How to Eat All College Meals for $35 a Week without Starving


So you gave up the dining hall food. Tired of salads with limp lettuce and cheap ranch dressing and unappetizing plates of greasy stir fry? You don’t have to switch to the typical college diet of Ramen noodles and Easy Mac. Well, you might want to, but that’s your choice.

It can be difficult to shop on a budget while maintaining a balanced diet. The key is to make your grocery list more efficient by buying things you can use in multiple dishes. A box of cereal can last you quite some time if you don’t have cereal every day. Switch it out with yogurt and fruit. If you’re a creature of habit, maybe sticking with a loaf of bread and a half pound of deli meat is your best bet. It might cost you more than $35 at first to stock your refrigerator with some essentials like mustard, hot sauce, and coffee grinds. But once you’ve made some of the essential purchases necessary to living and cooking on your own, it should be easy to whiddle down your menu to some easy and affordable options.

Cooking for yourself is not always easy so don’t be tempted by frozen dinners or premade deli sandwiches. Taking the time to fix something yourself is going to save you tons of cash. Saving money should trump easy prep every time. Here is a suggested list for your meals this week.


Breakfast: Yogurt and fruit Lunch: Turkey sandwich, carrots, and chips with salsa Dinner: Pasta with sauteed vegetables (butter or cooking oil with a little cheese make it a meal!) Monday’s estimated total: $4.00


Breakfast: Cereal Lunch: Frozen pizza, piece of fruit Dinner: Hamburger Helper (the beef stroganoff is excellent), throw in extra veggies if you have them Tuesday’s estimated total: $6.00


Breakfast: Yogurt and fruit Lunch: Grilled cheese and tomato soup Dinner: Leftover frozen pizza, mac and Cheese Wednesday’s estimated total: $4.00


Breakfast: Cereal Lunch: Turkey sandwich, yogurt, leftover mac and cheese Dinner: Breakfast for dinner! Scrambled eggs, fruit, and toast Thursday’s estimated total: $5.00


Breakfast: Yogurt and fruit Lunch: Asian noodle bowl (better than Ramen, try Annie Chun’s or Trader Joe’s brands) Dinner: Nachos with all the fixings (leftover ground beef, salsa, cheese, jalapenos, etc) Friday’s estimated total: $6.00

Weekend food

  • Make a batch of cinnamon rolls to enjoy Saturday and Sunday mornings
  • Cereal is a good excuse for lunch on the weekends, especially if you’re feeling lazy
  • Eat whatever is leftover from the week, no one will judge if you pair leftover nachos with Hamburger Helper.
  • Splurge on the value menu at Taco Bell, be sure to skip the drink and just have soda at home

Total weekend spending: $10.00

Some additional tips:

  • Buy in bulk when you can. Don’t waste the extra money on individual yogurt servings. Buy the larger tubs.
  • Buying in bulk does not apply to eggs. If your grocer sells half dozens, opt for that.
  • The store brand is just as delicious as the national brand. You’re saving money and not compromising taste.
  • Fresh fruits are a must, but frozen veggies can be more economical. Try frozen peas or corn in your meals.
  • You would be surprised how fulfilling a meal of pasta or rice paired with sauteed veggies can be. Make this a staple. Try throwing in some soy sauce.
  • Don’t be afraid of the deli. A half a pound of meat will give you more than enough for the entire week and costs much less than the pre-packaged meats.
  • A loaf of bread will probably last you two weeks, as will a bag of nachos. Sometimes you have to spend more initially to save more next week.
  • Snag the Sunday paper in the student center for coupons. Maybe clipping coupons isn’t the most glamorous way to shop but it can save you a bundle.
  • Go to the grocery store determined to purchase ONLY what is on your list, nothing more.

Happy shopping, now go finish your research paper!