10 easiest recipes every student can make — and they’re affordable and healthy too

meals for students
Want to eat well for cheap? Say no more, we got covered. Source: AFP

Meals for students should be cheap, easy to make, and convenient to consume on the go for good reasons.

We’re all busy. There are sports to play, projects to finish and friends to meet — such busy schedules can prevent you from enjoying a good, healthy meal.

What’s more, people often joke about Freshman 15 — an observation that college students frequently gain 15 pounds — approximately 6.8kg — during their first year. 

While gaining weight certainly isn’t inherently unhealthy, this belief is often associated with unhealthy habits like binge eating or drinking, which is a more common problem than you think.

Statistics show that: 

  • The majority of respondents in the 2021-22 Students, Alcohol and Drugs survey think that drinking and getting drunk is part of the UK university culture (81%) and over half report drinking alcohol more than once a week (53%).
  • Roughly 80% of college students in the US — four out of every five — consume alcohol to some degree, according to the Alcohol Rehab Guide.
  • Between 10% and 20% of women and 4% to 10% of men in colleges suffer from an eating disorder, Rae Jacobson writes in an article on the Child Mind Institute.

As the new year starts, how do you minimise these less healthy habits and how can you improve your diet?

What will make the best meal for students in 2024?

“I’d call it hi-lo,” Andrew Freeman, president of AF & Co., the San Francisco consulting firm that for 16 years has published a popular food and hospitality trend report in conjunction with the brand and marketing firm Carbonate, told The New York Times. 

Freeman is referring to how people want high-quality ingredients and at low prices. That doesn’t mean they want caviar and truffle — it’s more of a demand for well-made bread or tacos that makes life seem more interesting and fun.

“There is this desire for boldness and maximalism and collaboration, but with this sense that whatever I spend, I need to feel real value for my money.”

Thankfully, even for those amongst us on a tight budget, there are ways for us to find luxury in what we eat — and a good place to start is some of the Internet’s best easiest recipes for students.

Here are our top picks for meals for students on a budget.

10 meals for students on a budget

meals for students

Mac and cheese is one of the easiest and most cost-friendly meals for students. Source: AFP

1. Mac and cheese

Mac and cheese is a universal comfort food. It is a classic student meal that is not only delicious but also really easy to make. 

And we aren’t talking about the unhealthy boxed version. Homemade mac and cheese is a great alternative you can easily make after a long day of classes. 

The best part about this is that you can stick to the basics or spruce things up with different toppings like chicken, bacon or, our favourite, frozen spinach. 

It can be daunting if you have never made homemade mac and cheese. But don’t worry. All it takes is a few simple steps.  

First up, prepare the ingredients you will need, such as macaroni, butter, flour, salt, pepper, milk and, of course, lots of cheese. 

Begin by boiling the pasta and draining it. Combine the butter, flour, milk, and cheese to make the cheese sauce, then add your cooked pasta. And voila, your meal is ready. 

2. Broccoli cheese and chicken

Broccoli cheese and chicken is undeniably one of the best meals for students on a budget. The simplicity and affordability of this dish make it a go-to for those looking to save money without compromising on flavour. 

With just boneless chicken breasts, broccoli, oil, soy sauce, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper, and honey, you can whip up a delicious and hearty meal that won’t break the bank. 

The easy-to-follow directions ensure that even those with barely any cooking experience can master this recipe. 

Cook the chicken in a wok, add the soy sauce, season with garlic powder, salt, and pepper, toss in the broccoli, and finish it off with honey and cayenne pepper. 

The result is a hearty and satisfying dish that you can serve over hot rice. It’s a budget-friendly option that proves you don’t need to sacrifice taste for affordability.

meals for students

Did you know grilled cheese is one of the cheapest meals for students? Source: AFP

3. Grilled cheese

Grilled cheese is a lifesaver for students on a budget – it’s quick, easy and won’t burn a hole in your wallet. 

With just a few basic ingredients like bread, butter, salt, grated or processed cheese, garlic, red chilli flakes, and coriander leaves, you can whip up a satisfying meal in no time. 

The beauty of grilled cheese lies not only in its simplicity but also in its versatility. You can easily spruce it up by experimenting with toppings and sauces.

Whether it’s adding a slice of ham, a dollop of pesto or a layer of caramelised onions, you can customise your grilled cheese to suit your taste and still keep it budget-friendly

And if you find yourself without a toaster or pan in your dorm room, you can still make a delicious grilled cheese using an iron.

Simply wrap your sandwich in aluminium foil and press it with a hot iron to achieve that perfect golden-brown crust. 

meals for students

With so many ramen options you will never run out of quick meals for students. Source: AFP

4. Ramen

Instant ramen is available in various varieties at almost every store. Whether it’s Mi Goreng, Nissin Ramen, Prima Taste, or Shin Ramyun, the choices are abundant. 

Originally a Japanese noodle soup, ramen has become an accessible and beloved dish worldwide. Its ease of preparation, combined with the affordability of instant ramen brands, makes it an ideal go-to for students managing a hectic study schedule.

You can elevate your ramen by adding condiments like miso paste or fish sauce, incorporating protein with eggs or meats like bacon, and tossing in vegetables for a healthier twist.

Kylie Jenner’s viral ramen recipe on TikTok has added a trendy twist to the classic student meal. 

