Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!
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When it comes to preparing dinner after a busy day in classes or at work, the last thing we want to do is spend hours in the kitchen to create something healthy. These easy college meals are geared specifically for students and busy professionals who are pressed for time but still want a meal that is healthy and delicious!
Earlier this week, I got a comment from a reader — she’s a college student and doesn’t have much time, but wanted some healthy and easy meal ideas that she could use during the week. I thought it was a great question – and would apply to anyone who is super busy and just doesn’t have more than 15 minutes to spend in the kitchen.
Tips for Eating Healthy and Cheap in College
When you start college or have your first apartment on your own, it is probably the first time you are buying and preparing your own meals. These helpful tips will get you started so that you can enjoy healthy meals without breaking the bank!
Shop the Sales
All of the major grocery stores come out each week with a flyer of their weekly sales. Some stores require you to sign-up for a customer card, while others do not. Be sure to sign-up, and get your card, so that you can save big!
Before going to the store, look through the weekly sales. You can also find these online if you don’t get a printed version. Make your list of groceries based on the fresh ingredients that are on sale. Usually the produce that is on sale is also the produce that is in season. This means you’re getting fresh and healthy fruits and vegetables at a discount!
You’ll also find canned foods, dairy, meat and other foods on sale. Base your recipes for the week around the ingredients you’re able to get on sale.
Not all grocery stores are created equal. Depending on where you shop you can end up spending A LOT more money!
My favorite discount grocery store is Aldi. They run weekly specials, but they also have excellent prices on their organic produce even when they are not on sale.
While I love Whole Foods, it is on the pricier end. So to save money at Whole Foods or higher priced retailers, focus on the sales, and find the best deals!
Prepare Your Own Meals
Preparing your own meals at home is not only much less expensive, but also much healthier.
Getting take-out on a regular basis will not only hurt your pocket book but also your waistline. Take-out foods are often made with more oils and fats then you would use at home. This increases the calories, without the nutritional value.
When you prepare your own meals at home, you’ll end up making more for less, and also have complete control over what goes into your food.
You can reduce the amount of oil, add more fresh vegetables, etc. You’ll also likely end up with leftovers that you can enjoy for lunch the next day!
Buy in Bulk
If there are particular items that you use often, consider buying them in bulk. It will save you money in the long run. For example, I buy canned beans in bulk because I know I will use them often, and they keep for an extended period in the pantry.
Also consider using the bulk section of your grocery store. This is where you can buy grains, flours, granola, nuts, seeds, and more. I love using the bulk section when I’m making a new recipe that calls for an ingredient I’m not familiar with because I only need to buy as much as I need.
For example, if you are making a recipe that calls for 1 cup of lentils, you can buy just 1 cup of lentils from the bulk section. This ends up saving you money because you only buy what you need.
Time Saving Tips for Preparing Easy College Meals
Chop/prep all of your produce when you buy them or when you have extra time. That way, when it comes to actually making the weeknight meals, all you have to do is throw the ingredients together.
Find recipes that use the same vegetables. This will save you money and prep time.
Create a meal plan. Take a look at your week and decide which days you will be preparing meals at home based on your schedule. Then, choose your recipes. Creating a meal plan will help prepare for the week, so that when you have a busy night, you can have leftovers to eat.
Make a grocery list. I know this seems obvious, but so many of us go to the grocery store without a list and just buy whatever inspires us. While this is a nice thing to do once and awhile, you’ll often find you end up spending more money, without really knowing what to do with the ingredients you buy.
What to Buy to Prepare Healthy Easy College Meals
Seasonal vegetables and fruits: When creating your weekly meal plan, consider what is on sale or in season at the grocery store, and base your meals off of those.
Inexpensive protein: Beans, lentils, Greek yogurt, and eggs are all excellent sources of protein that are also inexpensive. They can also be prepared quickly, and are full of vitamins and nutrients.
Whole Grains: In order to create a well balanced meal, you’ll also need to incorporate whole grains into your meals. This can include whole grain bread, brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat pasta to name a few.
Easy College Meals for Students on the Go
How do you eat cheap and healthy when in college?
Prepare your meals at home, and use fresh seasonal ingredients when planning your recipes. Saving money on your grocery bill means you’ll need to shop the sales, and avoid getting take-out.
What should college students eat for dinner?
You need brain food when you’re studying. That means preparing fresh meals with plenty of fruits and vegetables, high protein, and whole grains.
