Navigating university life as a student often involves balancing a tight budget with the need to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet—we get the struggle. And, let’s face it, we want it to taste great too! Cooking for one can seem like a huge effort, especially when facing the constraints of time, space, and cooking facilities in shared accommodation (the kitchen cleaning rota is a convo for another day!)
But! With some basic cooking skills, a handful of simple recipes, and de-li-cious UNiDAYS discounts , you can prepare tasty, affordable meals in no time. This guide will walk you through a variety of easy meals and saving tips to ensure you're well-fed without breaking the bank.
The joy of one-pot meals
One-pot meals are the G.O.A.T for students. Minimal kitchen tools, and can be packed with nutrients if you choose the right ingredients—what’s not to love? A simple vegetable stir-fry with rice or a hearty one-pot chilli can be easy to prepare and oh-so-satisfying. These meals are perfect for batch cooking too, meaning you can stack the fridge with leftovers to grab when a deadline looms or time is tight.
Stir-fries: quick, healthy, and flavourful
Stir-fries are among the quickest and healthiest ways to feed yourself. Needing only veggies, sauce and a protein like chicken, tofu and prawns, the combos are endless and super easy to master. Whack them in a pan with a little oil, add some rice or noodles and you’re scranning in literally 5 minutes. It's a complete meal that’s both satisfying and nutritionally balanced—winner.
Embrace sandwiches and wraps
Convenient? Check. Portable? Check. No-cook, cheap, versatile? Check, check, check! Sandwiches and wraps are the ultimate speedy food for students—but they don’t have to be boring. From classic combinations like ham and cheese to more adventurous creations involving hummus, roasted vegetables or leftovers from last night’s dinner, everything’s better in a sarnie.
The versatility of eggs
Ah, the humble egg. Eggs are a fantastic ingredient for quick, nutritious meals. They can be scrambled, fried, poached, or used to make omelettes and frittatas, with endless possibilities for fillings and flavours. Eggs are not only affordable but also a great source of protein and other essential nutrients, making them a perfect option for students. Top tip: keep soft boiled eggs in the fridge for a quick snack or as a gooey, yummy topping for instant ramen.
Pasta: a student staple
This might seem obvious, but pasta dishes are a delicious staple for anyone’s recipe repertoire. Whether it's a simple aglio e olio (garlic and oil), a comforting tomato and basil sauce, or a more decadent creamy carbonara, pasta is versatile, filling, and easy to customise with whatever ingredients you have on hand. Or, how about a super-sized lasagne to last you the whole week? A carb-lover's dream.
Salads: not just a side dish
Salads can be a substantial and satisfying meal with the right ingredients. Start with a base of greens, add a protein source like grilled chicken, chickpeas, or tuna and throw in a variety of vegetables, nuts, or seeds for texture. A simple homemade dressing can elevate the flavours of your salad, making it a delightful meal on its own that fills you with energy.
Batch cooking and freezing
Time to get on the meal-prep hype—it’s not just for gym-goers! Cooking in large batches and freezing portions for later is a time and money-saving strategy every student should adopt. Dishes like soups, stews, and curries are ideal.. Not only does meal-prepping and batch-cooking save time in the long run, but it also ensures you have a home-cooked meal ready on days when you’re too busy (or too low-energy) to cook from scratch. This way, you always have something healthy and homemade to eat, reducing the temptation of expensive takeaways (although you can save money on those, too!).
Exploring local and seasonal produce
Buying local and seasonal produce can be a game-changer in terms of flavour and cost. Think it’s too expensive? Believe it or not, seasonal fruits and vegetables are often cheaper and fresher than those that are out of season. Visiting local markets or joining a food co-op can be an excellent way to access high-quality produce at student-friendly prices—and it’s a wholesome weekend activity!
