Updated on 06.19.08

Seven Ideas for Preparing Food at Home Cheaply with Minimal Space and Resources

Trent Hamm

tomatoMy first living experience on my own was in a college dorm room, where I resided for two years. The cooking equipment there was minimal – I had a dorm fridge, a hot plate, a large pan, two plates, a few forks and spoons, and that was about it. I did whatever dishes I needed to do in the restroom sink on my dorm floor. My first apartment after that wasn’t much better – I shared what amounted to an efficiency with four other people. It was dirt cheap, but it also almost required you to eat out instead of eating inside, meaning that the money saved on cheap housing was somewhat taken away by the cost of eating out consistently.

I made various efforts to cook things, but it was mostly prepackaged and unhealthy fare. My diet often consisted of boxed macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, Campbell’s Chunky soup, and whatever packaged food was on sale at the store. While such fare is fine on occasion, it’s not exactly the backbone of a healthy diet over the long haul.

Yet I still yearned to eat healthy and to eat cheap at home. I wanted to be able to cook something up in the corner of that apartment while watching a movie with my friends there, spending just $0.50 or so on my own food prep while they spent several dollars on take out. I wanted to be able to make something reasonably healthy and nutritious for just pennies at two in the morning while studying for exams.

Now that I’ve got a better grasp on food preparation, I now see that there were many opportunities to do just that. Here are seven starter ideas for preparing healthy and cheap meals with very little equipment. I’m assuming that all you have are just a tiny fridge, a hot plate that can generate enough heat to cook on, a single pan, a plate, a bowl, eating utensils, a source of water, and a knife to cut with. Nothing else – you could have this equipment in the corner of a dorm room.

Idea #1: Augmentation
As I mentioned above, most prepackaged meals are notoriously unhealthy, but it’s fine to eat them on occasion. One way to mitigate their unhealthiness without making them any harder to prepare is by just augmenting the noodles with something healthy, creating a better tasting and healthier meal.

Take a package of ordinary Ramen noodles. It’s very easy to augment that package with a sliced chicken breast, and the only extra equipment you’d need beyond what you’d need for the noodles is a knife and somewhere to cut the breast. Just cook the breast in whatever pan you have available, flipping it occasionally, until you can slice it and it’s white all the way through, then slice it into small bits and set it aside. Use any remaining liquid in the pan, along with additional water, then make the ramen. At the end, drain off some amount of the water, add the flavoring packet, and add the chopped chicken. This is often enough to stretch the single packet into two meals, and the addition of chicken makes the meal more nutritious and healthy.

You could also do the same by augmenting with fresh vegetables – boil some carrots in water, slice them up, and add them to chicken or beef ramen. Add some broccoli to chicken ramen.

Idea #2: Beans
I’ve written an ode to the bean in the past because it’s so inexpensive and still so delicious. It’s a great source of vegetarian protein and can be the back of many simple meals. Here’s what you need to know.

Prepping the beans Just fill up a pan with water, put in a few handfuls of dry beans, and let it sit there while you go out to classes or to work for a few hours. When you come back, drain off the water and pick out anything that looks unappetizing, then put some fresh water on and boil the beans as per the directions.

Barbecue beans Mix some of your favorite barbecue sauce and part of a chopped onion in with your boiled beans (use pinto or kidney beans). Let it cook for a while on fairly low heat until you’re drooling from the smell, then devour them.

Bean burritos Use the beans (I prefer black beans for this) as the backbone for some burritos. Soft tortillas, lettuce, tomato, salsa, a bit of cheese – and it’s delicious. Not only that, you can save most of this stuff for later and have bean burritos several times.

Tip #1: Ask for a bunch of small Rubbermaid food containers for a gift, then put them to use storing extra food you make (like the extras you’re sure to have from the bean recipes above). Use masking tape and a marker to identify the contents of the container, the date it was prepared, and who prepared it (if you live in a house full of scavengers). Then follow the “three days and out” rule – if it’s more than three days since you prepared it and it’s uneaten, toss it.

Idea #3: Eggs
Eggs are another extremely inexpensive and easy to prepare source of healthy protein. I got in a routine of eating scrambled eggs three or four times a week near the end of my college years, since I could quickly prepare them in a pan and there were so many potential varieties. Here are some concepts to try.

Basic scrambled eggs Crack a few eggs into a pan (without any heat on it yet), then add a small shot of milk to the mixture, a couple dashes of salt, and a dash or two of pepper to taste. Put it over medium heat and continually stir it, pulling the cooking eggs away from the edges, until you have nice fluffy eggs.

Modifications Try putting some salsa right on top of the eggs, or perhaps some chili. Grated cheese is another excellent topping – sprinkle it right into the pan on top of the eggs about a minute before they’re done cooking.

