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College Food Prep on the Cheap: 6 Delicious Ideas

Make-ahead meals are just the thing to keep busy college students well fed. Here's a beginner's guide on what to buy and how to make it.

It’s not that college students don’t want to eat right—or eat well—but we’re all so busy that it’s easy to succumb to the temptations of eating out or grabbing some junk or a bowl of cereal when hunger pangs hit. Having a meal plan may have helped, but once you’ve ditched it, you’ll need to reset your thinking about quick, easy, and inexpensive eating. So stop paying $20 for your meals every day, and instead, get to the grocery store to start food prepping like a pro.

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1. Stock up on spices

To be able to make any great recipes you find, you’ll want to buy a few of your favorite spices (or the ones that you see coming up in ingredient lists over and over). Maybe ask your parents what they use to make your favorite dishes. From my own spice rack, I would definitely recommend having salt, ground black pepper, paprika, Cajun mix, and an herb mix.

2. Get packaging for leftovers

If you plan on cooking ahead, you’ll need to have foil, plastic wrap, and—most important—reusable plastic or glass containers to store your prepped food. The nice thing about glass containers with lids is that you can reheat the food right in them (minus the plastic lid).

3. Use a slow cooker

If you don’t want to be stuck by the stove, you can throw a bunch of ingredients into a slow cooker and do some work while you wait. Or consider getting a multi-cooker, which does even more, including steaming, sauteing, and cooking rice. Browse online for tons of slow-cooker recipes for fajitas, chicken pasta, chicken noodle soup, and more. If you have time to surf the Internet, try one of these 2-ingredient slow cooker recipes from CrockPot: Chicken Salsa or Barbecue Chicken.

4. Cook multiple meals

There are seemingly endless recipes online for making yummy, cheap, and quick meals that can last you a week. A quick Google search lead me to an amazing chicken meatball recipe (with herbs and cheese) from FlavCity and chef Bobby Parrish. It also includes recipes for homemade pesto and pasta, plus a broccoli salad with lemon, peanuts, and herbs. It all takes 1 hour to put together, but it’s well worth having a complete meal on hand!

Tip: Pick a recipe and set aside enough time to follow through with it. If you want to make dumplings to freeze and cook when needed, you’ll need to set aside a few hours to do the work in the kitchen. (Most recipes will tell you the prep time needed.)

5. Grab some cold cuts

Food prep doesn’t always mean cooking. If you like sandwiches, buy some meat (or vegetarian or vegan options) for days when you’re tired of leftovers. (Don’t forget to buy your favorite condiments, too.) For example, I buy turkey slices from a meat market (but you can get from them your local grocery) and prepack half a pound’s worth into individual-use packets. I take out about 4 slices and keep most of the rest in the freezer. Since you’re buying in bulk, you’ll have enough deli meat for a month or so.

6. Remember that veggies and fruit are your friends

Sometimes, the simplest of foods will do the trick when you’re hungry. Always have some veggies and fruit stocked up. I like to buy a bag of Cuties and eat them as quick snacks. One of my childhood favorites was peanut butter and celery. You can also spruce things up by making a fruit salad like this Rainbow Fruit Salad with Honey Lime Dressing or a Quick Mixed Vegetable Medley. Both choices take less than 10 minutes to prep, and they’re healthier than chips or processed snacks.

Do you have any food prep ideas we forgot to mention? Feel free to add a comment below!

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