The celebrity’s version of ramen with butter, garlic powder, a beaten egg and everything but the bagel sesame blend seasoning transforms the dish beyond the standard ramen noodles and water. 

5. Lemon pepper chicken

Lemon pepper chicken is one of the best meals for students on a budget, offering a tasty and wallet-friendly option that’s both easy to make and delicious. 

With just a few ingredients like lemon juice, yoghurt, crushed pepper, ginger-garlic paste and some common spices, you can create a flavourful one-pot chicken dish in just 20-25 minutes. 

This quick and simple recipe is perfect for students with busy schedules and limited funds.

The combination of tangy lemon and bold pepper adds a refreshing twist to the chicken, tenderising the meat while you go to class and ready to cook when you’re back.

6. Chicken or egg curry 

Chicken curry offers a delightful combination of flavours that won’t strain your wallet. The beauty of this dish lies in its simplicity and cost-effectiveness. 

Using ingredients like onions, garlic, tomatoes, and authentic Indian spices such as coriander, turmeric and garam masala, you can create a rich and flavourful curry that will remind you of home. 

What’s even better, for those who opt for a vegetarian twist, you can substitute the chicken for egg. 

No time to find spices or intimidated to make your own? You can opt for curry powder instead.

To create a thick, aromatic sauce, start by grinding fried onions and processing tomatoes with garlic and ginger pastes. Heat some oil, add curry powder and your blended mixture, then add your protein. 

You’ve just created a meal that pairs perfectly with chapatis, naan or basmati rice.

meals for students

Life is more than just making scrambled eggs for breakfast. Source: AFP

7. Egg fried rice

Egg fried rice emerges as a top-tier meal for students on a budget. Its preparation is as straightforward as it gets, making it an ideal choice for those with a tight schedule and limited funds. 

The key ingredients, including rice, eggs, and basic vegetables, are budget-friendly and accessible, ensuring that you can whip up a satisfying meal without breaking the bank. 

The process involves a few easy steps, from boiling rice to stir-frying eggs and vegetables in a wok.

Egg-fried rice has a rich history and is a popular dish in various Asian cuisines. Originating in China over a thousand years ago, it has become a versatile and beloved dish globally. 

meals for students

Pancakes are a cheap and easy meal for students looking for a sweet treat. Source: AFP

8. Pancakes 

Pancakes are a go-to meal for students on a budget. The pancake-making process is a breeze, with a basic batter comprising flour, eggs, milk, oil and a pinch of salt. 

Here’s a basic list of ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 0.5 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1 cup milk of your choice
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 egg, beaten

These ingredients are not only pantry staples but are also cheap, making pancakes an ideal choice for students looking to create a satisfying meal while on a student budget. 

To make it, mix the dry ingredients, then the wet. Combine the dry and wet mixtures. Coat your pan with oil and scoop some pancake mixture onto it. Flip when it starts to bubble and brown the other side — and you’ve got a tasty breakfast and dessert.

Pancakes have been a breakfast staple for centuries, with various cultures having their unique versions. 

Today, pancakes continue to be a versatile dish, enjoyed globally for its ability to be customised with of toppings, from classic syrup and butter to fresh fruits, whipped cream or even a savoury twist with ingredients like cheese and vegetables. 

9. Savoury or sweet oatmeal 

Oatmeal offers a versatile and cost-effective meal that goes beyond traditional breakfast options. 

The simplicity of cooking oats makes it an ideal choice for busy students with limited resources. 

Whether sweetened with honey, fruit and spices for breakfast or transformed into a savoury delight with garlic, onions, and soy sauce for lunch or dinner, oatmeal is a great option. 

Oats are not only budget-friendly but also pack a nutritional punch. They provide both soluble and insoluble fibre, contributing to lower cholesterol and digestive health. 

Oats also boost the immune system, offer various vitamins and minerals, and may even help prevent certain cancers.

From a pumpkin pie-inspired breakfast to a savoury garlic and onion dinner, there are many ways you can experiment with oatmeal. 

The cost per bowl is minimal, making it a great option for students watching their wallets. 

For those seeking convenience, overnight oats offer a grab-and-go solution with a simple mix of oats, milk, chia seeds and sweetener left to meld in the fridge overnight. 

meals for students

Popcorn isn’t only to be enjoyed during movies, it is actually one of the cheapest meals for students, Source: AFP

10. Snacks

When you’re a student on a budget, finding snacks that are both easy to make and affordable becomes a game-changer. 

Opting for a snack like carrot and celery sticks is a great option to keep you full while staying on a budget. 

Carrots are not only economical but also packed with natural carbohydrates, fibre, calcium and potassium, making them a nutrient-rich choice to keep you fueled during study sessions. 

While, celery adds a crunch and is a hydrating option, perfect for those long study nights. This budget-friendly snack not only supports your health but also adds a colourful and tasty element to your snack routine.

Another budget-friendly snack is popcorn – a snack often associated with movie nights. It’s not only cheap but also incredibly easy to make. 

With just a bag of popcorn kernels, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt, you can whip up a delicious and satisfying snack. 

Fun fact: Popcorn is a whole grain, providing more fibre and nutrients than refined grains. It also contains polyphenols and antioxidants that may help lower the risk of various health issues.