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We’ve got big news, ladies: Collegiettes™ really can eat delicious, diverse meals without breaking the bank.

“It is possible to eat well on a very tight budget,” says Monica Reinagel, the Nutrition Diva and author of the new book Nutrition Diva’s Secrets for a Healthy Diet: What to Eat, What to Avoid, and What to Stop Worrying About, out this month.  “But it takes some planning to make sure you have variety throughout the week.”

We set out to prove that, with some careful grocery list prep, you can whip up a week’s worth of meals (seven breakfasts, lunches, and dinners) for only $60. Divided evenly, that’s only $2.86 per meal! Check out 21 potential meals below. (And click through to the last page for our $60 grocery-shopping list and tips for eating well on a tight budget.) Try our recipes yourself, or swap out ingredients or dishes for your own favorites.

*All recipes serve one.

Sunday

Breakfast: Scrambled Eggs with Cheddar Cheese

  • ½ ounce cheddar cheese
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil or nonstick cooking spray
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Dice the cheddar.
  2. Spread the olive oil or cooking spray onto a skillet, and place the skillet on a medium heat stovetop.
  3. Crack the eggs into a bowl. Then mix them together until they are an even light-yellow color. 
  4. Add the egg mixture into the skillet, and turn the heat down to medium-low.
  5. Add the milk, then whisk with a fork until fully mixed.
  6. Add the cheddar, and allow the eggs to warm until they begin to bubble and the sides develop a film.
  7. Begin continuously pulling the sides of the eggs off of the skillet with a wooden spoon or spatula, pushing the eggs to the center so that all of the mixture gets cooked. Continue to do so until the eggs appear cooked through.
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Lunch: Caprese Sandwich, with a Pear

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 slices wheat bread
  • 2 ounces mozzarella, sliced
  • 6 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/8 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 pear
  1. Spread ½ tablespoon olive oil onto one side of each slice of bread. Then add both to a large nonstick frying pan on medium heat. Allow the bread to sit for about 30 seconds, and then remove one slice.
  2. Add the mozzarella, then tomatoes, then basil to the slice of bread still on the pan. Top with the second slice.
  3. Leave the sandwich on medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. (Check the bottom piece to see how brown it is after 2 minutes.) Flip the sandwich and cook for another 3 minutes.
  4. Enjoy with a pear on the side.

Dinner: Vegetable Stir-Fry with Rice

  • ½ cup rice, dry
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ red pepper, in strips
  • ½ green pepper, in strips
  • 2/3 cup sugar snap peas
  • 1 cup broccoli cuts
  • Teriyaki or soy sauce, amount per your taste
  1. Boil water for the rice. Follow instructions on the rice bag, adjusting for ½ cup of rice. Pour the olive oil into the deepest frying pan you have. Add all of the veggies, and then turn on medium heat.
  2. Cover and let steam for about 10 minutes. Move the veggies around with a spoon occasionally to make sure that the frozen bits hug the bottom of the pan. It’s normal to have some water at the bottom. The vegetables should begin to look more vibrant in color.
  3. Drizzle your sauce throughout the pan, covering all vegetables. Adjust the amount based on your taste.
  4. Move the vegetables around with a wooden spoon to make sure the sauce covers all of them evenly. Then let sit for 5 minutes on low heat. 

[pagebreak]

Monday

Breakfast: Fruit & Yogurt

  • 1 apple
  • 1 banana
  • 1 orange
  • A pinch of sugar
  • Nonfat vanilla yogurt
  1. Wash the apple, then dice.
  2. Peel the banana. Cut it into approximately ¼ inch slices, and then cut those in half.
  3. Cut the orange into approximately ½ inch-wide crescents, and then cut those in two. Remove the peel from all of the pieces.
  4. Mix the apple, banana, and orange in a bowl and add a pinch (or two) of sugar to the top. Eat with yogurt on the side, or combine it with the fruit.

Lunch: Toasted PB & H with an Apple

  • 2 slices wheat bread
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 apple
  1. Toast the two slices of bread.
  2. Spread peanut butter onto one toasted slice and honey onto the other. Then put them together.
  3. Enjoy with an apple.