Hard boiled eggs Just put a few eggs in your pan, a big pinch of salt, about half a cap full of vinegar, and then enough water so that it’s slightly deeper than the eggs. Turn up the heat full blast until the water is boiling, then pull the pan off the heat and let it sit there for sixteen minutes. Then dump off the water and add cool water, letting the eggs cool. These are perfect to keep in the fridge and eat as a quick and very healthy snack – less than a dime a pop.

Idea #4: Fruits and Vegetables in Season
Stop by your local grocery store and see what fresh fruits and vegetables are on sale for a low price. Those are the seasonal items, and they’re usually delicious and cheap. Buy some, take them home, and experiment.

Vegetables Many vegetables can be deliciously cooked with a bit of olive oil and a few spices to make a very delicious, simple, and cheap meal. Just search around online for basic preparation of whatever vegetables you may find.

Fruit Almost every fruit can be chopped up and stored in a small container as a perfect snack when you’re hungry. If it’s a cheap vegetable in season, it’s usually a very cheap snack, too.

Tip #2: Get a basic spice rack and experiment with them – a simple, compact spice rack is something perfect to ask for as a gift. Try tarragon in your eggs or rosemary on your chicken breasts or cumin cooked in with your beans. It’s a quick way to make something bland into something quite tasty. Here are the spices I consider essential in a basic kitchen.

Idea #5: Pasta
You can get a box of dried pasta for just a dollar or two and it’ll provide the backbone for multiple meals. Plus, it’s amazingly easy: just boil it in water with a bit of salt and it’s good to go.

Pasta sauces Naturally, you’ll want some sauce to go along with it. Try just getting cheap cans of tomato sauce, then heating that in a pan after the pasta is done and draining. Add in garlic, rosemary, oregano, and other spices and you can quickly have a great tomato sauce. Toss some of those fresh vegetables in the sauce, too, to make it heartier.

Parmesan cheese Parmesan cheese in a large canister is an essential thing to keep in the fridge. Sprinkle some on top of the tomato sauce from above, or even better, try this. Once the pasta is done draining, toss it with a bit of olive oil and dump a lot of Parmesan in there as you’re tossing it. Delicious and pretty healthy.

Tip #3: You only need one knife for almost everything you might do. Go to a department store and pick out one of their 7″ to 9″ chef’s knifes. Hold it in your hand and pick the one with the grip you like the best. Also, get a honing steel so you can keep the edge on it. This one knife will do all of the cutting you’ll likely do in a kitchen for a long time.

Idea #6: Tuna
Tuna is quite inexpensive and very healthy. I often buy cans of it in bulk and use them slowly over the next few months, mixing the tuna in with other dishes or occasionally centering a meal around it. Here are some tactics.

Tuna stir fry Add tuna in with savory fresh vegetables and cook them all together. I particularly like tuna with onions, garlic, celery, and peas.

Tuna with pasta Tuna is also a great complement to pasta, discussed above. Boil the pasta, then mix some tuna and a bit of olive oil in with the drained pasta, along with a bit of salt and some pepper. Delicious and incredibly simple, plus you can add some vegetables to it, too, if you have any fresh ones on hand.

Tip #4: Go with a friend to a warehouse store and buy the basic items here in bulk. You can get amazing prices if you buy large cylinders of oatmeal, a large pack of small tuna cans, a lot of pasta, or a large quantity of beans all at once. You can even sometimes find rice at a reasonable price, though it’s very expensive compared to where it used to be.

Idea #7: Oatmeal
This may be the most surprising item on the list, but it’s perhaps my favorite of all. Oatmeal can be prepared in countless different ways, and when you buy a large container of it, it’s very cheap, too. I used to eat it for multiple meals a day and I still eat it a few days a week for breakfast. Here are thirty different things you can add to oatmeal to make something delicious – try them individually or in combinations. The last few make for a hearty oatmeal, not sweet at all, and appropriate to eat at dinner.

Cane sugar
Brown sugar
Fresh fruit pieces (whatever’s on sale)
Dried fruit pieces (raisins, craisins, etc.)
Maple syrup
Banana (chunked)
Canned pumpkin (sublime with cinnamon)
Nuts (pecans, almonds, etc.)
Sunflower seeds
Coconut (or coconut oil)
Peanut butter
Hazelnut butter (Nutella)
Chocolate chips
Granola (as a topping)
Zucchini (grated)
Sea salt
Chicken broth
Parmesan cheese
Green onions / scallions
Bacon (chopped)
Ham (chopped)
Gruyere cheese

In short, you can prepare many, many interesting foods at home with just a pan and a hot plate. Experiment a little and surprise yourself!

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  1. china says:

    ramen + egg + misc canned veggie was survival food through college for me.

  2. imelda says:

    Yeah, hardboiled egg in ramen is an even cheaper and (to me) better-tasting augmentation. Add some canned corn to the soup, and you’ve a filling dinner.

