College Cooking on a Budget

The ease of takeout is always tempting, especially as a busy college student living in an apartment for the first time. Between classes, studying, socializing, and sleeping, there isn’t much time for cooking. Plus if you’ve never had to cook before, the prospect of finding a recipe, buying ingredients and assembling a meal all on your own can be intimidating. But, as a college student on a budget there is no way I can afford eating out every single night.

Time and budget are two main priorities that can be hard to balance.

Enter: the microwave – an invention that most certainly was directed towards broke college students desperate to push off learning to cook for just one more year.

Because it can be used to create practically any meal in a matter of minutes, the microwave is a saving grace when you’re crunched for time (or overslept for your morning class…). But how can you be sure you’re getting the best deal on your fast-pass to breakfast, lunch, and dinner? We’ve tried out a few of the go-to quick meals and snacks to figure out a college student’s ideal day of eating.


I am a huge oatmeal fan, especially once the cooler fall months hit. I’ve always been loyal to my Quaker oats, but I was curious to see if there is a cheaper option out there. Turns out, there is. I brought home a box of Quaker Instant Oatmeal in the Maple & Brown sugar flavor in lower sugar (because, health) and Target’s copy-cat version, Market Pantry Maple & Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal, to share with my apartment. After blind testing both kinds, the Market Pantry version won our vote with flying colors. I spiced my oatmeal up with raisins, peanut butter, and chia seeds to help keep me full until lunch. We also discovered that Market Pantry raisins are practically identical in taste to the classic Sun-Maid raisins, and by switching to Market Pantry we’ll save over a dollar. This breakfast takes about 3 minutes to make, so it’s super easy to fit into even the busiest morning routine.

For lunch on the go, I picked up a quick salad on campus to save money and take advantage of my meal plan. But (as usual) this wasn’t quite satisfying enough. I always make sure to bring extra snacks with me to munch on throughout the day because the hanger can be real. I find that a pack of almonds usually does the trick. Luckily Southern Grove, one of Aldi’s private label brands, has an awesome option that is almost identical to Emerald Natural Almonds packs.


For dinner I love doing something quick and easy. Rice that can be made in the microwave and steamed frozen veggies are my go to. Add some chicken and soy sauce and you’ve got a tasty stir-fry in less than 10 minutes. We compared Uncle Ben’s 90 Second brown rice to Market Pantry’s quick rice and discovered that most reviewers actually preferred the Market Pantry rice because of a softer, less grainy, texture. However, Market Pantry’s frozen veggies did not stand up against the Birds Eye brand version. The Market Pantry veggies were mushy and less flavorful than the Birds Eye. This was the only product throughout the way where we stuck with the name brand!

Cooking as a college student can be fast, easy, and cheap- as long as you know what to buy!

Kathleen BurnsComment