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Cooking healthy on a college student's budget (short on $ and time!)

I have a friend who is failing miserably at eating properly while away at college. He eats out all the time for the convenience, but would like to cook on his own if he had an idea of what to make. I'm helping him put together a meal and grocery plan, so I'm on the hunt!

I could really use some recommendations for dishes and meals that are:

- easy (he has moderate cooking skills, but is abhorrently lazy)
- quick (no more than thirty minutes tops)
- nutritious, healthy, and filling.
- something that stretches the dollar

Thank you in advance! :)

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  1. First thing that comes to mind here is a vegetarian lasagna. But you'll have better results with you interests in this subject by posting on:
    which was specially developed for health and nutrition.

    1. I suggest making pasta sauce from scratch, to reduce cost over the kind in a jar, but also to avoid the sugar (unhealthy). Make a big batch, then freeze it in individual serving containers. This will take more than 30 minutes for the batch, although without requiring constant attention. Then the individual portions can be used in a few minutes, adding ingredients for variety (olives, mushrooms).

      1. Take a pasta or a cooked grain (rice, bulger, quinoa, etc.). Add a protein; bits of meat, fish or some cheese. Throw some assorted steamed veg on top. Add seasonings/toppings to taste; hot sauce, toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, nuts, green onion, chopped tomato, cuke, or avocado, etc. Top with fresh parsley or cilantro. It's different every time and is good cold as a leftover.

        1. I'm in somewhat of the same boat right now... I'm taking a full summer schedule, so that means I'm in class from 9-5 every day. I cook pasta on alternating days, and add in different veggies and tofu/cheese (i'm a vegetarian, he can add meat/cheese) and differing dressings and bring a tupperware container in to either heat up for lunch or eat cold. At night and for breakfast I eat miso soup and rice from my rice cooker, plus for more filling variations I add in other ingredients to my rice. If my plans hold any interest for him, let me know and i'll give you more details

          1. Omelets with various fillings of cheese, veggies, diced ham/bacon, etc. Or just plain cheese topped with salsa and some whole wheat toast along with it.

            Different types of sandwiches - grilled cheese with tuna and/or slices of tomato; microwave bacon, tomato and lettuce; horseradish sauce, roast beef from the deli and mixed greens; hummus, tomato and sprouts, etc. Just tell your friend to use real whole grain bread, not extra-soft with a faint hint of whole grains.

            Once it's cool: soup. Pretty much anything can go into soup: meatballs, noodles, rice, every vegetable under the sun, tofu, egg drizzles, seafood, etc. Soup is a great way of combining different foods to create wonderful, sustaining food. It encompasses everything from cheddar cheese soup to miso soup, meatball soup to clam chowder.

            Beans. Indian style lentils. Pasta e fagoli. Chili in a slow cooker started in the morning. (Vegetarian chili was a staple in my tons-of-debt, first low pay job.) Hummus with veggies and pita bread.

            1. Keep healthy snacks around that you like to eat. I always have nut butters, bananas, avocados, seasonal fruit, nuts, and random snacks around that I like to eat and are healthy.

              I also keep wraps around, super great for tossing in greens, and whatever other fixings you like to make a healthy sandwich for way less than you would pay out for one. Along the same lines, I keep "taco" fillings in the fridge. Not authentic by any means, but great, fast and cheap.

              Smoothies also: I make a banana protein shake at home in the morning for when I am hungry and don't have time to cook.

              Never forget the beauty of a microwave baked potato. I love them and they fit all of those requirements.

              1. Rice and beans, beans and rice. I cook dry black beans in a crock pot, then portion them out and freeze for meals. You can do this with any bean, I just prefer black at the moment. Then season them up in a little pot and heat through. He could make a big batch of 'taco seasoning' and use it to season the beans. Serve over rice with whatever else you've got on hand. Cheese, sour cream, avocado, tomatoes, salsa, etc. Also, lately I'm loving Chickpea Curry. So fast and just a can of chickpeas, an onion, garlic, spices...serve over brown rice. For veggies I like to cut up whatever I have, toss in olive oil, s and p, roast, and serve over rice and put a fried egg and some soy sauce on top...hope this helps!

                1. First, he is eating fast food so I am wondering if the healthy and nutritious requirement is his or yours. Compared to what he is probably eating now, anything he cooks is going to be better.

                  Breakfast is good, cheap, quick and very important. Steel cut oats can be made by the quart and stored in the fridge and then heated up and add whatever fixins he likes. Eggs and a little meat du jour (whatever he has around the place) is great and fast and cheap.

                  Any kind of rice pilaf with meat and veggies can be made and stored and provide 2 or 3 meals.

                  The same basic dish with pasta can be done, too. These kind of dishes scream for a salad. He could pre-chop all the ingredients and keep them in ziploc bags and throw a salad together with his rice or pasta dish.