  3. When I was training for sports while in university I lived on oatmeal, Tuna (straight from the can or with a littel hot sauce) and macaroni and cheese.
    Inexpensive, healthy and tasty!

  4. Johanna says:

    Awesome topic! I had dorm room cooking down to an art too, but I had a bit more equipment than you did: Fridge (with big freezer compartment), microwave, toaster oven, plug-in deep fryer sort of thing (which I only ever used with water, not oil). I had the microwave on top of the fridge, and the toaster oven on top of that, so the whole set-up didn’t take up any more room than just the fridge by itself.

    Rice, beans, and pasta all freeze reasonably well, so I would cook up a big batch and freeze them in single-serving portions in ziploc bags. Then heat them up in the microwave and you are good to go. Rice, beans, and salsa out of a jar (available at every college convenience store I’ve ever seen) was a dinner staple of mine for a long time.

    You can make anything in a toaster oven that you can make in a regular oven, as long as it’s small enough to fit. I have many fond memories of Saturday nights when half the dorm would crowd around my roommate’s TV to watch a basketball game, and I would sit in the opposite corner of the room merrily baking cookies from scratch. You can also make pizza (use a pita bread or English muffin for the base, and it’s really fast), and baked potatoes and sweet potatoes.

  5. Keith says:

    “Yet I still yearned to eat healthy and to eat cheap at home…I wanted to be able to make something reasonably healthy and nutritious for just pennies…”

    Excellent article! I hear people complain that eating healthy is too expensive. You just laid out a plan to eat healthy in a very inexpensive way. Interestingly, this is a very similar game plan for a bodybuilding and sculpting diet. Tuna, chicken breast and eggs are the protein builders and Oatmeal, beans (cross over with protein) and pasta are the complex carb sources. Generous amounts of vegetables provide fiber and needed vitamins.

    Well done!

  6. Joe says:

    I’m gonna try the ramen, chicken and veggies concoction today!

  7. Johanna says:

    One more thing: If you eat eggs regularly, please take some time to learn about the conditions in which the hens are kept. For the cheap supermarket eggs, it is really pretty horrible. In most areas, there are better alternatives available – they cost a little more, but they are still pretty cheap (maybe a quarter for an egg instead of a dime). Choosing eggs based on price alone is not something I think should be recommended.

  8. Mac says:

    The web site http://www.recipezaar.com is very useful. It offers the option to filter for ingredients and “simple” recipes, with a choice of either “5 or less ingredients,” “Beginner Cook,” or “3 or less steps.” (Grammatically, I think the word “fewer” should be used instead of “less,” but that is beside the point of how helpful I find this site.) There is the option to rank the findings according to various things, such as ratings of other site users. Comments from other site users who have tried the recipes are available to read. I’m grateful to Jenn at http://www.frugalupstate.blogspot.com for telling me about Recipezaar.

  9. Vicky says:

    –I don’t like the texture of oatmeal, but the same list holds pretty well for grits.

    –You can get a 10 lb. bag of potatoes for $5.50 in my town, sometimes less. “Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew.” :) A microwave baked potato with grilled or steamed veggie filling is very quick and cheap.

    –In college I used to augment Ramen, but I was worried about the sodium content. Eventually I switched over to buying bulk couscous and augmenting that instead – almost as cheap and healthier.

    –When I was living alone I would sometimes want just half an egg or less and I could never figure out a cost effective way to do this. I imagine it would also be a pain to deal with disposing of the extra egg in a dorm room. I didn’t find a solution until years later when I had to cut cholesterol from my diet and started Egg Beaters (or the generic equivalent). While they’re more expensive than regular eggs, you can also use less than a whole egg at a time. Egg Beaters also take up less horizontal space in the fridge than even a half carton of eggs.

  10. partgypsy says:

    I can go along with any of this, except the parmesan in the can! It’s worth it to get a chunk of parmesan (reggiano if you can afford it, but argentinian is good and about half the price if you can’t).
    One of my favorite meals is spagetti, tossed with olive oil and sauteed garlic, topped with a soft fried egg with lots of parmesan and black pepper. Yum!

  11. sillygirl says:

    A funny story about when I cooked in the dorm. I was dying for my own cooking and had a little electric plug-in hotpot so I bought tomato sauce and canned mushrooms and cooked them into a spaghetti sauce for an hour or so. I added the cheese and then I feasted. There had been a babysitting job I answered for a foreign professor – when I got there the effects of too much cooking became apparent in my digestive tract after they left and the whole apartment was overcome with this strange odor! There was no way to get rid of it! The couple came home – looked strange – took me back to the dorm. Needless to say they never asked for me again!!!

  12. MattR. says:

    Amazingly these are the foods I’ve made sure to have on hand as well. Being a single guy in my mid twenties, I’m not a big fan of cooking, I just like to throw together some easy-to-prepare foods to save money and get the nutrition I need. I also throw in some microwaveable rice, and subsitute the eggs with egg whites to cut down on cholesterol.