30 Easy College Meals for Students and Busy Professionals
These are my favorite easy meals that are perfect for college students and busy professionals. One of the challenges when you’re a student or busy professional is that you may only be cooking for one. These recipes allow you to have some leftovers for breakfast of lunch, making meal time even easier!
Tacos, Burritos, and Quesadillas
When you get a craving for Mexican take-out, try one of these simple and easy college meals! You’ll find tacos, burritos, and quesadillas that are so quick and easy to make, yet less expensive than take-out, and full of healthy vitamins and nutrients!
Sweet Potato Tacos with a Spicy Yogurt Sauce
These hearty sweet potato tacos are loaded with refried black beans, veggies, and topped with a spicy Greek Yogurt taco sauce. They're gluten-free, easily made vegan, healthy, delicious and super family-friendly! The best part? They're ready in just 30 minutes!
Grilled Quesadillas with Poblanos, Mangos, and Black Beans
Easy, crispy, satisfying Grilled Quesadillas are filled with creamy avocados, protein-packed black beans, gooey cheese, spicy poblanos, and sweet mango. Ready in 30 minutes and the perfect weeknight meal!
This healthy and easy Vegetarian Burrito Bowl with black beans is packed with goodness and awesome flavors! Inspired by Chipotle's veggie bowl, it’s loaded with jalapeno peppers, black beans, onions, peppers, warm spices, hearty brown rice, sweet corn, and a secret ingredient that makes it extra filling and satisfying!
These healthy and delicious vegan tacos are great for an easy weeknight meal. Packed with black beans, veggies, and spices, they're full of flavor, ready in 30 minutes, and perfect for the whole family!
This pulled BBQ jackfruit burrito recipe in a bowl is simply incredible and bold in flavor. Made with tender jackfruit, hearty beans, rice, fresh vegetables, and comforting spices, this recipe is the perfect healthy option for meatless weeknight dinners!
The aroma of these Smoky Vegetarian Fajitas will make you smack your lips and your stomach growl. Every bite is filled with lots of caramelized vegetables, spicy seasonings, protein-packed black beans, gooey Mexican cheese, and a crispy corn tortilla.
Making loaded veggie nachos has never been easier! Layers of chips, melty cheeses, and the best toppings come together to make the perfect side dish or main dish. These nachos are easily customizable making them great for the whole family. Enjoy them for cinco de mayo, game day, or movie nights – this no meat nacho recipe is delicious any time of year!
What college student doesn’t love pizza! These healthy pizzas and flatbreads are so easy to make at home, and WAY healthier than take-out. They key is to use whole wheat pizza dough, lots of veggies, and lighten up on the cheese!
Mushroom Flatbread Pizza Recipe
A crispy whole wheat crust is topped with melty mozzarella and fresh pesto to create this mushroom flatbread pizza that makes for a family friendly meal any day of the week! It's a truly authentic artisan flatbread pizza, that rivals anything you'd order in a restaurant!
This Goat Cheese Pizza with caramelized onions is a restaurant-quality meal you can make at home with ease! The crisp crust paired with creamy and tangy goat cheese and sweet caramelized onions is a match made in heaven made for sharing with friends and family.
This vegan flatbread recipe is soft and fluffy, simple to make, and versatile too! With just five ingredients and no yeast, it's made with pantry staples and dairy-free milk. Enjoy it as the base for pizza, to mop up stews and curries, or as a satisfying snack.
This healthy homemade pizza is loaded with veggies, made with a whole grain crust, and topped with gooey mozzarella and fresh parmesan. Ready in 30 minutes and guaranteed to please even the pickiest eaters!
BBQ Flatbread (Black Bean Pizza)
This healthy, flavorful BBQ Flatbread pizza with corn, black beans and red peppers is easy to make at home and is low in calories. Loaded with fresh veggies, this black bean pizza recipe is a fun twist on traditional pizza and keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days!
With just five easy ingredients, this Pear Gorgonzola Pizza with Walnuts is guaranteed to be a crowd pleaser! Gooey fontina cheese, fresh pears, savory gorgonzola cheese, and crunchy walnuts all on top of whole-wheat pizza dough makes for a mind-blowing delicious meal!
Stir-fries are a great way to get a balanced and healthy meal in a hurry. With a combination of brown rice or quinoa, with vegetables, and protein, these recipes take minutes to make, but are big on flavor. The best part is the leftovers taste even better the next day!
Vegan Tofu Fried Rice
Vegan Tofu Fried Rice is super satisfying, healthy and flavorful. It's packed with nutrients, and it’s a one-pot meal that can be thrown together in around 20 minutes! Family-friendly and kid-approved!
