Maybe you’re a first-year student who can’t wait to finally get out of your parents’ house.
Or maybe you’re a senior, wearily counting down the days to graduation — and, yes, maybe even missing rooming with mom and dad. Dorm life is great and all, but it would be cool to have some actual privacy once in awhile.
Either way, a college student’s gotta eat. And trust me, after a couple of months, that meal plan situation gets old. Yes, even if the lady at the omelette station is really, really nice.
Your College Diet Doesn’t Have to Be Awful… or Expensive
College towns are usually awash with super-cute places to eat, drink and spend every last cent of the loan money you took out for things like textbooks and laptop upgrades (and which, spoiler alert, you’re going to have to pay back pretty soon).
You’re probably going to spend some money on those kinds of places — you do need some sort of social life, after all — but you stand to save a huge chunk of cash, both in college and “the real world,” if you learn to cook.
And no, your humble dorm room living status is no excuse.
How to Save Money in College — By Eating in Your Dorm
To help you start acquiring this way-more-useful-than-calculus skill, we’ve assembled 16 recipes perfect for college students, no matter what you’re in the mood for. Because, let’s be real — you’re as likely to need food at 4 a.m. as you are at dinner time.
For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume you have access to a microwave and a mini-fridge only.
Well, and a mug. As you’ll soon see, mugs feature prominently in dorm-room-friendly recipes for one.
You can make each meal on the list in 10 minutes or a lot less, and each costs $5 or a lot less. Plus, most of the recipes are make a perfect serving size for just one. Talk about convenient!
Oh, and another important qualifier? None of them are ramen. Goodness knows you know that’s an option, and it’s not a terribly good one.
Estimated ingredient prices come from the cheapest easily-Googleable version of each item we could find.
So if you’re frugally grocery shopping and hitting places like Walmart — rather than Whole Foods — they should be fairly accurate no matter where you’re going to school… with a few notable exceptions. I’m looking at you, New York and San Francisco.
Best of all? They all look awesome. As in, seriously, I will make some of these for myself even though my college days are further behind me than I’d like to admit.
Hungry yet? Here’s what we found.
The best thing about breakfast is you can have it any time of day — especially since you’re on your own and mom’s not around to give you side-eye for your frozen waffle dinner.
With these recipes, you’ll probably never want to hit your dining hall’s breakfast buffet again.
For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume you’re buying conventional eggs, since you’re in college…
… But if you’re wondering what “cage-free” even means or why eggs under that label cost so much, check out our full guide to what the heck all those eggy terms mean, and look forward to affording pasture-raised eggs someday soon!
1. Two-Minute Scrambled Eggs
That’s right: You can have the go-to quick breakfast mom slaps together on the stove at home, even if there’s not a hot plate in sight.
It’s as simple as whipping up a couple eggs and throwing them in the microwave. Yes, really. As Sara writes at Home is Where the Cookies Are, you just “crack ’em, beat ’em, zap ’em, eat ’em.”
Not only is it easy, it’s super cheap:
2 eggs: 30 cents
2 tablespoons milk: 10 cents (based on the pricier pint-sized version, since we’ll assume you can’t fit the more cost-effective gallon in your mini fridge, especially when you totally need room for beer. By the way, the milk is totally optional; if you don’t have any, just beat your eggs extra-well.)
2 tablespoons shredded cheese: 50 cents
Seasoning to taste: 10 cents, as long as you don’t get fresh herbs!
Total price: $1
Wanna get seriously fancy? Microwave your own bacon bowl into existence and then serve yourself eggs in it. Yes, you read that right.
Total price with bacon: $2.43 — but so worth doubling the cost.
2. Microwave Breakfast Cookie in a Mug
Bigger Bolder Baking’s Gemma brings us this gem (sorry) of a recipe.
It’s a cookie. For breakfast. Because you’re an adult now, and you get to make that decision if you want to.
Plus, it’s pretty healthy — and cost-effective:
1/2 medium banana: 10 cents (based on Trader Joe’s 19-cent single bananas)
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut butter: 9 cents
1/2 tablespoon honey (or agave): 20 cents
1 tablespoon milk: 5 cents
4 tablespoons oats (rolled or quick oats): 44 cents
1 tablespoon raisins (seeds or nuts): 20 cents (or more, if you choose nuts or fancier dried fruit)
Total price: $1.08
3. Two-Minute French Toast in a Cup
Most important thing you’ll learn today, no matter what classes you’ve got: You can make French toast.