    Great suggestions!

  13. Lise says:

    Great article, Trent! I have a few more suggestions from my college days:

    – Rice cookers can be had fairly inexpensively, and are allowable in most dorms because they have an auto-shutoff. Rice is cheap and filling and would make a great accompaniment to stir-fried veggies, beans, or any number of other meals. It can be frozen and reused later for fried rice.
    – Ramen can, in fact, be made in a coffee pot, if you don’t have a microwave (my dorms didn’t allow microwaves in the rooms). Just put the noodles in the pot and let hot water run through the machine and onto the noodles, adding the flavor packet afterwards. The noodles do need to soak for a little longer than normally, as the water doesn’t get THAT hot in a coffee pot.

  14. Shanel Yang says:

    Experiment with different kinds of ramen, too. Some popular choices are Sapporo Ichiban, Neoguri, Shin Ramen, and Chapaghetti (which is more of a spaghetti-style than an soup-style ramen). All are cheap, quick, and easy to make.

    My favorite additions to the soup-style ramen (not all of these at once!):

    1. a handful of thinly sliced or julienned brown onions, mushrooms, green beans, snap peas, carrots, or asparagus
    2. 1/2 cup soft silken tofu cut into small cubes
    3. a raw egg added directly to soup during last minute of cooking so the yolk is still semi-raw when I pour the soup from the pot into my bowl (the egg continues to cook in the bowl) but you can drop the egg in earlier if you want a more done egg
    4. 1 cup of any chopped frozen vegetables (broccoli, spinach, green beans, etc.) or a handful of frozen shrimp (add to the water at the beginning stage before it boils)
    5. 3-6 thin slices of leftover chicken, pork, or beef placed gently over the soup before serving

    Adding these ingredients almost makes it taste as good as some restaurant ramens!

    One more tip: I usually put the dry ramen and soup packet(s) (some come with a separate packet for the seaweed, etc.) into the cold water and let all of that come to a boil together. This cuts the already short cooking time to half!

  15. angie says:

    A really great Ramen noodle recipe starts with ground beef (or chicken or turkey) browned in a pan or deep skillet. Add 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 can corn, ramen noodles, 1/2 seasoning packet (I prefer half b/c of sodium content, I’m not a fan of salt) and water to cover. cook until noodles are tender and water has boiled down. 1 pan, 1 spoon, food enough for 4 people! (frozen or fresh veggies can be used as well)

  16. !wanda says:

    The flavor packet in ramen has way more salt than anyone needs. Ditch it and just buy some salt, pepper, and maybe common dried spices and keep them in a box.

  17. Adrienne says:

    For the tupperware-type containers, get the “disposable” ones. They’re much cheaper (I just paid about $2 for four) and they’re perfectly sturdy. I have some that I’ve had for years and they do fine in the dishwasher, freezer, etc.

  18. If you have a balcony or deck available, check out solar cooking here: http://solarcooking.org/. It’s like using a slow cooker for free!

  19. liv says:

    don’t feel obligated to use the whole packet of flavor. just use half. that’s more than enough…this ramen conversation is funny because i have it for lunch today…

  20. PJ Wyatt says:

    The rice cooker idea is a terrific one. I got one of the expensive, “fuzzy logic” ones when I lived the dorm life. I could put my mixed grains in the night before, tell it what time I wanted breakfast, push some buttons and go to bed. I awoke to perfectly cooked hot breakfast cereal.

    Another thing I did (still do!) is put a cup of rice in the cooker, add two cups of water, and top that with a couple of chicken apple sausages. When it is done, the rice is infused with the delicious flavor of the perfectly cooked sausages.

    Here’s another one: Brown rice, can of beans, taco seasoning, water. Add onions and/or garlic if you want. Yum!

    I always cooked up extra rice and kept it in my tiny fridge. Cooked leftover rice topped with tofu, canned beans or leftover chicken with a dash of soy sauce got me through many hungry nights. Add some baby spinach as you heat it up in the pan, just till it wilts. A complete meal in a bowl. If you have ’em, sprinkle green onions on top.

  21. Brian says:

    One big one you forgot was rice, or couscous for that matter. I can goto my store’s bulk section and buy it for ~$1/lb and a pound goes a long way. Brown rice is slow to cook, but if you prepare it in bulk it goes a long way

  22. Kate says:

    “[L]ess than a dime a pop” for a hard-boiled egg?

    Where are you buying eggs?

  23. FameWolf says:

    How exactly are you adding the canned pumpkin to the plain oatmeal? I’ve got all of the ingredients and would like to try it.

  24. Sarah says:

    Ah, college. I am a trained chef and went to a culinary school for college. Funny thing is, the powers that be wouldn’t let us have kitchens in the dorm room (business campus did, though, which always baffled me). Anyway, we did have to have irons and several of my friends were very inventive and “the real iron chef” was born. These guys seriously would cook just about anything you can imagine on the surface of an iron. I still have awful memories of the fish recipes though. Dorms stunk for days!