                  Crockpots make great soups, stews, chilis and pulled pork. All of which store nicely. It is about midnite where I am. I just threw some pork in a crockpot for pulled pork sometime in the next couple of days. The grand daughter is in town. I may have to make her favorite chicken marsala tonight and serve the pork the next day.

                  1. Lots of good suggestions already.
                    just some more:
                    Stir-fries are easy and quick. Eat with rice or noodles.
                    Left over rice can be used for fried rice the next day, left over noodles can be used in the same way.
                    Another quick and tasty one that might appeal: fry some mince with garlic and onions, move to an oven dish, top with sliced tomato and (frozen) sweet corn, throw some nachos on the top, cover with cheese and throw in the oven for maybe 10 minutes or so. Nice with a side salad, sme sour cream and guacamole, but also good on its own!

                    1. Sludge!

                      Despite the unfortunate name - it's right up this guy's alley.

                      You need a cooked starch -- rice or pasta.

                      A chopped onion
                      Some chopped veg - canned or frozen works, too

                      A protein - browned hamburger, a couple of cans of tuna, some leftover rotisserie chicken, chopped leftover steak

                      Saute the onion, then add the other ingredients, along with a can of cream of mushroom/chicken/celery soup (because let's be realistic...a lazy, budget-challenged guy in a time squeeze isn't going to make bechamel....)

                      Stir until combined and heated.

                      1. He should have a cookbook that shows him quick and easy ways to make the food he really likes. The best I know is Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," which comes close to delivering on its title's promise. Moderate cooking skills are all Bittman's recipes need, there's no wasted effort, and the quantities, timings, and instructions are precise, no-nonsense, and they work. The first edition costs $15 in paperback and is terrific value for money.

                        1. That's actually a fairly difficult list to manage all at once, particularly the time constraint. A meal in 30 minutes or less is possible, but you need to be very efficient in the kitchen to manage anything beyond the most simple food items.

                          You can manage 3 of the four without too much difficulty. For example, you can do fast, tasty and nutritious by buying pre-prepped ingredients (bagged salads, pre-cut vegetables, pre-seasoned meats), but you'll pay for the speed. You can do delicious, cheap and not to difficult by being willing to spend time on dishes that take advantage of cheaper ingredients, and doing things from scratch. And you can do cheap, quick and healthy by being really good in the kitchen.

                          But here are some things that may work - it may get a bit monotonous, but will still be cheaper and healthier than eating out. Being able to do more than one thing at a time while cooking is absolutely essential to the 30 minute limit - if his cooking skills are of the "Do one thing, finish, start the next" variety, he'll have real difficulty.

                          Pasta With Stuff On It

                          Version 1: Put the water on to boil. While the water is heating cut up vegetables (or get frozen vegetables out of the freezer), stopping to add the pasta when the water comes to a boil. Grate some cheese (or dice, for something like feta). When the pasta is almost done, toss in the veggies. Drain everything when it is done, toss with the cheese and some herbs (optional).

                          Version 2: Do the water and pasta and veggies, drain, put back in the pot, and toss with jarred pasta sauce (tomato or cream) or jarred pesto.

                          Optional: toss in some sliced pre-cooked ham or other cold meat, or a can of drained canned tuna or chicken at the end.

                          Eggs etc

                          Eggs + toast + salad.

                          You can do the eggs scrambled or fried, or as a simple omlette, serve with toast (add jam or peanut butter or cheese as desiered), a side salad and a sliced tomato, and a piece of fruit.


                          1 can of Campbells soup (or other brand of add water and heat soup). Bread + cold meat + lettuce + cheese + mustard. Salad with jarred dressing.

                          Meat and Potatoes

                          Pan fry a chicken breast or pork chop. Microwave some frozen vegetables and drain, top with a bit of butter. Microwave a baked potato, serve with butter and parmesan.

                          Sort-of Homemade Pizza

                          Buy a pre-made pizza crust and pizza sauce. Top with sliced pepperoni, mushrooms, onion, etc and cheese. Serve with a salad.

                          Rice and Stirfry

                          Put rice on to cook in the rice cooker. Wash and cut up some vegetables, and slice some meat. Heat a pan, add a bit of oil. Add the meat, cook it while stirring. When the meat is done, remove and put in a bowl. Add a bit more oil, and add the vegetables. Cook stirring, add a bit of soy sauce, cover and lower the heat and cook until done. Mix the meat back in.

                          Serve on the rice. (You can do this with rice cooked on the stove, but you have to pay more attention to the rice).

                          Dippable stuff

                          Cut up a boneless, skinless chicken breast into bite sized pieces. Saute in oil on fairly high heat until cooked and slightly browned. Cut up vegetables into sticks. Buy some pita bread.

                          Serve with hummus and dip.