20 Cheap and Easy Student Recipes Anyone Can Make

Cash-strapped students can eat healthy and delicious meals by simply preparing them themselves with our recipes. Once word gets out you are a dorm-room chef, you will find half the campus jealously appearing at your doorstep!

1. Pesto Penne

Pesto Penne
© Madeleine Steinbach, AdobeStock

This is a quick and inexpensive weekday dinner.

Cooking Time: 20 minutes.
Yield: 2 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. uncooked penne pasta
  • ½ lb. sweet pork sausage
  • 1 chopped red pepper – optional and for color
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ tsp. garlic salt
  • 3 tbsp. pesto sauce
  • 1 cup half and half or light cream – depending on how creamy you want the dish
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil

Directions:

  1. Cook the pasta in a pot of salted boiling water for 10 minutes.
  2. Drain the water and transfer the penne to a bowl.
  3. Brown the sausage and red bell pepper, if using, for 5 minutes in a skillet.
  4. Stir in the pasta and season with salt, pepper, and garlic salt.
  5. Combine the pesto sauce, half and half, and olive oil and a pan and bring to a boil.
  6. Lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.
  7. Cover the pasta and sausage with the sauce and toss.

2. Avocado Sandwich

Avocado Sandwich
© Jenifoto, AdobeStock

A limited budget doesn’t limit healthy eating. This summertime sandwich is both delicious and very healthy.

Cooking Time: 5 minutes.
Yield: 1 serving.

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices sourdough bread
  • 2 slices of Swiss cheese
  • 3 avocado slices
  • 3 tomato slices

Directions:

  1. Place the cheese, avocado slices, and tomato slices on one piece of bread.
  2. Cover with the other sourdough bread slice.
  3. Toast the sandwich in the oven for 5 minutes to melt the cheese.

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3. Spicy Scrambled Eggs

Spicy Scrambled Eggs
© HandmadePictures, AdobeStock

These eggs are great for breakfast and will also make a great egg sandwich for lunch. If you have any spinach lying around, chop a few leaves and add them to the eggs.

Cooking Time: 5 minutes.
Yield: 1 serving.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tbsp. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 tbsp. milk
  • ½ tsp. sriracha sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp. butter

Directions:

  1. Whisk all ingredients except the butter in a bowl.
  2. Heat the butter in a skillet and add the eggs.
  3. Use a spatula to scramble the eggs for 5 minutes.

4. Chicken with Orzo

Chicken with Orzo
© ltummy, AdobeStock

This is a fabulous chicken dish. You can add flavor to the orzo by cooking it in chicken broth instead of water.

Cooking Time: 25 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup uncooked orzo pasta
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 cubed chicken breasts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 3 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Cook for orzo in a pot of boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Drain.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and sauté the onion and garlic for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook on low for 5 minutes.
  4. Season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.
  5. Add the prepared orzo and simmer for 5 minutes while frequently stirring.
  6. Top with Parmesan cheese before serving.

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5. Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese
© Dusk, AdobeStock

Even the thriftiest college student may have difficulty eating boxed macaroni and cheese. For not much more money, you can make a delicious homestyle version that is truly tasty.

Cooking Time: 40 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. elbow macaroni
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • ¼ tsp. onion powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese
  • ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 3 tbsp. breadcrumbs
  • 2 tsp. melted butter

Directions:

  1. Prepare the macaroni in a boiling pot of salted water for 10 minutes. Drain.
  2. Heat the butter in a small pan and stir in the flour.
  3. Season the mixture with onion powder, salt, and pepper, and stir for 5 minutes until you have a paste.
  4. Add the milk slowly while still stirring for another 5 minutes to prepare the roux.
  5. The milk needs to be hot but be careful not to burn it.
  6. Stir in the cheddar and parmesan cheeses and stir for 5 minutes, until the cheeses have melted.
  7. Add the cooked macaroni and transfer the mac and cheese to a baking dish.
  8. Combine the breadcrumbs and melted butter and top the mac and cheese.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

6. Tatertot Casserole

Tatertot Casserole
© Fanfo, AdobeStock

This is comfort food on a budget. At 8 servings, you can invite your study group or eat for the entire week.

Cooking Time: 50 minutes.
Yield: 8 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ tsp. garlic salt
  • 2 diced garlic cloves
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 10 oz. can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 8 oz can French-style green beans
  • 1 ½ cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 16 oz. frozen tater tots potatoes

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Season the beef with salt, pepper, and garlic salt, and brown in a skillet for 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the onion and garlic cloves and continue to cook for 5 more minutes.
  4. Drain the fat and add the cream of mushroom soup and French-cut beans.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a 10 x 10 baking dish.
  6. Top with the cheddar cheese and the tater tots.
  7. Bake for 40 minutes.

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7. Baked Parmesan Chicken

Baked Parmesan Chicken
© Rasulov, AdobeStock

This is a tasty, crispy chicken, and it is easy to prepare.