  25. FruWiki Meg says:

    Great post! Too many people think that eating cheap processed foods is the only way to eat cheap, but there are so many better options — as you’ve shown.

    I get foods like ww couscous, ww oatmeal, brown rice, and ww pasta for super cheap by buying from stores that carry those things in bulk (and/or in bins), then I add in other things depending on what’s available in my garden, what’s on sale, etc. I’ve even started adding in some local “weeds”, lol.

    It doesn’t get anywhere near as boring as eating convenience foods because the flavors change all the time — and it doesn’t take a lot to give the meal a lot of character.

  26. Mrs. Micah says:


    If you live in the country, you can also look for people who are raising their own free-range chickens as a hobby. I met one such family through one of my college professors. They had the space and decided that it would be a learning experience for the kids and perhaps a way to make a profit. We got to meet the hens. Oh, and they gave a bonus for bringing back clean, usable egg cartons.

  27. Johanna says:

    @Mrs. Micah: I don’t eat eggs at all, myself, but your suggestion is a good one for people who do.

  28. Brian Kirk says:

    i’m a fan of this post. i really dig tuna, beans, & the oatmeal ideas. one not so good idea that i tried some weeks back – oatmeal with hot sauce & eggs. eggs are OK, but the hot sauce doesn’t mix well with the oatmeal. i’m looking forward to trying the canned pumpkin with oatmeal. do you recommend a particular proportion of pumpkin to oatmeal?

  29. Jules says:

    Canned tomatoes will do if you’re craving something tomatoe-y in winter.

    My favorite frugal thing to do is to make a base tomato sauce (works best with fresh tomatoes) using tomatoes, onions, some basil (we have our own plant), olive oil, salt, and pepper. That gets frozen. Depending on what we want next, whether it’s sauce or soup, you can thicken it with bread crumbs or thin it down, and you can add tons of other flavorings to it, too–black olives, fresh herbs, etc.

    Supermarkets here sell these packages of greens that are specially mixed for specific kinds of dishes; they’re a little on the expensive side, but I like to just toss a handful into a pot of boiling water with a bouillion cube. It’s surprisingly filling.

  30. Frugal Dad says:

    I’ve recently learned to love pinto beans as a great protein substitute for expensive meats.

  31. Impressive list!
    When I was in the college hostel, I used to sprout beans ( green lentils, mung beans) to eat. They make an excellent snack. Just put some in any utensil with some water, after 24 hrs. drain the water. Let them sit it the utensil for one more day and they are ready to be eaten. I have eaten them raw, boiled them in a pressure cooker with some salt, microwaved them and stir-fried them with some onions and tomatoes, pan roasted them they taste well in all their avtars. They are super healthy, and they also last a couple of days even outside the fridge. Love `em!!!

  32. Former Fat Guy says:

    Great ideas to save a buck. But some of the recommendations are dangerous from a health standpoint:

    Tuna is EVIL. It is so full of mercury that the CDC recommends limiting your intake to a few servings a week. Personally, I like a neurotoxin-free diet, so I pass on the tuna and other large carnivorous fish (the toxins get more concentrated as you go up the oceanic food chain).

    Eggs yolks are equally evil. Make them a staple food and you’re setting yourself up to be the next Tim Russert. And not in a good way. By all means, have hard-boiled egg. But throw away the cholesterol-laden yolk and enjoy only the yummy fat-free egg white.

    Good advice on the veggies, though. Americans don’t eat NEARLY enough veggies. Nine servings per day is the recommendation for adult males, and most people barely hit three.

    If you’re serious about eating right, use Cron-O-Meter (google it and download it) to see how well you’re currently eating. And then, try making a game of seeing if you can hit 100% of your RDA of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and omega-3’s without going over your daily calorie and sodium limit. It’s very eye-opening, and it will turn you off forever from high-fat, high-sodium prepared “foods” .

  33. Janna says:

    Adding chicken to Ramen noodles does not exactly make a “nutritous and healty” meal. Ramen noodles have 7g of fat and are loaded with sodium, 890mg per serving which I was surprised to find out was one half a package, not the whole package. The rest of the suggestions were great ideas!

  34. Michelle says:

    Oh man, I just had a lovely ramen lunch today on my break today. A friend and I walked to the grocery store (she was craving a specific sandwich) in the sunshine, then over to my house. While she ate her sandwich I fixed myself a little ramen, only used half the sodium packet, threw in an egg… let it all bop around for a while… DRAIN OUT THE WATER (that’s an important step to get a nice consistency and not a soup), added condiments and supplemented it with a nice salad.

    Definitely with ramen, the trick is to stock your pantry with OTHER spices — toasted sesame oil and chili sauce (red with flakes in it, very thick) are amazing. Done right ramen is a very hearty meal and an amazing and super quick base!

