This is part 3 in a new series: College Cooking Crash Course. This series is written by Kyle, a student at Princeton University, and is designed for college students looking to learn the basics of making healthy, cost-effective, and delicious meals. Today, Kyle will be discussing how to cook and eat healthy on a low budget, and showing you how to make Huevos Rancheros, Chicken Quesadillas, and Burrito Bowls.
Like most college students, I’m practically broke. So a major reason why I decided to learn to cook for myself is that it would save me a ton of money. During my freshman and sophomore years at Princeton, it costs me $6,630 a year to eat in the dining hall. In my junior year, I joined an eating club and that price spiked up to $8,600 a year. That’s definitely not cheap! I figure that cooking for myself next year could save me thousands of dollars. This may be a bit ambitious, but if I am able to spend about $40 a week on groceries next year, my total cost for food during the school year would be $840 — that’s $7,760 less than the eating club plan, and $5,790 less than the dining hall plan!
Cooking for myself regularly will also save me tons of money even after I graduate from college. My current post-grad plans are either to get a job in Christian ministry or attend seminary in order to prepare for a ministry career. Either way, I’m passionate about getting into ministry as a long-term career. However, a quick Google search reveals that ministry is hardly a lucrative career. The average annual salary of a pastor in America is approximately $30,000. Take away about $28,000 for housing, utilities, transportation, charity, etc., and that would leave me with about $2,000 a year for food.
For that reason I’m interested in learning how to cook on a low budget, and I mean, low budget! If you crunch the numbers, $2,000 a year for food breaks down to about $40 a week, or a little less than $6 a day (that’s $2 per meal!). By the end of the summer, I hope to create a monthly meal plan that works within this low budget. But for now, here’s a quick peek into what it might look like to live on $6 a day.
Today, I made breakfast, lunch, and dinner using affordable, healthy, and simple ingredients. Most importantly, I repurposed some of the ingredients I used to make breakfast and lunch for dinner. Repurposing foods is an excellent way to use food efficiently and save money.
For breakfast, I made Huevos Rancheros. Not only is it super easy to make, but it’s also a great dish for reusing ingredients, such as leftover rice, beans, etc.
For lunch, I made a really simple Chicken Quesadilla, accompanied with sides of salsa and guacamole. Quesadillas are also perfect for reusing leftover ingredients, such as extra meats and vegetables you might have stored in your fridge from previous meals. Plus, I prefer to make quesadillas rather than sandwiches because tortillas are much cheaper than sandwich bread. You can buy 24 corn tortillas for $2! A loaf of bread would set you back at least twice as much.
Lastly for dinner, I made a Burrito Bowl, using the beans, salsa and guacamole from that morning’s Huevos Rancheros, and the leftover chicken from lunch.
All in all, these three meals cost me just about $12 to make – and since each meal was more than enough for 2+ people, the total cost for one person would be under $6. Not bad! Check out the recipes below and let me know if you have any other ideas for making super tasty meals on a low budget.
Read my other College Cooking Crash Course posts:
A classic Mexican breakfast that is also super easy to make. Works great with leftovers.
- 2 corn tortillas
- 1/4 cup refried beans warmed
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup cheese shredded
- 1/2 cup fresh salsa
- olive oil
Preheat oven to 350˚F. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add tortillas one at a time to skillet and fry until slightly browned, but not crisp. Drain on paper towels.
Spread a spoonful of beans in the center of each tortilla and set aside.
Add oil to a skillet over medium heat. Add eggs and fry until a little less done than you like them. Season with salt and pepper. Place an egg in the center of each tortilla. Top with cheese.
Place tortillas on a baking dish and bake until cheese is melted, approx. 4-5 minutes.
Top with salsa, sliced avocado, and a bit of lime juice, and serve immediately.
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.
Really simple quesadillas that always hit the spot!
- 2 flour tortillas
- 2 grilled chicken breasts chopped
- 1/2 cup cheese shredded
- 1/4 cup fresh salsa
- 1/4 cup fresh guacamole
Grill chicken using your favorite rub and chop into bite-sized pieces.
Place tortilla in a non-stick skillet. Layer one half with cheese, chicken, and then more cheese.
Fold tortilla over and cook over medium heat until golden brown. Flip and repeat with other side.
Cut quesadilla into wedges and serve with salsa and guacamole.
Feel free to add your own meats + vegetables (whatever you have in the fridge!)
An easy-to-assemble, hearty dinner. One of my favorites.
- 2 cups rice
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 15.5 oz can black beans canned
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tbsp Salsa Lizano
- 2 grilled chicken breasts sliced
- olive oil
- fresh salsa
- fresh guacamole
Prepare rice in rice cooker.
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and sautée until tender, approx. 7-8 min.
Add beans, cumin, and Salsa Lizano to saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
Grill chicken using your favorite rub and cut into slices.
Add rice, beans, and chicken to a bowl. Top with salsa and guacamole, and serve immediately.
Mix it up by using other meats or adding in your favorite toppings!