy and filling," writes one user, while another adds, "Scramble eggs and your leftover burritos become breakfast burritos for the week." Genius! 

Related: 13 Simple Ways to Cook Eggs

Oatmeal porridge bowl with berry fruits in female hands

Don't Sleep on Oatmeal

Oatmeal is another smart choice for college students because it's affordable, healthy, and filling. As a cheap breakfast option, it can be customized with various toppings like fruits, nuts, or honey to add flavor without breaking the bank. Additionally, oatmeal has a long shelf life, allowing students to buy it in bulk and have a readily available, budget-friendly meal option throughout the semester. "Oatmeal, peanut butter, and beers hidden in our hamper (dorm life) were all we had," writes one user. Talk about hardcore. 

Related: Start Your Morning Right: 25 Easy Breakfast Casseroles

Homemade Organic Vegetarian Chili

Make Chili

Another budget-friendly option to meal prep for the week is chili, Redditors say. Chili can be prepared in large batches using inexpensive and simple ingredients such as beans, ground meat, and canned tomatoes. But if you're loath to cooking, you can also buy canned chili from the grocery store for cheap. "Pork and beans and canned chili for $1.50 a meal at Aldi. Pretty filling," writes one user. 

For more great budgeting tips and money-saving advice, please sign up for our free newsletters.