Dinner: Homemade Chicken Nuggets, with Broccoli

  • 1 chicken breast
  • 1 egg
  • 2 slices wheat bread
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup broccoli
  1. Defrost the chicken.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Cut the chicken into little pieces of your choice—tenders, nuggets, etc.
  4. Whisk the egg in a bowl.
  5. Toast the bread slices. Then, using a bread knife and your hands, cut and crumple them into breadcrumbs. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
  6. Dip each piece of chicken into the egg, and then roll both sides of it in the breadcrumbs. Place all of the nuggets onto a lightly greased baking tray.
  7. Bake the nuggets for 20 minutes, or until cooked through.
  8. Enjoy with broccoli on the side, per the package’s instructions.

Tuesday

Breakfast: Banana & Peanut Butter, with Toast

  • 1 slice wheat bread
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 Banana
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  1. Toast one slice of bread in a toaster, then spread the butter onto it.
  2. Peel and slice the banana into approximately ¼ inch slices. Eat the banana along with the peanut butter.

Lunch: Hummus and Pita, with an Orange

  • 2 wheat pita pockets
  • 3 tablespoons hummus
  • 1 orange

Enjoy the Mediterranean classic with some Vitamin C on the side.

Dinner: Pepper Caprese

(Slightly adapted from Kaitlin with Honey)

  • 1 red pepper
  • ¼ tablespoon balsamic vinegar, plus more for serving
  • ¼ tablespoon olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 ounces mozzarella, torn into small pieces
  • 6 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/8 cup fresh basil leaves
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut out the stem at the top of the pepper, and remove the ribs and seeds.
  3. Whisk the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a dash of salt and pepper in a bowl. Then add the mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil leaves.
  4. Pour the mixture into the pepper, and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the pepper has softened.
  5. Enjoy with additional balsamic vinegar and olive oil on top.

[pagbreak]

Wednesday

Breakfast: Greek Yogurt & Honey

Drizzle some honey onto your greek yogurt for an extra sweet touch!

Lunch: Veggie Omelet

  • ½ red pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon butter or 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 eggs or 4 egg whites
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 4 grape tomatoes, halved
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Dice the pepper.
  2. Spread the olive oil or cooking spray onto a skillet, and place the skillet on a medium heat stovetop.
  3. Crack the eggs into a bowl, and mix them together until they are an even, light yellow color (or evenly white, if using egg whites). 
  4. Add the egg mixture into the skillet, and turn the heat down to medium-low.
  5. Add the milk, then whisk with a fork until everything is fully mixed.
  6. Cook about 3 minutes, or until all of the egg seems to have been partly cooked and the mixture has become slightly solid. Continuously pull the ends off of the pan with a spatula.
  7. Lightly shake the skillet so that the almost-cooked eggs move a touch toward the far side of it. Then place the spatula under one side of the eggs and flip.
  8. Add the pepper and tomatoes, and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes, or until entirely cooked.
  9. Turn off the burner, and flip one side of the egg over the other. Allow to warm, then serve with salt and pepper to taste.

Dinner: Homemade Mac & Cheese (with Penne!), with Sugar Snap Peas

  • 1½ cups penne
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 3 ounces cheddar, very finely diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2/3 cup sugar snap peas
  1. Boil water in a medium pot, and follow instructions on the pasta box.
  2. After cooking the pasta, drain and return it to the pot, which should remain on high heat.
  3. Add the butter, flour, milk, cheese, and a pinch of salt and pepper to the pot.
  4. Stir continuously until all of the cheese has completely melted.
  5. Turn the burner off, place the cover on the pot, and allow to firm.
  6. Enjoy with sugar snap peas on the side, per the package’s instructions.

Thursday

Breakfast: Sunny Side Up Eggs and Toast

  • ½ tablespoon olive oil or nonstick cooking spray
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 slice wheat bread
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  1. Spread the olive oil or cooking spray onto a small skillet, and place it on a medium-hot stovetop.
  2. Crack one egg directly into the heated skillet, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, making sure that all parts of the egg whites cook by moving the skillet around if needed.
  3. Repeat for the second egg.
  4. Toast the slice of bread, and spread butter onto it.

