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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Ottawa chapter.

I’ve always loved cooking dinner. It’s a way to bring my roommate and me together and I find that a homecooked meal always gets me through late-night study sessions better than Taco Bell ever will. It’s also so expensive to eat out every night. I’ve recently been hearing my friends say something along the lines of, “groceries are so expensive I’ve started just ordering three meals a day and just buying snacks.” This always upsets me to my core; I find that the “snacks” in the grocery store are much more expensive than a pound of ground beef and a couple of cans of beans to make a pot of chilli that will last you four or five dinners. While there are certainly healthy options on Uber Eats, the cheapest meals to order are usually carb and grease filled. Now don’t get me wrong, I love and live off of carbs—it’s the main part of the meal that gives you energy—and I would literally cry if I didn’t eat garlic bread at least once a week, but it’s the butter and oil that is used at these fast food restaurants that make their food less balanced. Without further ado, I present to you my top three meals that I make for under 20 dollars.

1. Stir-Fry

The quickest recipe on this list is a classic stir-fry. It’s so quick to make at the end of a night and it usually costs under 10 dollars to make. I buy whichever vegetables are on sale or in season (onions, carrots, mushrooms, and chickpeas are usually the cheapest). Potatoes are also always really cheap for the amount that you get. If you choose to add them to your stir-fry, make sure to cut them into bite-sized pieces and parboil them first so they aren’t crunchy. While I’m chopping my vegetables up and preparing all of my ingredients, I put a pot of water on the stove to start cooking my rice (pro tip: add some frozen peas and corn and a couple of chopped-up garlic cloves to your rice before it boils; it changes the game). I personally don’t prefer to cook my vegetables in oil, so I start by adding a diced tomato in with my onions because the liquid from the tomato helps cook the onion. When the onions are half cooked, I throw in the rest of my vegetables and add a sauce of my choosing (I usually go with a quarter of a bottle of honey garlic sauce or some cheap red wine, but you can literally use whatever you like). The last step is to assemble everything into your bowl and enjoy this delicious vegetarian stir-fry that costs around 10-15 dollars to make!

2. ChiLli

Chilli is one of my all-time favourites for the winter! Something about a warm full belly just makes me feel good when there are three feet of snow outside and I have to walk to class. Not only does chilli freeze like a dream, but it’s so cheap to make a pot that will literally last you a month—there’s no excuse to not make it! The list of ingredients includes whatever you like—it’s such a mix-match of absolutely anything. I always make chilli when the vegetables in my fridge are on their last days and I still haven’t eaten them. The most expensive thing that you need to buy for the chilli is a pound of minced meat (minced turkey is my favourite in chilli because it’s half the price of beef and tastes exactly the same in the finished product). In the biggest pot you own, start cooking your meat with your onions until both are completely cooked. At this point, you’ll want to season your meat with whatever you have on hand (salt is a necessity). Once the meat is cooked, you can add literally whatever cans were the cheapest at the store. My go-tos are crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, red beans, black beans, and chickpeas, added to whatever vegetables I have in my fridge. If you find that you need more liquid, add a can of tomato soup. Once all your ingredients are in the pot, let it boil for half an hour, then let it simmer for another half hour and you’re good to go. I strongly suggest eating this with homemade garlic bread! After you’re done eating, you can store the leftovers in your freezer for the next time you’re craving something warm and hearty.

3. Spaghetti Sauce

My final recipe is probably the one that takes the most amount of time to cook because of the amount of time spaghetti sauce needs to sit in its juices to taste as good as possible. Homemade spaghetti sauce is a great thing to keep in your freezer; it takes less time to defrost in a pot than it takes to boil noodles. If you’ve made my chilli recipe, you’re in luck because making spaghetti sauce is the exact same process without beans. You’re going to start with minced meat in your pot and a couple of onions. I don’t recommend adding oil in this recipe at all—once your onions start sticking to the pot, add your first can of crushed tomatoes and all will be well. Next is to add a can of tomato paste, tomato soup, and whole canned tomatoes. I like adding a can of green beans at this step as well. You can add anything you want so long as it’s vegetable and/or tomato-based. Before everything starts boiling, add dried oregano, basil, parsley, garlic salt, and anything else you have in your pantry to season the sauce. Once the sauce is seasoned, all you have to do is wait, stir the pot every ten to fifteen minutes, and after an hour or so, you have the most delicious homemade spaghetti sauce that will last upwards of a year in your freezer. I’ve also recently discovered chickpea noodles and they are so incredibly delicious with spaghetti sauce that I simply must recommend them as a noodle replacement!

If you don’t have any of the seasonings for these recipes on hand, they may cost you more than 20 dollars, but building your spice rack and herb garden is such an important investment. It will actually save you money in the long run because you’ll be cooking from home more and eating out less! I’m hoping to phase out eating out as much as possible in my own life while I still have the time and energy to cook from home.

Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m so obsessed with chickpeas when I cook. First of all, they are a really cheap and quick way to stretch a meal to last longer. Second, they’re delicious in every savoury meal, and lastly, my grandmother watched a documentary once that told her that chickpeas are a “superfood” and will certainly make you live longer. After that, she now incorporates chickpeas into every single thing she cooks. She is 83 this year and can outrun me in a foot race, so I will be eating chickpeas for the rest of my life.

I love cooking for my friends and family so much and I love finding new cheap recipes to try when I have the chance. I strongly suggest cooking one meal a week. Who knows, you might love it too!

Eve Chamely

U Ottawa '23

I'm from a small town in southern Ontario, I love Romantic poetry and sustainability, a strange combination but trust me... it works. :)