Cooking Time: 35 minutes.
Yield: 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • ¾ cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine the olive oil and the garlic in a bowl.
  3. In a second bowl, combine the Panko breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper.
  4. Pound the chicken breasts to ½-inch thickness.
  5. Dredge each chicken piece through the olive oil, then the breadcrumbs.
  6. Place the chicken in a baking dish and bake for 30 minutes, until the meat is done.
  7. Top the chicken with mozzarella and place it under the broiler for 5 minutes.

8. Open-Faced Tuna Melt

Open-Faced Tuna Melt
© Fudio, AdobeStock

A tuna melt is everyone’s favorite. Buy tuna cans when they are on sale, and these sandwiches will be very affordable.

Cooking Time: 8 minutes.
Yield: 2 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 6 oz. can of drained tuna fish
  • 3 tsp. diced celery
  • 1 tbsp. chopped dill pickle
  • ½ tsp. sriracha sauce
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper taste
  • 2 thick slices of bread
  • 2 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
  • 4 tomato slices

Directions:

  1. Add the tuna to a bowl and flake it.
  2. Stir in the celery, pickle, sriracha sauce, lemon juice, and mayonnaise.
  3. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Lightly toast the bread in the oven for 3 minutes at 350 degrees.
  5. Divide the tuna fish salad between the 2 slices of bread.
  6. Top each with a slice of cheese and 2 tomato slices.
  7. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  8. Place both slices of bread on the baking sheet and place them under the broiler for 5 minutes.

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9. Buttered Noodles

Buttered Noodles
© Maren Winter, AdobeStock

No muss, no fuss. Just some delicious, buttered noodles. There is a lot of delicious butter, but it is for 8 servings.

Cooking Time: 10 minutes.
Yield: 8 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. egg noodles
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • 1/3 cup of butter
  • ⅓ cup grated Pecorino cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ¼ tsp. herbs de Provence
  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley

Directions:

  1. Cook the egg noodles in a pot of boiling salted water for 8 minutes. Add a tsp. of olive oil to the water to keep the noodles from sticking.
  2. Drain the noodles.
  3. Place the noodles in a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients until the cheese melts.

10. Chili Mac

Chili Mac
© MSPhotographic, AdobeStock

This is the perfect meal between study breaks.

Cooking Time: 10 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 7 oz. macaroni and cheese package
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 chopped green bell pepper
  • 14 oz. can of no-bean chili
  • ¼ tsp. taco seasoning

Directions:

  1. Cook macaroni and cheese in a saucepan on the stovetop according to package directions.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the onion and bell pepper for 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in the mac and cheese, chili beans, and taco seasoning and simmer for 3 minutes.

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11. Ramen Noodle Soup

Ramen Noodle Soup
© Asya, AdobeStock

This soup is very flexible. You can add any leftover vegetables for extra nutrition and color. If you have some leftover meat, use that as well.

Cooking Time: 10 minutes.
Yield: 2 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 package of chicken-flavored ramen noodles
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. grated ginger
  • 1 tsp. sesame oil
  • 2 chopped scallions
  • 1 peeled and thinly sliced carrot

Directions:

  1. Combine the chicken broth and noodles in a pan.
  2. Cover the pan and bring the broth to a boil.
  3. Remove the cover and stir in the remaining ingredients.
  4. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

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12. Ramen Salad

Ramen Salad
© Jabiru, AdobeStock

Ramen is absolutely cheap and incredibly versatile. Time to get creative. If there are any leftover chicken tenders in your refrigerator, chop them up and add them.

Cooking Time: 10 minutes.
Yield: 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Oriental-flavored ramen noodles with flavor packets
  • ½ cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • 16 oz. coleslaw mix
  • 1 chopped red bell pepper
  • 4 chopped scallions
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 5 tbsp. Oriental Miso salad dressing
  • Adjust salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Break the ramen noodles into pieces.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Place the broken Ramen noodles, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for 10 minutes.
  4. Allow to cool.
  5. Mix the coleslaw, red bell pepper, scallions, and sugar in a bowl.
  6. Combine with the toasted Ramen noodle mix.
  7. Stir in the dressing and toss to combine.
  8. Season with salt and pepper, if needed.

13. Chicken and Noodles

Chicken and Noodles
© Cook_inspire, AdobeStock

Perfect for a college budget, and it is a filling meal.

Cooking Time: 5 minutes.
Yield: 2 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup chicken-flavored Ramen noodle soup
  • 1 small, chopped onion
  • ¼ cup leftover shredded chicken
  • 1 chopped jalapeno pepper

Directions:

  1. Pour a cup of boiling water into the Ramen cup.
  2. Transfer the soup to a larger bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients.

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14. Ground Beef Noodles

Ground Beef Noodles
© Pavel Siamionov, AdobeStock

A tasty meal with just four ingredients. The Rotel tomatoes provide a kick; if you prefer less heat, use regular diced tomatoes.

Cooking Time: 20 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 2 3-oz. packages Oriental flavored ramen noodles with 1 flavor packet
  • 1 ½ cup Rotel tomatoes with chilis
  • ¼ cup thawed frozen peas

Directions:

  1. Sauté and crumble the beef in a skillet for 8 minutes and drain the grease.
  2. Stir in the remaining ingredients (including the flavor packet) and simmer for 10 minutes.