  35. James says:

    With ramen, don’t cook the veggies first. Slice the veggies thinly first. Bring the water, flavoring & meat if used to a boil, then add the veggies. (I like green onions, celery, peppers, & carrots, but just about anything works.) Let it come to a boil again, then turn off the heat, add the noodles, and let sit until it cools to eatable temperature.

    I also like to adds several slices of finely-chopped fresh ginger – helps clear the sinuses :-)

  36. paul says:

    I agree about the toasted sesame oil and hot pepper – those ingredients are in one of the Top Ramen selections. For the egg, I whisk mine a little with a fork and put them when the noodles are about halfway done. The trick is to add them slowly while slowly stirring the noodles. Another trick is to break up the noodle brick into about four parts. After all the eggs are in, let it sit while the noodles finish. This way the eggs solidify very nicely. I put my spice packet in last – keeps the eggs from taking on too much of that flavor. Also, I use fresh broccoli but put it directly into the eating bowl. Pour the finished noodles on top and the broccoli will blanch rather than cook all the way through. This was my favorite lunch for many years until looked at the fat intake.

  37. Hogan says:

    Pasta, olive oil, and red pepper flakes.

  38. Jenzer says:

    Sometimes I’ll mash cooked beans together with canned tuna, salmon, or sardines. Add some mayo and spread it on whole wheat bread, and there’s one VERY filling sandwich!

    The beans also help cut the fishy taste, especially with sardines.

  39. LC says:

    The cheapest food on earth is the potato. 10 pounds for .99 if you are lucky. This is an unfortunate lesson that I learned at home.

  40. Leonie says:

    My Mum always told me that with lunch or dinner that I should have one green, one yellow/red/orange vegetable, and one starch. I’m 49 and still use this in my home, and have instilled it in my dd, 13.

    If you’re feeling in the mood for something sweet, try sliced apple toasted on grain bread, with a bit of cinnamon, or honey on toast, or some dried fruit. Chew slowly. It will fill you more and give you more nutrients.

    Having said that, when you next make a tomato-based sauce, whether from scratch or from a jar, after it’s hot, and add a good dollop of cream, mix in. Makes it restaurant quality, taking the acidity out of the tomatoes.

    If you have friends over, cook up potatoes in their jackets (even small ones), either baked or boiled, and put out several bowls with various fillings – peppers, shredded cheese, cherry tomatoes, baked beans, bacon bits, shredded lettuce, baby spinach… easy, and really impressed my first mil!

    Pancakes are easy, too, and don’t forget you can make savoury versions of them, too.

    Tonight, for example, we had a very, very relaxed night, where I heated up some baked beans in the microwave, fried up some eggs in a MINIMAL amount of virgin olive oil, bunged (technical term) them on toast with finely chopped spring onion, red capsicum (bell peppers), shredded lettuce. Yummo!

    Another fave is grain bread with cream cheese, lettuce, avocado, tomato, capsicum, bean sprouts, chives, finely shredded zucchini, celery leaves, ohhh, I’m drooling just thinking of this one.

    Now, here I’m going to do you a favour (of sorts). Two of my best, easy chocolate recipes – Spreadable Chocolate: equal quantities of cream cheese and dark choc. pieces, microwave on medium, covered, until lots of steam come off the cream cheese, which gets hotter faster than the chocolate. Blend with a fork or food processor, and use as icing, dipping for strawberries, or simply to pig out.

    Hot chocolate – for a smallish mug, two heaped teaspoons of choc. powder, two of dark choc. bits, boiling water, stir like crazy to melt choc. bits, add a good dollop of thickened cream, stir madly again. Take insulin as required.

    Oh, and if you have leftover tomato-based sauce, particularly a pasta one like bolognese, put it on bread, cover with sardines or anchovies (yes, I know about the salt, thankyou) and put in griller. Ohhhh yummmo!

  41. Laura says:

    Not a dorm strategy- but a single person strategy is to shop at a wholesale warehouse once a month for protein items, cook them all up at once and freeze into portions. I freeze them in plastic sandwich bags, but reheat them in a glass container at work. (I don’t have a big freezer, so I can’t use reusable plastic containers- that’s on my ‘eventual’ list…) This works great with chicken, turkey, salmon or even a cheap cut of beef cooked in a crockpot. This strategy has saved my diet, and is a great time management tool. I just buy fresh fruits and vegetables once a week.

  42. Jean says:

    After reading the list, there is another good reason to eat like this. 3 months after we were married my husband and I bought our first home.
    I kid you not, we were able save 4,167.00 in those months by not going out to eat and having spagetti every other night. No cookies, ice cream, chips, no lunches out at work.
    We were on a mission “goal” to save this money. We did’nt starve and it was actually fun to only buy what we could eat and get our food bill down so much.
    Even now 18 years and 3 houses later, we still do an “eat out of the cabinet” month and involve our 13 and 15 year when we save for a big ticket item.
    The kids are amazed how much you can save, and will be a great lesson for them when they are out on their own.

