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The Best College Meals for Your Taste Buds and Budget

by
Education Writer
Last Updated: May 16, 2020

We hope you’re eating a lot of delicious and nutritious meals with your family while you’re home during the coronavirus pandemic! Even if you don’t need these easy food ideas right now, learning how to make something out of a few cheap options is a valuable skill that will benefit you in many situations, not just when you’re at college.

As a college student, it's not easy to find healthy meals you can also make quickly. Even when you discover a simple, nutritious recipe, it can often cost a lot more than you expected. And if you aren’t eating well, you won’t be able to function at your best. Luckily, there are a ton of ways to jazz up easy options with inexpensive but nutritious ingredients. Explore this essential food list for college students and see what makes your stomach grumble—but before you do, let’s talk about the importance of healthy foods and your eating habits in college.

Why healthy foods matter

When you need to attend classes, lectures, work shifts, and study groups, having energy matters. You may find yourself wanting to stop at McDonald's or Wendy's on your way home, but those meals can't supply proper nutrients—and neither can packaged ramen. Scientists and researchers often link certain foods to brainpower, so it's essential to think about how the food you’re eating impacts your health. For instance, berries and nuts are said to increase memory, so try chowing down on those more often to help you ace those exams.

You should strive to eat three balanced meals every day. These spreads should include whole grains, protein, fruits, and vegetables. You can still indulge in treats and other snacks sometimes, but don't forget: everything in moderation. Healthy eating in college will help you be a more focused and self-confident student.

Related: Adulting 101: Eating Right and Staying Healthy

What to eat at school

Depending on your college living situation, you might have chosen a specific meal plan, or you might need to budget for your own groceries in off-campus housing. Either way, you can take advantage of several cheap and nutritious food options. A little creativity goes a long way, so feel free to modify these recipes to your tastes. Here are a few staples to start:

1. Ramen plus

Many college students consider ramen a staple food, but those quick-prep packets can lead to an unhealthy lifestyle. Plus, after a few times, it gets old—but with some tricks, you can make your store-bought ramen more interesting. Cook up your noodles in real chicken or vegetable broth and throw in vegetables like broccoli, carrots, peas, and onions, then top it off with an egg and cover to steam. You’ll enjoy a healthier, more filling meal that’s much closer to real ramen.

Or if you’re tired of the soup route, use your ramen noodle packs to whip up your own inexpensive Pad Thai. Skip the seasoning packet, as those mixtures involve too much sodium, and instead use some peanut butter, soy sauce, and chili sauce for flavor. Add tofu or chicken and mixed vegetables to round out your meal, and you’ve got a delicious homemade Pad Thai!

2. Burritos

Burritos are some of the best college meals. They're like a blank slate, so you can add whatever you want—as long as it's healthy—and they work for any meal. For breakfast, grab a tortilla and fill it with potatoes, eggs, and peppers. You can shop for these ingredients for a low price, which makes them a terrific alternative to pricey breakfast sandwiches. Swap out your breakfast ingredients for chicken, rice, veggies, and beans for your lunch or dinner meal and you’ve got your whole day covered.

Related: How to Eat Healthy in College (on the Cheap!)

3. Pasta

Like the other meals, you can customize pasta to your heart's content. Plus, it's super inexpensive and usually provides the best leftovers. You can even try making your own meatballs or a chili mac and cheese that tastes like a fancier Hamburger Helper. You can experiment with tons of delicious pasta recipes throughout the week, as most dishes require a few simple ingredients—so you don't have to worry about any difficulties.

Are you gluten-free or concerned about carbs? Swap out regular pasta for alternatives made with vegetables, whole-grain, or non-gluten ingredients, depending on your dietary preferences.

4. Salads

If you're in a dorm, it's typically not easy to cook on your own. Luckily, if you have a meal plan, you can use it to create healthier meals—and salads are one of your best options. Load up your plate in the dining hall with greens, meats, vegetables, and nuts. Add your favorite light dressing or vinegar/olive oil mixture for a delicious salad. Don't be afraid to throw in some fruits or other creative add-ons in moderation—buffalo chicken strips taste perfect on top of a garden salad. You can also take a different approach at home and make salads with quinoa or couscous as the base. These grains make several servings, so you'll be set for a while.

Related: Top Tips for Eating Healthy on Campus

5. Wraps

Here's a fun spin on traditional sandwiches. Bread isn't super pricey, but it can go bad and you can run out quickly—especially if you like to make toast. Plus, bread just isn’t as versatile as a tortilla. Take advantage of wraps to make different lunches and dinners, from tuna salad to barbecue chicken. Try spinach, tomato, or whole wheat varieties when you get tired of regular flour wraps. These meals are customizable, inexpensive, and easy to make. Plus, they can be as healthy (or not) as you want!

Use these ideas for easy college meals

Planning your meals in college can seem tricky, but with a few easy, inexpensive go-to options, you can set yourself up for the whole week! These suggestions can transform your school experience—before you know it, you'll be a top student with all that extra energy and a resourceful chef working on a reasonable budget.

Looking for more easy college recipes? Check out the tag “College Cooking” to find videos for making easy microwaveable meals, snacks, and desserts!

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About Alyssa Abel

Alyssa Abel

Alyssa Abel is an education writer who helps students and teachers pursue their passions. Read more of her work on Syllabusy

 

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