This healthy vegetable stir fry sauce tossed with fresh veggies, tofu and quinoa is a quick and easy vegan weeknight meal. It's loaded with flavor from lemon and ginger, and is ready in just 15 minutes!
We took out the insides of an egg roll, and put them in a bowl! It's easy to make, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, keto-friendly, and is ready in just 30 minutes. This vegetarian egg roll in a bowl recipe is a flavorful, healthy one-pan meal that the whole family will love!
When it comes to simple and easy meal ideas, sandwiches and wraps are where it’s at! These healthy sandwich and wrap recipes are perfect for one to two people, and taste like a sandwich you’d get at your favorite take-out place!
Goat Cheese Grilled Cheese with Pear and Arugula
This mouth-watering goat cheese grilled cheese sandwich is the perfect lunch or light dinner! Creamy goat cheese is the star of the show, and it goes beautifully with freshly sliced pears and a drizzle of honey. Ready in less than 20 minutes, you can’t help but fall head over heels in love with this sandwich.
I love sneaking veggies into traditionally “comfort food” type dishes, and this panini is no exception. The fontina cheese oozes out of the sandwich, the bread is warm and crispy, and the sautéed kale and caramelized onions add some much needed lightness to the dish.
This delicious falafel wrap recipe is healthy comfort food at its best! These crispy falafel patties are baked instead of fried, then wrapped in a whole wheat pita and topped with spinach, tomato, and a creamy hummus sauce. Vegan, easy to make gluten free, and totally family friendly!
This vegan shawarma is stuffed with crispy savory tofu, fresh veggies, and a super creamy vegan yogurt sauce. Everything is tightly tucked into a soft and pliable whole wheat pita bread warmed to perfection. The perfect recipe to make for an easy lunch, or for a busy weeknight dinner!
This irresistibly delicious sourdough grilled cheese is ready in just 10 minutes. Melted brie, thinly sliced apple, and honey are layered between two slices of sourdough, then grilled until golden. This is guaranteed to be the best sourdough sandwich you'll ever eat!
Pasta is always a super simple to pull together. It keeps well in the pantry, and it’s extremely versatile. Add your favorite sauce and protein, and you have a quick and easy meal. The key to keeping pasta healthy is portion control, and using whole grain or legume based pasta. Load up on the vegetables, and keep the sauce light but flavorful!
Garlic Veggie Pasta with Parmesan
This flavorful Garlic Pasta is made with fresh broccoli, zucchini, red onions, seasonings, whole wheat spaghetti, and is topped with parmesan cheese. This easy Italian dish is a delicious, guilt-free solution to healthy eating.
This hearty vegan bolognese has a meaty texture from the lentils, walnuts, and celery! It's simple to make, family-friendly, and ready in less than 30 minutes. Scoop it onto your favorite pasta for an easy weeknight meal.
This healthy vegetarian pesto pasta recipe is easy to make and perfect for a fuss-free weeknight meal. Ricotta gives this sauce a creamy texture, fresh basil provides a bold flavor, and the added pine nuts gives it a nice crunch! Tossed with frozen spinach, this pesto veg pasta is ready in just 30 minutes, and makes a quick dinner recipe for the whole family!
This healthy pesto without pine nuts is the perfect pasta sauce for a quick and easy weeknight meal. This walnut and sage pesto is packed full of earthy flavors and is lower in fat and calories than its store bought counterparts!
You’ll also find tasty cuisine from all over the world, to healthy baby food to student snacks and quick meals! All of these plant based recipes are delicious & nutritious, perfect for the whole family (picky eaters included!) to enjoy.
Following a special diet or cooking for someone who has one? Try my gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, baby food, or kid-friendly recipes. They are all easy to adapt to fit your family’s needs – without sacrificing flavor or quality. Easy suggestions and swaps can help you create meals for everyone.
These look amazing and so yummy! My teens are going to love trying some of these recipes! So excited!
Yay! Thank you so much Beth!! Hope your kids love these recipes!
I’m a student and these meals seem easy to cook. Definitely gonna try some of them. Really descriptive and helpful article! Stay healthy!
Thanks Daniel! Hope you love these recipes!!
I love all the recipes that you shared, it looks delicious. Fantastic.
I absolutely love this! I’m a college student and don’t have enough time or cooking skills to make real meals so this is perfect. I love that it uses the same vegetables in all the recipes. It’s easy to find fast easy recipes all over the internet but they don’t seem to go together like these ones do. Whenever I get in the urge to cook I always have so many left over vegetables and ingredients that weren’t all used up in the one recipe. Then they go bad because it’s hard to find another recipe to use them up in! I was wondering if you had any other groups of recipes like this or if you would post some more!