  43. Great post. Oats is one of the healthiest foods you could eat and it’s great that you have shared so many ideas for oatmeals.

    Cooked veggies or fried rice with vegs is super cool and frugal meal.

    You’ve missed potatoes and lentils – good things and very cheap.

    I would be careful with eating so much eggs though!

  44. BonzoGal says:

    Eggs aren’t really “evil”, even though the yolks have a lot of cholesterol. Research is showing that it’s not eating high-cholesterol foods that leads to high cholesterol levels in the blood; it’s eating high-saturated-fat foods such as cheese, fatty meats and whole milk. A few egg yolks a week isn’t bad at all, and adds important nutrients such as lecithin to the diet.

    Funny “dorm food” story: I had a small microwave and a mini-mini-fridge. I craved some protein and our local supermarket had turkey hearts on sale for 79 cents for a large package! I’d eaten chicken hearts and beef heart before, so… I put them in a casserole dish in the microwave and started cooking them. After about a minute- BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM! They started EXPLODING! LOL, I’d forgotten to pierce them to let the steam out of the chambers. My microwave was a disgusting mess, and the smell… 22 years later I still admire my “resourcefulness” and laugh about the results.

  45. Lisa says:

    Not healthy, but a creative college cafeteria recipe I learned was Rice Krispie Treats. My cafeteria had permanent cereal dispensers so Rice Krispies were available at every meal. Being in the northern plains, there was nearly always marshmallows available from the hot chocolate area. Cereal + a little butter + marshmallows + microwave = something tasty and fun when everything else on the menu was looking gross.

  46. helen says:

    I love to fix seafood alfredo. 1 packet of noodles w alfredo sauce ($1.00) add some imitation crab meat ($2.00) a few minutes before the noodles are done and some green vegies (for color) and you have a one-pot meal for very little $$.

  47. I really enjoyed reading this article and all the comments. You have some excellent suggestions. I am a carbaholic, and one of my favorite meals is capellini pasta with a small amount of butter, half and half, dried pepper, basil and oregano, sprinkled with parmesan cheese. For a great addition, try adding in some cubed or wedged tomatoes in the cooked pasta. The tomatoes will cook in the steam of the freshly cooked pasta.

  48. mark says:

    please keep in mind that we have a problem concerning fish and don’t let only the price be your criterion.

    check this out, thanx!


  49. Eric says:

    I don’t like the consistency of rolled oats when they’re cooked. Steel cut oats have a much nicer texture and are a lot more nutritious. Just remember to soak them over night and they’ll cook up fast in the morning with whatever you want to chuck in with them…

  50. thebigchin says:

    For lots of other great recipes check out Rachelle’s Kitchen blog (http://rachelleskitchen.blogspot.com). Many of them are 1 pot dinners with fresh local ingredients.

  51. Bob says:

    I am 60 year old and this post has brought back many good thoughts from my youth. When in school we lived off brown rice, dried beans (many types), and tuna & chicken. We, I lived in a house with five other people, learned to cook with what was on sale at the time. Once when the Mississippi river flooded, we caught about 100 kg of crayfish. They are much better than shrimp. There are so many veggies that can be bought cheaply and provide much needed nutrition. I now live in Thailand and eat much as the locals do. We Americans seem to have lost the ability to make
    do, that which made us a great country.

  52. Bob says:

    I keep in my refrigerator a large bowl of 2 kg chopped tomatoes, 2 chopped onions, can tomatoe juice, salt, pepper and vinager. I add a large spoon
    to just about everything I cook. You can also take some of the juice and freeze it in a plastic container to eat at a later date. Much better than ice cream.

  53. Inox 555 says:

    Save yourself some time & $$$ by combining parts of ideas 3 and 5. When making pasta, remove the noodles from the pot using a pasta ladle leaving the hot water in the pot. Now, take some eggs and gently lower them into the hot water using the pasta ladle. Cover the pot and let it sit for half an hour before removing the hard-boiled eggs. As an added bonus, you keep a little more heat in your kitchen during the colder months by not pouring a pot of hot water down the drain.

  54. mbroggy says:

    For oatmeal, try garlic (with or without butter).

    Toasting the oatmeal first (just toss in a pan over heat until it smells toasty, maybe add a little butter) and then adding either fresh crushed or powdered garlic…

    Savory…surprisingly tasty :)

  55. ultraspy says:

    Hey awesome article. I’m especially looking forward to trying out some of the new oatmeal “strategies”.

  56. tabiji says:

    Stay away from ramen noodles.

  57. gillsnthrills says:

    Buy spices in bulk, and just buy what you need. Whole Foods has several to choose from, and I’m sure other grocery stores do as well. Spices are so much cheaper this way.

