In the final part of this series about creating nutritious meals on a budget, I want to share with you some examples of cheap and healthy student meals I ate throughout my PhD. All of these meals are designed to be simple enough to prepare in shared kitchens, while importantly remaining low cost! They’re also all vegan, but can easily be adapted to suit other diets.
If you’ve not already read them, I suggest checking out my previous posts on cheap and healthy student meals first:
- Part 1: Introduction to cooking delicious, nutritious meals on a budget
- Part 2: My simple method for creating cheap and healthy meals
- Part 3: Example meals (this post)
Criteria for cheap and healthy student meals
All of the typical meals I eat regularly aim to be:
- More nutritious than a takeaway/ restaurant meal
- Cheaper than a takeaway/restaurant meal
- More convenient than a takeaway/restaurant meal*
- Faster than a takeaway/restaurant meal
- More sustainable than a takeaway/ restaurant meal**
- Finally, in my opinion, also much tastier than many takeaway/ restaurant meals
What’s not to love?!
*Scroll right to the bottom of the post for explanations
Breakfast on a budget: Fully loaded porridge
Given the post is focused on cheap and healthy student meals, you were probably expecting us to cover lunches and dinners. But let’s start at the beginning with breakfast!
For the base porridge I buy these oats and cook them in the microwave in equal volumes of water and plant milk (1:1:1, oats: water:milk). I then add a few sprinkles of cinnamon to improve the flavour. If you stopped there it would be a incredibly cheap breakfast, but also very boring!
The great thing with porridge is that you can add whatever you fancy as a topping. I like to top my porridge with a mix of:
- Frozen berries bought in bulk from the supermarket
- Fresh fruit such as sliced apple, banana or pear (usually from my weekly fruit and veg box, read more in part 1)
- Chia seeds*
- Pumpkin seeds*
- Sunflower seeds*
- Peanut butter
- Milled flaxseeds (linseeds)*
*These are all affiliate links. Read my own policy about them here. I bulk-buy all of my breakfast toppings from Buywholefoodsonline: a reasonably placed shop selling top quality organic produce. Every three months or so I put together an order, typically costing about £35 which’ll then last me until my next order. If you have the space I really recommend buying stuff this way in bulk: you can buy better quality ingredients for less money than if you bought some quantities in a supermarket.
There are endless combinations and switching up toppings makes it harder to get bored.
All of the seeds and nuts give a hefty amount of good fats (and protein) which keeps me full for ages. When we used to have cereal for breakfast my girlfriend always needed a mid-morning snack. Now we’ve switched to porridge she never gets hungry before lunchtime.
The fruit also helps me towards my fruit and veg intake for the day and is simply really tasty!
Cost per portion: Less than £1.50 – often much less depending on the fruits you add.
Main meals – lunches and dinners on a budget
One of my top tips (as covered in the first post in the series) is that I always cook multiple portions of each meal. I use the extra portions as lunches, meaning I skip the typical lunches often based around bread and have complete wholesome meals conveniently available. In a pinch I’d eat a homemade sandwich for lunch, but over 90% of my lunches are “proper” meals.
We previously covered the method I use when creating cheap and healthy student meals. In summary I combine:
- A base of wholewheat carbs such as pasta, rice or couscous
- Lots of vegetables, from our weekly veg box*
- Pulses, lentils and beans
- Perhaps a topping: chopped nuts, hummus or falafel. Every so often I make homemade seitan following this recipe at a double quantity, it freezes great.
*For my fruit and veg I use Abel & Cole who are B-corp certified and a nice organisation to support. I split a weekly £27.50 box with my partner, giving us great quality seasonal produce for a reasonable price. If you’re interested in trying their boxes you can use this affiliate link to get £10 off your first box (and third too, if you fancy sticking with it). Read my affiliate policy here.
Of course there are times I go off-piste and have something like pizza, burgers or wraps. Even so, these can all be made healthy and pretty cheaply. Remember that compared to spending £10+ at a restaurant, a £3 supermarket pizza is still a good option. The following types of meals form the majority of what I eat.
- Wholewheat couscous with lemon juice, olive oil and herbs of your choice
- Any seasonal veggies you fancy. If I have time at the weekends it may include roasted vegetables such as: beetroot, sweet potato, red onion. Usually though it’ll be things like courgette, pepper, kale
- A tin of legumes of your choice, such as chickpeas or butterbeans
- Dried apricots and raisins, rehydrated in warm water
- Topped with chopped nuts and infrequently homemade hummus or seitan
Time to make: Usually under 25 minutes, depending on the vegetables you cook and whether you fancy making your own hummus
Cost per portion: Well under £1.50 a portion.
- Wholewheat pasta of your choice
- Seasonal fresh veggies of your choice and sometimes some frozen ones
- A tin of pulses of your choice. For example: black beans, chickpeas or green lentils.
- Sauce: usually either pesto – I often bought this brand from the Imperial Food Coop, getting 8 portions out of each jar. Or this quick and easy vegan cheesy sauce.
- Topping: with pasta I’ll usually go for nutritional yeast, a handy cheese substitute with a long shelf life.
Time to make: Under 20 minutes.
Cost per portion: Well under £1.50 a portion. The exact meal above cost £1.33 per portion and was analysed in the previous post: my guide to creating cheap, quick, healthy & tasty meals.
Rice – Veggie Chilli
- Brown rice
- Fried veggies such as onions and pepper with garlic and chilli seeds, then adding some tomato passata and tins of legumes such as kidney beans. You can also buy tins of kidney beans already in a chilli sauce if you want.
- Microwaved frozen veggies such as broccoli or green beans
Time to make: However long your rice takes, usually under 25 minutes.
Cost per portion: Under £1 a portion.
The not-really-cooking dinners
Cooking cheap and healthy student meals doesn’t have to be time-consuming. Every so often there are nights you simply want something super quick and during my PhD I’d turn to options such as:
- Baked beans on wholemeal toast topped with nutritional yeast – it’s so synonymous with eating cheaply yet so good!
- Cheats bruschetta: chopped tomatoes on toast, with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of seasoning
Both cost well under £1 and take less than 5 minutes to prepare. Yes, I love toast!
I hope that you find these meal ideas useful. Are there other quick and easy student meals you’d recommend? Please share them in the comments section below.
*I can’t be the only person who spends longer deciding where to get a takeaway from, and then having to choose what to actually order, than it would take to actually cook a meal!
**Sustainability means lots of different things, let’s address some of them:
- There is loads of food waste in most commercial kitchens which we can practically eliminate when in control of all your meals. You can go even further and buy produce through places like oddbox.
- Takeaways in particularly produce a load of packaging waste which again we can avoid.
- I won’t go heavy on my hatred of Uber (and therefore UberEats) but in short they’re a shady company and I don’t like them. Amazon, who I also don’t like, now have a stake in Deliveroo too. Not getting takeaways means I avoid ever inadvertently supporting them.
- Finally, the fantastic thing with cooking your own meals is that they’re comparatively so much cheaper than buying meals, so if you choose to you can buy quality ingredients. My homemade meals are made with food that is largely organic, fairtrade and sustainable (didn’t require much energy and water to produce) yet cost a fraction of a low quality prepared meal. Of course you can make your meals even cheaper if you choose!