Six Cheap Meals for Students

When we think of budgeting while going abroad, we normally think of flying on budget airlines, staying in hostels, and eating PB & J for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Luckily, eating and cooking abroad doesn’t have to be expensive. Here are some budget-friendly meals* to inspire your cooking while abroad (most of which use the same ingredients!).

*Please note that none of these are specific recipes, but just some examples of cheap meals that require minimal cooking chops. As such, the ingredients and instructions will be very loose.


This one’s a no-brainer, really. One of the first “proper” meals I learned to cook ever was spaghetti and marinara sauce. Luckily, I could get the ingredients in Bristol for very cheap. The Sainsbury’s Basics line (i.e. a store brand like Kirkland, Safeway Brand, etc.) had pasta and sauce for under 1 GBP each! It wasn’t the best tasting, of course, but we’re on a budget, people.

Pasta (dried, boxed)
Marinara sauce (jar)
Seasoning (buy your favorite dried herbs or mixed seasoning from the store and use to make everything taste good!)

Bring water to a boil and cook pasta to desired tenderness. Heat marinara sauce and desired seasoning to a saucepan. Drain pasta and mix with sauce in saucepan. Transfer to a dish and enjoy.

Pita Pockets
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Here’s one that’s a bit more interesting than pasta — and a meal that I truly cooked and ate all the time while abroad. The great thing about this recipe is that you can add as much or as little to it as you like.

Pita (or pitta in the UK)
Hummus (or houmous)
Veggies (lettuce, peppers, tomatoes, etc. — whatever you want)

Cut chicken into cubes and season with dried herbs. Heat oil in a pan and add chicken to cook. Toast pita bread in oven or toaster. Chop up veggie toppings as desired. Eat bread, chicken, hummus, and veggies separately or cut pita in half to create a pocket.

Home Fries

In addition to lots of chicken and hummus, I also ate a LOT of potatoes. In fact, before my three-week Eurotrip, my roommate and I had an entire bag of potatoes to finish. The great thing about potatoes is that they’re cheap, come in bulk, and can be cooked in a lot of different ways. This is how I usually prepared them:


Chop potatoes into cubes. Mix in a bowl with oil and dried herbs (and any other seasoning, e.g. garlic). Throw onto a pan on medium heat and cook until tender. For faster cooking, add a small amount of water and cover pan, or boil potatoes prior to seasoning.

Chicken Nuggets

I became close to a group of fellow students from California, and we often met for homemade “family dinners,” each one with a different theme. One of those themes was “kid food,” so we decided to try making chicken nuggets (or chicken strips). This one is a bit messier than the others, but is definitely a good comfort food option.

Chicken breast

Put flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs into separate bowls. Cut chicken into strips. Dip into flour, egg, and breadcrumbs and fry in a pan on low-medium heat until cooked.


This meal is all prep and no fuss. All you have to do is get your favorite veggies and protein (beans, meat, etc.), throw it into a pot or saucepan with tomato sauce and herbs, and let the magic of slow-cooking or simmering do the work. You can eat this on its own or make some cornbread to go along with it.

Canned tomato sauce
Canned beans (black beans, kidney beans, mixed, etc.)
Veggies (tomatoes, carrots, bell peppers, corn, celery, onion, etc.)
Ground beef or turkey

Heat oil in a pot and lightly cook veggies and meat. Add canned tomato sauce and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Lower heat and add canned food (beans, corn). Add dried herbs/seasoning to taste. Add water at any point to control the consistency. Let simmer until veggies are soft and excess liquid has cooked off.


If all else fails, grab your favorite bread, cheese, fruit, veggies, and wine from the store or farmer’s market and have a “picnic.” This is also a great way to save money while on the road — my friends and I sometimes enjoyed having hostel picnics more than going out to eat.

Bread (baguette, focaccia, etc.)
Cheese (Boursin spreadable cheese, brie, gouda, etc.)
Fruit (strawberries, grapes, etc.)
Veggies (bell peppers, carrots, etc.)
Wine (and beer!)

Lay out the food and enjoy your bounty!

I hope this inspires you to get creative with your ingredients and make a variety of meals on a limited budget.  What are your favorite meals you cooked while abroad?

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