In a cup.
Even better? Other than a few necessary dairy products, all you need is bread — and you can use “whatever you have on hand,” according to Pretty Prudent’s Jaime.
“I prefer my French toast soft-ish,” she writes, “but if you like a little crunch go for a baguette. It truly does not matter. An old croissant. A nutty multigrain. A pile of tortillas might even work.”
So what are you waiting for? Cost certainly shouldn’t be a factor:
1-2 slices white bread (or whatever you have around): 10-25 cents
1/2 tablespoon butter: 6 cents
1 egg: 15 cents
2 tablespoons milk: 5 cents
Sprinkle of cinnamon (optional): 2 cents
Drop of vanilla extract (optional): 3 cents
Total price: 41-87 cents
With a price that low, you have tons of money leftover to splurge on delicious maple syrup to drench it in. Mmm.
4. Spinach and Cheddar Quiche in a Mug
I. Love. Quiche.
I mean, to be completely honest, who doesn’t love quiche? It’s an egg pie, and although it’s more breakfast than lunch, it’s completely acceptable any time of day.
If you don’t have the exact ingredients Bowl of Delicious’s Elizabeth calls for, sub in any veggie or meat you can get your hands on — yes, the stuff you smuggle from the cafeteria counts.
1/2 cup chopped frozen spinach, thawed, drained (or 1/2 cup packed fresh spinach): 50 cents
1 egg: 15 cents
⅓ cup milk: 15 cents
⅓ cup shredded cheddar cheese: $1.25
1 slice cooked bacon, chopped (optional): 40 cents
Salt and pepper to taste: 1 cent
Total price: $2.46
Seriously, quiche is so versatile. Here’s Full Thyme Student’s mug quiche, complete with bread crust and grape tomatoes and still costs just over a buck if you skip the fresh herbs. Yum!
5. Avocado Toast, You Guys
If you’ve been within 10 feet of any Instagram account on the planet, you probably know avocado toast is *so in* right now.
And why not? Creamy avocado on crunchy toast, and with endless possibilities for further toppings? We’re pretty much talking about the perfect food, here.
Also, it’s cheap. Let’s start with the basics:
1 slice good bread: 20 cents, tops
1/2 hass avocado: 75 cents
Then, you’ve got your topping options: You might add an egg (15 cents), some shredded cheese: (about 25 cents per tablespoon), some salsa (about 22 cents per ounce). The base recipe is less than a dollar, so feel free to go nuts on your toppings. Fresh veggies! BACON!
Total price: 95 cents or more… but it would take a lot of doing to make a $5 piece of avocado toast.
Technically, this list item breaks the microwave rule because it’s likely someone on your dorm floor has a toaster. Even if not, they’re cheap… usually, anyway. But apparently some folks will pay $320 for a really, really good one.
Lunch and Dinner
Feeling egged out, for once? These meals will satisfy cravings you might otherwise end up splurging on — any time of day.
6. Pizza Mug Cake
So, this is a thing.
Fitness Treats has a great list of savory mug cakes, and pizza is on the list. And now I’m going to allow myself to eat pizza basically every day forever.
3 tablespoons kamut flour: 33 cents (but you could probably use regular all-purpose flour, which would bring this down to just 7 cents)
1 egg: 15 cents
1 tablespoon olive oil: 13 cents
1 tablespoon tomato paste: 10 cents
1 tablespoon black olives: 50 cents
1 tablespoon mozzarella: 25 cents
1/4 teaspoon baking powder: 1 cent
Basil and oregano to taste: optional, but if dried, not more than 25 cents
Cost per mug: $1.72
Cheap, healthy pizza always within reach? I didn’t even know college got this good.
7. Mug Mac and Cheese
So you may be wondering — what’s the point? Has the author never encountered the ubiquitous blue box, with a college campus presence eclipsed only by red Solo cups?
She has. And she says: You can do better, college students. And it won’t cost much more.
Made by Monique assembles this super-simple recipe to seriously upgrade your mac and cheese experience.
