Cheap eats: how to eat well on college budget

Chelsea Morgan shares her secret about her Fudge Drops recipe. Photo by Chelsea Morgan

The lifestyle of a college student is not one that allows for many encounters with great-tasting, healthy food on a daily basis. With minimal time and a limited budget, it can seem that the only food options available besides the dining hall are the McDonald’s Dollar Menu and ramen noodles.

However, with a new approach toward eating in college, it is possible to eat great without breaking the bank.

It can seem that, with the stress of college life, it is a waste of time to make healthy, frugal food choices. On the contrary, taking time to make cheaper, better meals for yourself and for others is much healthier for your body, is a great stress reliever and helps you save money.

One of the most significant ways in which you can save money on food is by changing your shopping habits.

For some reason, most people like to move through stores counterclockwise. Sellers are aware of this and design stores in such a way that will cause you to pass appealing sweets and other items that you really do not need on your way to get essential food items (milk, bread, meat, etc.). Moving clockwise through a store will help you to avoid making superfluous purchases.

Also, always eat before you go shopping for food and even bring something sweet or salty to snack on while you shop. You are much more likely to overspend on food when you are hungry.

Using coupons is another excellent way to save money while in college. Each Sunday, purchase two newspapers (this will cost about $4) and save the coupon inserts (Proctor and Gamble, Redplum, Smartsource) in a folder. Keep the sales papers, and briefly visit sites such as and to keep up on exceptional deals going on at various stores.

Also, use online coupon sites and print off coupons. Do not be deterred by the overwhelming couponers of “Extreme Couponing.” It is not as

This Jalapeno Popper Maccaroni is a great recipe for college students to sink their teeth into. Photo by Chelsea Morgan.

difficult as it seems, and it will be well worth your while.

Even those who just use coupons occasionally save several hundred dollars, on average, each year.

It is also a great way to give back to the community, as you will often end up getting free food items that you do not need/want and can then donate to a local food bank.

Eating out can have a taxing effect on the piggybank. Be aware that even small daily purchases at the drive-thru can add up to a large amount of money over time.

Instead of making daily trips to Starbucks, find suitable daily substitutes for that white chocolate mocha and then treat yourself once a week to the real deal.

Also, make sure to look for coupons and promotions while eating out. Visit websites like and to look for coupons and deals. Go to the websites of restaurants that you frequently visit and see if they offer any sorts of club memberships. They will often give you free items just for visiting their sites.

The key to eating on a budget is finding a better approach to getting the foods you love. Dinner parties are a great way to have home-cooked food on campus while saving pennies.

Organize a group of five or six of your friends and assign each person a food item to bring. Or, pool a few dollars beforehand and have one person shop for and prepare the food.

A friend of mine who attends the University of Tennessee-Knoxville has a group of friends who all contribute about $5 a week to a “feast fund,” and then they all get together every Thursday for a meal that they prepare together. It makes for a really fun time hanging out together while trying out new recipes.

Try some of these recipes that are quick, easy and cheap to make:


Fudge Drops

(Courtesy of Chelsea Morgan)

To start, gather all these ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cups bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon espresso powder (instant coffee crystals work well, too)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup King Arthur  Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (these are optional, but if you splurge and add Ghirardelli milk chocolate chips, Chelsea says the results are splendid)


Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets, three if you have them. If you use parchment, it tends to smoke, so be aware of that.

Melt the chocolate and butter together (try microwaving it for 30 seconds and then in 10 second increments to avoid scorching the chocolate).

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until they’re combined. Then, add the rest of the ingredients to the sugar-egg mixture.

Add the egg-sugar-etc. mixture to the melted chocolate and butter. Mix until completely combined. You will have a very soft batter, too liquid to form cookies from.

Refrigerate the batter for about an hour to make it workable.  Then, using a tablespoon cookie scoop, transfer drops of batter to the parchment lined/greased baking sheet (the cookie scoop isn’t absolutely necessary, but it is definitely recommended; be sure to dip the scoop in a small cup of cold water in between cookie scoops).

Bake for about eight minutes (look for the cracking on top), let cool and enjoy!



Jalapeno Popper Mac

(Courtesy of Chelsea Morgan)



4 ounces dry Radiatore or other small, ridged pasta (elbow or shell shapes also work well)

1/4 cup diced Red Onion

2 cloves Garlic, minced

8 Jalapeno Peppers, seeded and sliced

2 Tablespoons Flour

1/2 cup heavy cream

4 ounces Reduced Fat Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded

4 ounces Reduced Fat Pepper Jack Cheese, shredded

4 ounces 1/3 Less Fat Cream Cheese, cut into cubes

1/4 cup Ritz Crackers, crumbled




Preheat broiler. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta according to directions on the package. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, add the onion and garlic to 1 Tablespoon of olive oil. Add the jalapenos and cook for another three minutes. Stir in the flour. Cook for one minute; then add the cream. Simmer for five minutes.

Slowly stir in the Cheddar and Pepper Jack cheeses, adding a little at a time and letting it melt completely before adding more.

Stir in the cream cheese. Mix in the crumbled bacon, if using. Combine the cooked pasta and cheese in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle a thin layer of the cracker crumbs over the top.

Broil three to five minutes, or until the topping is crispy and golden brown.


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