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Easy to Make Meals on a Budget

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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UC Riverside chapter.

Surviving college on a budget is not easy, whether that means buying instant ramen or saving your coins to buy your weekly boba treat. Here are a few easy meals that are affordable to make on a college student’s “salary.” 

  1. Maruchan 

The classic instant ramen. A staple at any college student dorm or low-come home. With its array of assorted flavor packets ranging from spicy lemon shrimp, beef, chicken, and spicy chili, this meal can be instantly upgraded to a gourmet meal with these key ingredients. While the water is boiling and your Maruchan noodles are cooking, whisk an egg or two and drop it in with the flavor packaging. Adding protein can make this more filling. When served, sprinkle in some chopped cilantro leaves, one serrano chile and squeeze some fresh lime. For some spice, add Valentina or Tapatio. 

  1. Fried rice

White rice is a cheap source of carbs that can last days depending on the serving size. However, plain white rice can get boring. Here’s a way to add some flavor to your meal. In a large pan, pour in two whisked eggs and cook through, then remove. Add your protein of choice if you have the funds, such as shrimp, chicken, or spam. If you’re cooking with shrimp, add butter and garlic and a tiny bit of soy sauce or sesame seed oil for flavor. Once thoroughly cooked, add the white rice, egg, and frozen vegetables (peas, carrots), and mix. Then mix soy sauce and oyster sauce in a small bow and add a tablespoon of each. Add to the pan and combine. Once everything is coated with the sauce, lower flame and add chopped green onion. Serve with sriracha and/or soy sauce. 

  1. Weenie with egg and tortilla 

Sausage and egg is a staple breakfast meal for Hispanic households. This easy-to-make meal can be eaten at any time and is affordable. In a pan, add a generous amount of oil and wait for it to heat up. Meanwhile, cut 2-3 sausages and set aside two eggs—three if you’re feeling ravenous. Once oil is ready, place the sausages in the oil and be careful of any splashback. If it begins to jump, reduce the heat and sautée the sausages. Once both sides are cooked, add two eggs and scramble them. On the side, head up a few tortillas in the microwave or stove and voilá. Dinner is served. 

  1. Beans and rice with sour cream and cheese 

Beans and rice can go a long way when looking for meals on a budget. The bulk bag they come in can make these side dishes last days. Beans can be bought in a can, a bag, or made from scratch. I recommend making them from scratch as the quantity is more for your buck, and you’ll have extra beans in the bag to store in your cupboard. In a large pot, add at five cups of water, a garlic clove, a fourth of an onion, and salt. Add half of the bean bag or a cupful to the water. Leave with lid covered and stir occasionally. A tip is to leave the beans soaking overnight so the boiling process does not take you hours. If you’ve left them overnight in water, they may take an hour to cook. Just continue to check on your beans and taste them. Add more water as needed once they begin to cook. If the beans were not left overnight, just make sure to check them every 30 to 20 minutes and keep the lid slightly on. Use a fork to taste if they are ready. Finally, these can be eaten alone with cotija cheese and sour cream. Add some tortillas to a comal, dice tomatoes and avocado and call it a meal! 

For rice, I recommend a rice cooker. Add a cup of washed Jasmine rice in the rice cooker and a cup of water. If you’d like you can stop here, but I recommend seasoning your rice. Add a tablespoon of butter and a drop of olive oil (suggested). Chop tomato and onion and add to the rice cooker. Other vegetables such as the frozen bag with peas and carrots can work too. Add a sprinkle of Knorr, garlic salt, and onion powder. Taste. Close the rice cooker and it’s ready to eat in half an hour! Eat with Sardines or seaweed and enjoy. 

  1. Pizza bagels 

One of my favorite recipes to make on a budget is Pizza bagels. After learning how to make these, I’ve made sure to stock my home with everything bagels every week. To begin, choose a bagel of your choice and place it in the toaster on a bagel setting. Next, add marinera to it once it’s done and sprinkle on mozzarella cheese. Add your favorite toppings like pepperoni and jalapenos. Lasty, place the bagel on a tray and leave in the oven for around 8 minutes for cheese to melt and pepperoni to cook. If you have an air fryer or mini oven, these can work faster than waiting for your oven to heat up.