  58. P. says:

    Can anyone tell where/what “Beans” in this context are called in the UK and where to get them?

  59. Johanna says:


    I believe that collectively you call them “pulses,” but individual types usually have the word “bean” in their names (kidney beans, pinto beans, borlotti beans, black turtle beans, and also things like chickpeas and lentils). You can buy them at the supermarket – look for a sign that says “pulses.” You can get them pre-cooked in tins (more convenient) or dried in bags (cheaper).

    You might find a better selection at a large well-stocked health food shop (i.e., not Holland & Barrett, although they might have some) or ethnic food shop, if you have such things near you.

  60. P. says:

    Thanks for the information, now that I know what I’m looking for I will definitely be keeping an eye out for them the next time I go shopping.


  61. sunshine says:

    great write-up! i’ve long been a fan of frugal cooking. one thing:
    for soaking/cooking dry beans, don’t pour out the water they are soaked in, but rather cook them in this water.. you’ll find your beans are far less gassy. the soaking causes a beneficial enzyme to leach out of the beans. i didn’t believe it when i first heard this, but it really works!

  62. Jayne says:

    The tuna is great, but as mentioned above, BE CAREFUL. Aside from mercury, many different kinds of seafood can be contaminated with arsenic. I’m recovering from arsenic poisoning myself, and the only source we could pinpoint was seafood.

    Another great hot plate recipe that’s really simple is this tortilla soup I make. For protein, you could cook the chicken in the pan first, or add black beans later instead. Or both! After this, add in some bell peppers and onions, some canned tomatoes/chili peppers (about 60 cents per can), some chicken stock, and some cheese. Let this all cook and heat up, add in some crumbled tortilla chips, and it makes a GREAT meal. You can make it as thick or thin as you want (I prefer to puree my tomatoes before adding them) and it keeps extremely well!

  63. Dude from irvine says:

    First, the problem:
    When I boil eggs, the shell -ALWAYS- and I mean always cracks. Then some of the white spews out, boils up and looks like ugly mess.

    My sister suggested I add 1 spoon of vinegar to the boiling pot to make sure that the egg shell doesn’t crack, but, that hasn’t helped.

    Now, in this post I see you saying “deeper than the eggs”. What does that mean? Like the water level is higher than the eggs? Or should the water level be lower than the eggs?

    Boiling eggs is a tough job!

  64. Yell says:

    Excellent…super comprehensive.

    Stir-fries are SO easy. Just some veggies and a bit of soy sauce stirred together over some rice or whatever….I find I can make any meal for under $2.

  65. City Girl Lost says:

    I used to make eggplant parm, from scratch, in my dorm room using a hot plate and a toaster oven. Also fresh soups, pasta and homemade sauce, baked potatoes… as long as you have a grocery store nearby, being in a dorm room food doesn’t have to be limited to ramen.

  66. Good plan, Trent. I’d just trade out all the complex carb foods for berries and low-starch veggies. :)
    For me the healthy and inexpensive ‘grocery play’ is the stores “Loss-leader” meat selection for the week and a collection of fresh greens.

    Lots of protein, low-carb, and pretty cheap too!

    Anyone else here eat low-carb and come in under a tight budget?

  67. Ramen noodles are a sort of comfort food for me. I grew up in Hawaii and Ramen is a staple over there. Try this preparation and you’ll never go back to plain ole noodles again.

    Hot & Spicy Ramen Noodles
    1 packet noodles (I like beef or oriental)
    1 scrambled or hardboiled egg
    Sriracha hot sauce (green cap with a rooster on the side)
    Sesame oil
    Rice wine vinegar
    Soy Sauce

    Optional ingredients
    chopped chicken, pork, beef
    Few tablespoons of chick peas (garbanzos)
    1 tsp brown sugar (for a Thai inspired flavor)

    Cook noodles in 2 cups water
    Add all ingredients, including seasoning packet to a large bowl.
    When noodles are cooked, pour into bowl along with all liquid.

    The results are a sort of Vietnamese Pho, costing less than a dollar. I keep my soy sauce in the fridge so that it helps cool the noodles.

  68. leslie says:

    I love cheese and will definitely splurge on it but whenever I find Gruyere cheese at my local grocery store, it’s never under $8 and I just can’t justify that. Am I missing something?

  69. Erin Muise says:

    I love omelets with everything- cheese, green or red peppers, emushrooms, green onions, cilantro, basil, oregano, garlic, left over lobster bits.
    Scallops are local here- i live is southwest Nova Scotia- and they are great stir fries. I buy white flour, soft whole wheat flour, brown and white sugar, oats, and other stuff in bulk, We use butter only when we bake, and eat mostly homemade jam. I freeze wild berries and u-pick blueberries for smoothies and baking year round. I stock pile non-perishables like deodorant and shampoo when there is a special that lets me collect more AirMiles than usually.

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