Thanks so much Laura!! I’m so glad you found this post helpful 🙂 I totally hear you on not being able to use up all the ingredients when you’re cooking for one person and don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen! I don’t have another post like this already up, but I’ll work on developing another one soon! Thanks and hope you enjoy these recipes!
That was very helpful! Thank you so much! 🙂
No problem! So glad you found it helpful!
These all look really good but there should be a wider variety. I have a fiance, a 3 year old daughter, and I work and go to school, so it is hard for me to cook everyday. Is there anymore suggestions that you could possibly give?
Hi Vera! Thanks for reaching out! I totally understand it can be hard balancing everything when you have so much going on! This post was only meant to give 5 quick recipe ideas for weeknight meals (so it wouldn’t have a super wide variety). But you can find a much wider variety of recipes by clicking on my “recipes” page; or by clicking on my “quick and easy” tag. Both will give you simple, fast, healthy meals that are ready in under 30 minutes – and you will have plenty of options! You definitely don’t have to cook every night — my suggestion would be to make a double batch of one of my recipes, and use the leftovers the next night. Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any other questions!
These recipes are absolutely delicious! I am trying to change my diet, and I usually don’t want to cook on weeknights because it can be quite time consuming. But these recipes are simple and quick to make, and taste so great. This was the first thing I’ve tried on this blog and I love it! Its such a great help.
I’m so happy to hear that Mary Kate!! So glad this list of meals was helpful for you! 🙂
Very helpful! I am a college student and am tired of frozen dinners but am short on time & money! Thank you!
Hi Amber! I’m so glad this is helpful for you – you’ll have to let me know how you like these simple, budget-friendly recipes! Happy cooking! 🙂
Thanks for the great recipes! I’m really trying to stick to the 400-calorie mark for meals, so regarding the tacos and the pita pizzas, how many per person is around 400 calories?
No problem! So glad you like them! So for the pita pizzas: 1 whole wheat pita from Trader Joe’s is about 130 calories + 1/4 cup of cheese is about 100 calories + 1 serving of sauce is about 30 calories + 20 calories for the veggies = 280 calories. So if you had about 1.5 pita pizzas that would be 420 calories. For the quesadillas: 1 tortilla is ~120 calories + 1 serving of beans is 100 calories + 1/8 cup of cheese is 50 calories + salsa/veggies is 20-30 calories = 300 calories. So if you had 1.5 that would be 450 calories which is a bit over your limit. Hope that helps, let me know if you have any other questions!
I’m a busy college student…I came across this blog post, and I LOVE it. You should do more weeks of quick and easy meals like this 🙂
Oh thanks so much! I’m glad it was helpful for you. You’ll be my inspiration for my next quick and easy meal post – stay tuned and thanks for following The Picky Eater!
Hi Ellen! I just wanted to let you know that I just created 8 quick and easy breakfast recipes – inspired by your comment! 🙂 Here’s the post: https://184.108.40.206/~pickyeat/2012/01/15/8-quick-and-easy-breakfast-recipes/ Hope it’s helpful for you!
Everything looks delicious
thanks for your sharing
Thanks everyone for the comments! I’m so glad these recipes are helpful! 🙂
These all look delicious. I work late a lot during the week, so these would be great to whip up when I got home or even to take with me! Thanks for the great ideas!
Love all of the ideas. Cooking for one can be so hard. I always end up throwing out veggies becuase I can’t eat them all. Thanks for the great post!
I have a 14 year old Freshman in High School who is just beginning to learn to cook, the first 3 on this list will work wonderfully for him, and he can do it all himself. Thanks for getting us thinking!
thanks so much anjali! everything looks so good and I love all the variety! I can not wait to try these out as soon as the semester starts!
Everything looks delicious, especially the grilled cheese! I love the idea of pita pizzas, too! Thanks for sharing!
This is great! I’m going to try to start eating healthier. I feel like this is often difficult as a college student constantly on the run when it’s so easy to stop at McDonalds. Although I personally love to cook & usually make time for it, some simple healthy meals are a great idea for the days of the week where my life is more hectic
I love easy meals, especially now that my summer break has come to an end and I am back to teaching full time. Definitely holding on to these meals…thanks for sharing!
delicious and healthy
I am so loving these recipes, especially the grilled cheese sandwich!
Yay!! I hope these recipes help you to eat healthier on a day to day basis!