  1. Breakfast bagels  

The ingredients needed for a breakfast bagel are eggs (2), ham, american cheese, mayo, and a bagel of your choice. Scramble two eggs or cook them medium over easy. Toast a bagel and smear mayo on both sides. Once this step is done, add the eggs to the bottom piece of the bread, then lay a piece of cheese on top. Heat the ham on the pan you used to fry your eggs and then place the ham over the cheese for it to melt. Add the top piece of the bagel, some ketchup or hot sauce, and voilá! Bon appetit. 

  1. Cream cheese bagels 

Bagels. Bagels. Bagels. They are my favorite because they can be eaten in many ways. My last two favorite ways to eat a bagel is by either slathering on some cream cheese and calling it a day, or by adding avocado and an egg with cotija cheese on top. This can be a quick easy meal if you are in a rush too. 

  1. Tuna 

Tuna in oil or tuna in water—either or can be used for this recipe. In a large mixing bowl, add two cans of tuna, drained. Always make sure to strain the excess liquid or oil that comes in the can. Next add three tablespoons of mayo; depending on your flavor palette or diet, this can be changed. Add in chopped tomato, green bell pepper, one serrano chile, half a diced purple onion, celery, cilantro and lime. Aftering mixing together, add salt and pepper to taste and garlic salt. The seasoning can be to your liking. Eat with saladitas, wheat bread, or on a tostada. Add some Valentina on top and you have yourself a delicious and healthy meal. 

  1. Rotisserie chicken with rice

Grab a five dollar rotisserie chicken from Costco or Stater Bros and follow along in this recipe. In a large pan, add oil. Cut the piece of the chicken into separate pieces: thighs, legs, wing, and breast. Coat them all evenly with mustard. To the frying pan with oil, add in half of a yellow onion and two tomatoes. Let them cook until the aroma fills the air, that is when the pan is ready for the chicken. Add the chicken and let it cook on both sides until crispy. Once the mustard on the chicken fully turns into crispy chicken, serve over the white rice and enjoy. 

  1. Huevos Rancheros

Last but not least, eggs with tomato and onion. In a pan, add oil and chop onions and tomato on a cutting board while waiting for the oil to heat up. Make sure the onion is finely diced. Add the onion and then the tomato. Sprinkle it with onion powder and sautée. Leave the pan covered until steam comes out from the top. Then, drop in two-to-three eggs. I recommend leaving them to cook over-easy. Close the lid again, and wait for the eggs to cook. Once the eggs are ready, add two slices of american cheese or sprinkle with mozzarella. Turn off the heat and place the lid back on for the cheese to melt with the steam. Meanwhile, place pieces of wheat bread in a toaster. Once cheese is melted, serve with hot sauce and scoop it up with the toast. 

Happy eating these easy to make meals on a budget!

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Ashley Carranza

UC Riverside '24

Hello! My name is Ashley Carranza. I am a 5th Year Creative Writing major at UCR. I transferred from Compton College where I received two Associate Degrees in Biological and Physical Sciences, and Physics. I originally dreamed of becoming a dermatologist or psychiatrist my first year at UCR in 2021, but fell in love with writing in my first creative writing class. I was a Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology student , but after my second year at UCR, I changed my major to Creative Writing in pursuit of a writing career and education. I love to talk about books and discuss different styles of writing. I plan on applying to graduate school to receive an MFA in Creative Writing at UCR. I would love to teach others about writing and the amazing world of fiction we can create once we dive into a book. I love to read cozy mystery books, thrillers, and romance novels. I enjoy writing at coffee shops while sipping seven dollar coffee. I hope to one day write my own thriller and romance books. I love to hike and go to the gym. Topics I love to read and write about are dating, relationships, school, health, and education.