Knowing how to cook for yourself is so important, especially on a budget! People are sometimes afraid of cooking, but in reality it is super easy to master a couple recipes. Once you start cooking, you’ll be ready to take on any recipe – so here are a couple cheap and easy meals to get you started.
Okay, an obvious one on the list but also a necessity. Nothing is nicer after a cold, tough day, than eating a big bowl of mac & cheese. But you can do so much better than KD. The real stuff is so easy to make, just melt butter, add flour, add milk then add cheese and your sauce is done! It really doesn’t take that much longer than KD, but is so much more satisfying. The nice thing too is once you know how to make that basic cream sauce (also known as a bechamel), you can do so much more like:
Fried rice is one of those things that you don’t need a recipe for, which makes it ideal. Just grab your leftover rice, get it cooking in a pan with some chopped up or frozen veggies, any meat you might have on hand and an egg and you’re golden. Having a freezer bag of peas and carrots is always good to add, or some corn. If you have onions and garlic (which you should!), sautee those up first. Any leftover meats will do, but having some Chinese sausage on hand is a great idea because they last forever and are just delicious. Then add your soy sauce, sesame oil and oyster sauce (if you have it) and you’re golden. You can get so creative with add-ins, and it’s nice to know your rice won’t go to waste.
Fried rice is one of those easy meals that you don’t need a recipe for, which makes it ideal. Just grab your leftover rice, get it cooking in a pan with some chopped up or frozen veggies, any meat you might have on hand and an egg and you’re golden. Having a freezer bag of peas and carrots is always good to add, or some corn. If you have onions and garlic (which you should!), sautee those up first. Any leftover meats will do, but having some Chinese sausage on hand is a great idea because they last forever and are just delicious. Then add your soy sauce, sesame oil and oyster sauce (if you have it) and you’re golden. You can get so creative with add-ins, and it’s nice to know your rice won’t go to waste.
Curry is a delicious, warming, easily reheatable meal to have. But as a student, you might not have all the spices on hand to create those rich flavors. Japanese curries are great because you can buy the curry roux package in stores. All you need is the package, some chicken (or other meat), potatoes, carrots and an apple and you have the basics. Garlic and ginger are good to have in there as well, but not a necessity. And if you want, a squirt of ketchup is often used. Japanese curry is so lovely and so easy to make!
If you’ve never had chicken adobo, this easy meal is a real treat that is super quick to make. Marinate chicken in some soy sauce, then cook it down with vinegar, water, garlic, bay leaves and peppercorn. The result is this savory, garlicky, acidic braised chicken that is perfect to pair with rice. A simple steamed veggie on the side is the perfect complement. The whole cook time takes only about 30 minutes, and you basically just have to put the ingredients in the pot and walk away!
Chili is popular with students, and for good reason. It’s hearty and filling, easy to freeze and can be just as good when made vegetarian as it is with meat. Get your ground beef (or other meat), beans, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and spices and you have your basic chili! If you don’t have spices on hand, you can buy packets of chili seasoning in stores. Of course, adding corn, bell pepper, jalapeno, or anything else you can think of would be delicious as well. Top it off with sour cream, cheese and a green onion to really treat yourself.
If you ever feel like you’re not getting enough veggies in your life, try a Buddha Bowl. Sweet potatoes, chickpeas, your choice of roasted vegetables and kale are the building blocks of this nutrient packed bowl. This recipe calls for topping it off with a tahini dressing, but if tahini is out of your budget, you can try a peanut butter based dressing instead! You can have a rice or quinoa base if you want, or just go full veggie. Roasting the veggies brings out their full flavor and mixing it all together creates the most satisfying meal.
Yes this went viral on TikTok, but it’s honestly so easy and delicious. Throw a container of cherry tomatoes in a pan with a block of feta and garlic cloves all around. Season it and drizzle it all with olive oil and roast it at 400 for 40 mins. Make your pasta in the meantime and reserve some pasta water. When it’s done, mix the feta and tomatoes and add some pasta water to create a good sauce-like consistency, then throw in your pasta and you’re done! If you want to add some basil, it’s a delicious addition. You can also add thyme, rosemary or oregano instead!
One pan dinners are great to make when you’re not feeling like separate components. Simply browning potatoes, sausage, adding in some onion and cooking the kale until it’s wilted makes for an easy dinner with minimal prep. While having a cast iron skillet is cool, in the end it really doesn’t matter too much what pan you use, as long as it’s big enough.
An absolutely incredible dish that is shockingly easy to make, shakshuka is a breakfast found in Israel, parts of the Middle East and North Africa. You essentially just poach eggs in a mixture of red peppers, onions and crushed tomatoes and the result is a shockingly hearty breakfast that’s perfect with toasted bread. The key is cumin and paprika in the seasoning to really amp up the flavor. If you have some goat cheese or feta to crumble over top, it really takes it over the top!