Lunch: Grilled Cheese with a Banana

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 slices wheat bread
  • 2 ounces cheddar cheese, sliced
  • 6 grape tomatoes, cut in half (optional)
  • 1 Banana
  1. Spread ½ tablespoon olive oil on each slice of the bread, then add one to a nonstick frying pan on medium heat.
  2. Add the cheddar cheese, then tomatoes (optional). Top with the second slice of bread.
  3. Cook on medium heat for 3 minutes. Then flip the sandwich and cook it for another 3 minutes.
  4. Enjoy with a banana on the side.

Dinner: Chicken and Rice

  • ½ cup rice, dry
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 chicken breast
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Defrost the chicken.
  2. Boil water for the rice. Follow instructions on the rice bag, adjusting for ½ cup of rice.
  3. Set the oven to broil.
  4. Put foil over a pan, and drizzle it with the olive oil.
  5. Evenly spread salt and pepper on both sides of the chicken, and rub the spices into the meat. (Note: You can easily replace the salt and pepper with other spices, per your taste.)
  6. Broil for about 6 minutes on one side, and then flip. After 4 minutes, check the bottom of the chicken. If it looks brown, cut it in the middle. It shouldn’t be pink at all. If it’s not, it’s done. If it is, leave it in the oven for another two minutes, and then test again.

[pagebreak]

Friday

Breakfast: Oatmeal

Just follow the instructions on the box of Dr. McDougall’s Instant Hot Cereal Oatmeal & Barley Peach Raspberry!

Lunch: Pita Pocket Sandwich, with a Pear

  • ½ chicken breast
  • 2 tablespoons hummus
  • ½ pita (cut so as if a pita pocket)
  • ½ cup lettuce mix
  • 4 grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 pear
  1. Follow Thursday’s “Chicken and Rice” dinner recipe instructions for the chicken, adjusting for half the amount, and then cut into strips.
  2. Spread hummus throughout the pita pocket. Then add the lettuce, tomatoes, and chicken.

Dinner: Penne & Marinara, with a Salad

  • 1½ cups penne
  • ½ cup marinara sauce
  • 1 cup lettuce mix
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  1. Boil water in a medium pot, and follow instructions on the pasta box for the penne.
  2. After cooking the pasta, drain and return it to the pot. The burner should be turned off.
  3. Pour and stir the marinara sauce with the pasta.
  4. Enjoy with a lettuce salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.

Saturday

Breakfast: French Toast

  • 1 egg
  • ½ cup skim milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Ground cinnamon, to your taste
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • ¼ tablespoon butter (optional), plus extra for serving
  • 2 slices whole wheat bread
  • Syrup (optional)
  1. Crack the egg into a bowl, and add milk. Add the vanilla extract and/or cinnamon (optional).
  2. Mix the bowl with a fork until the yoke is completely dissolved and the mixture is a light yellow color.
  3. Spray a skillet with cooking spray. Add the butter to the skillet, and spread it throughout (optional). Set the burner to medium heat.
  4. Dunk one slice of bread into the egg mixture, and flip it. Don’t let it soak for more than a few seconds (so that it doesn’t get too soggy), and then place it onto the skillet.
  5. After about 3 minutes, check to see if the bottom of the bread is golden brown. If so, flip the slice and cook it for another 3 minutes.
  6. Serve with butter or syrup, as desired.

Lunch: Salad with the Works

  • ½ breast chicken
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4½ cups lettuce mix
  • Handful grape tomatoes
  • ¼ red pepper, sliced
  • 1 ounce cheddar, diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  1. Follow Thursday’s “Chicken and Rice” dinner recipe instructions for the chicken, adjusting for half the amount, and then cut it into strips.
  2. Spread the lettuce mix onto a large plate or into a large bowl. Add tomatoes, red pepper, cheddar, and chicken.
  3. Top with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Dinner: Pita Pizza

  • 1 whole wheat pita
  • 2/3 cup marinara sauce
  • 1 ounce cheddar, sliced or diced
  • 2 ounces mozzarella, in pieces
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Spread a layer of marinara sauce on the pita. Then evenly lay down the cheese.
  3. Bake for 7 minutes, or until the cheese is all melted.

