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Groceries Are Adding Up: How to Meal Plan on a Budget

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Illinois State chapter.

Being a college student that has to cook for themselves can be daunting. We all want our meals to be quick, delish and inexpensive, yet it seems we have to forgo one of those three things every time we cook. Frozen meal? Super quick and yummy, but often pricey. Ramen? Quick and inexpensive, but how nutritious is it? You get the gist—finding the balance can be hard. 

For me, the hardest part about college cooking is the budget. There is nothing worse than getting paid and realizing you have to go drop $60-$70 on groceries. Luckily, I’ve discovered a few super yummy, super cheap and super easy recipes that are perfect for college students and anyone else trying to make their dollar stretch. 

First, let’s talk breakfast

If you’re anything like me, you aren’t the biggest breakfast person. On the days I do wake up craving something a little extra, there are two things I like to have on hand.


  • Not everyone is a big oatmeal fan, but if you are, warm, cinnamon-flavored oatmeal is the perfect fall breakfast.

Bagels / English Muffins:

  • Toasted with a bit of butter, add a bit of jelly, or cream cheese for bagels = the perfect breakfast on the go.

* Bonus! If you notice your English muffins or bagels are about to go bad, grab some pizza sauce and cheese from the store and make it into a mini pizza! 

On to the hard part: lunch and dinner

I am going to share my three favorite dinners that work for lunches as leftovers!

  1. Popping Cherry Tomato Pasta

What you need:

  • Cherry tomatoes 
  • Olive oil 
  • Garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper 
  • Spinach *Optional!
  • Splash of heavy whipping cream 
  • Pasta of choice
  • Pasta water 
  • Parmesan cheese 
  • Frozen cooked shrimp (optional)

This recipe is as easy as it gets! All you have to do is roast the cherry tomatoes until the skin starts to peel, then smash them using a fork or potato masher. Let that simmer and season to taste. Meanwhile, start cooking the pasta—you can make half of the box if you don’t want too many leftovers. When the pasta is almost done, add the spinach and cooked shrimp to the sauce and finish cooking. The frozen shrimp is optional, but it’s a fairly cheap protein source with little preparation needed! Add the sauce to the pasta with a splash of pasta water and you’re done! This pasta is delicious and comes together in no more than 25 minutes. 

  1. Chipotle Shrimp Tacos

What you need:

  • Cooked frozen shrimp 
  • Chipotle ranch dressing
  • Lettuce
  • Tortillas
  • Seasonings of choice (suggested: paprika, onion powder, salt, pepper and garlic salt)

Yep—that’s all the ingredients! Once your shrimp is thawed, coat them heavily with seasonings, and either saute them on the stove or bake them in the oven, depending on how crispy you’d like them! Then, warm a tortilla, add a bit of lettuce and the chipotle sauce, add the seasoned shrimp and you’re done! This meal is super easy to whip together and tastes delish. 

  1. Cheese Ravioli Bell Pepper Alfredo 

What you need:

  • Frozen ravioli 
  • Jar alfredo 
  • Frozen onion and bell pepper mix 
  • Garlic powder
  • Salt and pepper 
  • Olive oil

This is the meal for when you’re tight on time, but don’t feel like a frozen meal will cut it. The Great Value brand of frozen ravioli is absolutely bomb and cooks in less than five minutes. After thawing the veggies, saute them on the stove in a bit of oil to brown them. Add the seasoned veggies to the alfredo to richen the sauce with the bell pepper flavor. Coat the ravioli in the *jazzed-up* alfredo sauce and bon appetit! 

Hopefully, these meals gave you some cooking inspo for this semester. Cooking doesn’t have to be intense to be good, and it also doesn’t have to run your pockets dry! Eating in college is so important to staying healthy, and if you look in the right places, you can find meals that are yummy, cheap and easy! 

Emma Julian

Illinois State '25

Hi! My name is Emma and I am a Sophomore at Illinois State! I am majoring in Marketing, but have a huge love for writing and sharing experiences with others. I enjoy writing about mental health, fashion, lifestyle, and wellness. I love writing for Her Campus since, to me, life is all about learning and sharing. Feel free to follow my Instagram: emmarosee13 :)