15. Sausage Gravy and Biscuits

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits
© Brent Hofacker, AdobeStock

These easy gravy and biscuits are great for breakfast, but they are filling at any time of day.

Cooking Time: 10 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small can of buttermilk biscuits (5 biscuits)
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 1 ¾ cups milk
  • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 5 hot pork sausages, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Prepare the biscuits according to package directions.
  2. Heat the butter in a skillet and stir in the flour.
  3. Keep stirring until you have a paste, about 4 minutes.
  4. Slowly pour in the milk and Worcestershire sauce and keep stirring.
  5. Bring the milk to a boil while continuing to stir.
  6. Add the sausage and simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. Season with salt and pepper.

16. Salmon Cakes

Salmon Cakes
© La_vanda, AdobeStock

If you bought your canned seafood on sale, these salmon cakes are an inexpensive treat.

Cooking Time: 10 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 14 oz. canned salmon
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 small, diced onion
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ tsp. Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • 3 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 sliced lemon

Directions:

  1. Flake the salmon and combine it with the onion, salt, pepper, Old Bay seasoning, and breadcrumbs in a bowl.
  2. Shape into 8 small patties.
  3. Refrigerate the salmon patties for 30 minutes.
  4. Heat the oil in a large skillet.
  5. Fry the salmon patties for 5 minutes on each side.
  6. Serve with lemon slices.

17. Lentils, Rice, and Fried Onions

Lentils, Rice, and Fried Onions
© FomaA, AdobeStock

This popular Indian dish is simple yet tasty and healthy, and it’s little more than a dollar per serving. You should always keep staples such as rice and lentils handy. This is India’s version of rice and beans.

Cooking Time: 1 hour and 5 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 sliced onions
  • 2 cups chicken broth (you can use water, but broth tastes better) or as needed
  • 1 1/4 cups uncooked green lentils
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • ¼ tsp. cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2/3 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil and caramelize the onions for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Place the lentils in a pan and cover with the broth.
  3. Add the cumin, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
  4. Simmer for about 25 minutes, until they are done.
  5. Add the rice and simmer for 20 more minutes. Make sure both the rice and lentils are tender.
  6. Drain the rice and lentils and stir in the caramelized onions and the yogurt.

18. Cajun Red Beans and Rice

Cajun Red Beans and Rice
© Whiteaster, AdobeStock

Beans and Rice are a southern classic. Enjoy them as a side dish or a main meal. The sausage is the one splurge for this recipe. If you cannot find them, use ham hocks. Also, both the beans and rice can be cooked in water, but the broth adds a lot more flavor.

Cooking Time: 3 hours 25 minutes.
Yield: 8 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. dry kidney beans
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 chopped red bell pepper
  • 6 minced garlic cloves
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tbsp. Cajun seasoning
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 lb. sliced andouille sausage
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 cups rice

Directions:

  1. Soak the beans in a pot of water overnight.
  2. Heat the butter in a large skillet.
  3. Sauté the onion, bell pepper, and garlic for 5 minutes.
  4. Transfer the rinsed and drained beans to another large pot filled with vegetable broth.
  5. Season with oregano, Cajun seasoning, salt, and pepper, and add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic.
  6. Bring the broth to a boil, then simmer for 3 hours.
  7. Add the sliced sausage and simmer for another 20 minutes.
  8. Prepare the rice according to directions using vegetable broth.
  9. Serve the beans over the rice.

19. Seared Tilapia

Seared Tilapia
© Brent Hofacker, AdobeStock

Even a struggling college student needs to eat some fish. Tilapia is the least expensive fish you can find.

Cooking Time: 8 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 4 4-oz. tilapia fillets
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ tsp. Old Bay seasoning
  • 1/8 tsp. paprika - optional
  • ½ cup white flour
  • 5 tbsp. melted butter - divided
  • 2 tsp. chopped parsley – optional
  • 1 sliced lemon

Directions:

  1. Rinse the fish fillets and pat them dry.
  2. Season them with salt, pepper, Old Bay seasoning, and paprika on both sides.
  3. Transfer the flour to a dish and coat the 4 fillets.
  4. Heat 2 ½ tbsp. of the butter in a skillet.
  5. Fry the tilapia for 3 minutes per side – it should flake easily.
  6. Brush the remaining butter over the fish.
  7. Place the seared fish on a platter and top with some optional parsley.
  8. Serve with lemon slices.

20. Cowboy Chicken

Cowboy Chicken
© Stepanek Photography, AdobeStock

This is one of those great toss-it-into-the-pot meals.

Cooking Time: 30 minutes.
Yield: 4 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2 minced garlic cloves
  • ¼ tsp. chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 10 oz. Rotel tomatoes with green chili peppers
  • ½ tsp. chipotle sauce - optional
  • 1 additional chopped green chili for added heat - optional
  • 15 oz. drained Northern beans
  • 8 oz. thawed frozen corn

Directions:

  1. Heat the oil in a large skillet.
  2. Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and chili pepper and brown for 5 minutes.
  3. Toss in the remaining ingredients and simmer for 25 minutes.
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