The convenience of canned and frozen foods
Don’t overlook the convenience and value of canned and frozen foods. Canned beans, tomatoes and fish, along with frozen vegetables and fruits, can be the foundation of many quick and nutritious meals. They have a long shelf life and are often more affordable than fresh produce. Plus, fresh-frozen veg it's just as nutritious as fresh, and less likely to wilt forgotten in the fridge (guilty).
Get creative with leftovers
Unleash your creative side! leftovers can lead to surprisingly delicious meals. Roasted vegetables can be turned into a frittata, while last night’s chicken can be revived in a tasty wrap or salad. This approach not only reduces food waste but also provides you with an easy meal option at no extra cost Break out the tupperware!
DIY snack platters
For those times when you don't feel like cooking, a DIY snack platter can be an excellent meal alternative. Combine a selection of cheeses, crackers, fruits, nuts, and maybe some sliced meats for a balanced and satisfying lunch that requires zero cooking. Just like when your mum does a ‘picky tea’!
Breakfast for dinner: a fun and easy option
Or, as we like to call it, ‘brinner!’ Breakfast foods are quick to prepare and can make for a comforting and filling dinner. Pancakes, scrambled eggs or a simple omelette can be both nourishing and comforting after a long day of studying.
Take advantage of student discounts and deals on food and drink
Student discounts from UNiDAYS can save you a packet on your weekly shop (as well as a meal out, if you fancy!) Look out for money off, free delivery, giveaways and more on the UNiDAYS App—the ultimate cheap meal hack!
The art of meal prepping
Developing the habit of meal prepping can save you a considerable amount of time and money. Dedicate a few hours each week to prepare meals, or set out some ingredients, in advance.
1. Simple veggie stir-fry
- 1 cup of mixed vegetables (fresh or frozen)
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon ginger, grated (optional)
- Cooked rice or noodles
- Heat oil in a pan over medium heat
- Sauté onion and garlic until softened (approx 5-7 minutes)
- Add mixed vegetables and stir-fry until cooked
- Add soy sauce and ginger, stir well
- Serve over cooked rice or noodles
2. One-pot spaghetti
Serves: 1 (with leftovers!)
- 75g spaghetti
- 1 can chopped tomatoes
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried basil or Italian herbs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Grated cheese (optional)
- Olive oil
- In a large pan, combine spaghetti, canned tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and enough water to cover
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until pasta is cooked and the sauce has been absorbed, stirring occasionally (approx 15-20 minutes)
- Season with salt and pepper
- Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and grated cheese on top
3. Chickpea salad
- 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 small cucumber, chopped
- 1 tomato, chopped
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Fresh parsley or coriander (optional)
- In a bowl, combine chickpeas, cucumber, tomato, and onion
- In a separate small bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper
- Pour the dressing over the salad and mix well
- Garnish with fresh parsley or coriander
4. Easy omelette
- 2 eggs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 4 tablespoon milk or water
- Fillings: cheese, ham, bell pepper, mushroom, onion (as preferred)
- 1 tablespoon butter or oil
- Beat eggs with milk, salt, and pepper
- Heat butter in a pan and sauté your chosen fillings
- Pour the egg mixture over the fillings. Cook until set, then fold the omelette in half
- Serve hot
5. Bean and cheese quesadilla
- 2 flour tortillas
- 1/2 can black beans, rinsed and drained
- Shredded cheese
- 1/2 bell pepper, sliced
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- Salsa or sour cream for serving (optional)
- Place a tortilla in a pan over medium heat
- Sprinkle cheese, beans, bell pepper, and onion on one half of the tortilla
- Fold the other half of the wrap over the filling and cook until the bottom is golden brown, then flip
- Serve with salsa or sour cream
Preparing meals for one doesn’t have to be a monotonous or expensive task. With these easy, versatile recipes and tips, you can enjoy a variety of tasty, nutritious meals that fit your student budget. Cooking at home is not only cheaper than eating out or ordering in, but can be a fun, useful skill that will serve you for years to come. Have fun with your food!
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