[pagebreak]



 

The Grocery List

A quick note about our list: We couldn’t select bulk items for the sake of the experiment—it would have cost more than the $60 budget—but Reinagel explains that buying in bulk is actually a more cost-effective way to go for some foods, like the peanut butter, yogurt, and oatmeal. “Keep the pantry stocked in rotation,” she says. “Buy a couple of value-priced staples each week that you can eat throughout the month.” 
 

ITEM # PRICE SUBTOTAL
Apples McIntosh 3 .69 2.07
Banana Yellow 3 .39 1.17
Herbs Basil Goodness Greeness Certified Organic 1 2.49 2.49
Oranges Navel 2 .69 1.38
Pears Anjou 2 .50 1.00
Peppers Bell Green 1 1.39 1.39
Peppers Bell Red 2 1.99 3.98
Salad Dole Spring Mix All Natural 1 3.49 3.49
Tomatoes Grape 1 3.49 3.49
Perdue Fit & Easy Chicken Breast Boneless Skinless – 2-3 ct Fresh 1 4 4.11
BelGioioso Cheese Mozzarella Fresh All Natural 1 4.99 4.99
Sabra Hummus Classic 1 3.99 3.99
Centrella Milk Fat Free 1 2.69 2.69
Chobani Greek Yogurt Raspberry Non Fat All Natural 1 1.49 1.49
Dannon Light & Fit Yogurt 0% Fat Vanilla 1 .60 .60
Dutch Farms Rose Acre Eggs Grade A Large 1 2.09 2.09
Our Family Cheese Cheddar Mild All Natural Chunk 1 2.25 2.25
Green Giant Peas Sugar Snap No Sauce 1 1.00 1.00
Our Family Steamable Broccoli Cuts 1 1.69 1.69
Centrella Bread Wheat 1 1.19 1.19
Opaa! Pita Bread Wheat Perforated – 6 ct 1 3.29 3.29
Dr. McDougall’s Instant Hot Cereal Oatmeal & Barley Peach Raspberry 1 1.67 1.67
Nature’s Promise Naturals Pasta Penne Whole Wheat 1 1.00 1.00
Our Family Rice Brown Long Grain 1 .99 .99
Jif Peanut Butter Creamy 1 2.99 2.99
Barilla Pasta Sauce Marinara 1 3.49 3.49

TOTAL: $59.98
 

What’s Probably Pre-Stocked in Your Kitchen

  • Olive oil
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Salt and pepper
  • Honey
  • Soy sauce or teriyaki sauce
  • Sugar
  • Vegetable oil
  • Butter (or butter substitute)
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Flour
  • Vanilla extract (optional)
  • Cinnamon
  • Syrup (optional)

 


Tips for Eating on a Budget

  • Opt for one-dish meals. “You get your proteins and vegetables all in one dish, and you can take it for lunch the next day, or throw it in the freezer for a meal down the road,” says Reinagel. She recommends soups and casseroles as smart one-dish options.
  • Buy the ingredients and make the dish yourself. Packaged and processed foods cost more, so go DIY to save money. If you like stocking in portions, use plastic baggies to prep your own one-serving snacks. 
  • Cook in advance, before your week gets crazy. Spend a good chunk of time over the weekend prepping dishes, like lasagna, that will stay good and heat up easily over the course of the next week.
  • Turn cooking into a party! “Cooking for one is no fun, but cooking for four is just as easy,” Reinagel says. Host a potluck, or choose one night per week when you and your friends rotate making a meal for each other.

 

Sources

Monica Reinagel, nutritionist, professionally trained chef, and host of the “Nutrition Diva” podcast [link: http://nutritiondiva.quickanddirtytips.com/]

Alison Goldman is a senior Magazine Journalism major and Theatre minor at Northwestern University. She hails from Pittsburgh, Penn. (Go Steelers!) and spent fall 2009 abroad in Florence, Italy--a good fit considering her love of carbs, coffee, and a great pair of boots. Alison previously worked as an editorial intern at Glamour and The Knot and as a 2010 ASME intern at Family Circle. She also contributes to the campus magazines North by Northwestern and Schmooze. Flowers, dark chocolate, and puns are the way to her heart.
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