1 cup water: $0
1/2 cup elbow macaroni: 31 cents
1/2 cup cheeses of choice: $2.00
Total cost: $2.31
Kraft mac and cheese is about 90 cents per serving, so this is definitely a step up… but trust me, your taste buds will thank you!
8. Five-Minute Vegetarian Burrito Bowl
Play your cards right, and the whole meal will cost only a little more than what you’d pay for your side of guacamole.
1 cup brown rice: $1.06 — if you use the frozen, pre-cooked Trader Joe’s brown rice from as Liv suggests. You can also make regular (much cheaper) brown rice in the microwave, although it’ll take significantly longer than five minutes — try 30! Then again, one of the best parts of living in a dorm is that you’re not paying your own electricity yet, so…
1/2 cup black beans: 58 cents
2-3 tablespoons salsa, or to taste: 22 cents
1 tablespoon plain Greek yogurt: 9 cents — or sub sour cream for 7 cents
1 tablespoon shredded cheddar or Mexican-blend cheese: 25 cents
Diced avocado (optional): $1.25 for a WHOLE avocado
Total price: $3.45 — better than the $8-$10 I somehow always end up paying at everyone’s favorite burrito joint!
Sides and Snacks
Need a quick holdover between big meals? Just craving mashed potatoes? This is the section for you.
9. Corn Mug Muffins
You know what’s comforting when you’re facing finals week? Heck, you know what’s comforting when you’re facing down the fact Monday keeps happening no matter what you do?
Corn bread. Corn bread fixes a lot of problems. And you can whip some up fresh in no time flat.
Cooking spray: 3 cents
1 package corn muffin mix: $1.97
3 to 4 pickled jalapeño rings: 5 cents
4 microwavable pre-cooked frozen sausages (optional): $1.99
maple syrup to taste: 13 cents
Total price: $4.13, or $2.06 per serving — and less if you keep it vegetarian
10. Spinach and Feta Mashed Potatoes
Basically, the fact you can cook potatoes in the microwave is a serious college game-changer.
You could conceivably just cook your potatoes in the microwave and mash them up with whatever you have around, but we’d be remiss not to mention Beth at Budget Bytes’s scrumptious-looking spinach and feta iteration.
I mean, she even priced it all out already — how much happier can a Penny Hoarder get?
2 to 2 1/2 lbs. russet potatoes: $1.85
3 tablespoon butter: 27 cents
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder: 2 cents
1/2 teaspoon salt: 3 cents
freshly cracked pepper: 5 cents
1/4 cup milk: 11 cents
2 cups (packed) fresh spinach: $1.34
2 ounces crumbled feta: $1.12
Total post: $4.79, or 80 cents per serving
11. Loaded Baked Potato
No recipe needed for this college classic. Just microwave your potato, grab your favorite fillings and go. Here’s what I’d do:
Large russet potato: 38 cents if you go ahead and buy a 5-pound bag — and why not?
1/2 tablespoon olive oil: 7 cents
1 tablespoon butter: 16 cents
3 tablespoons shredded cheese of choice: 75 cents
1 tablespoon sour cream: 7 cents
sea salt: 5 cents
pepper: 5 cents
Total price: $1.53
Other options: bacon (about 45 cents per slice), canned chili (about 14 cents per ounce), salsa (about 22 cents per ounce). Your imagination is the only limit to how you prepare this starchy treat.
12. Microwave Kale Chips
“Cheap” and “healthy” don’t have to be mutually exclusive. And kale chips are one of the very tastiest ways to get this superfood into your system.
Andrea at Five Months Fat brings this super-simple and delicious recipe for kale chips to the table — and you can make them in the microwave! What?
1 bunch kale: $2.49
1-2 tablespoon olive oil: 13-26 cents
sea salt: 5 cents
Total price: $2.67-$2.80 for an amount you’ll totally want to share with a friend
Plus, you could add whatever other seasonings strike your fancy — dried spices last way longer than the expiration date would have you believe, and you get a ton of use out of that $3-$4 bottle!
You could also microwave potato chips for about the same price or slightly cheaper — but without a mandolin, kale’s easier and healthier, so you have no excuse!
Sometimes, you’ve gotta let your sweet tooth win… especially when you’re studying.
But before you rush out to the obligatory Ben & Jerry’s on every single college campus, take a look at these recipes. Not only are they healthier than a creamy over-the-counter treat, they’re way cheaper for the amount you’ll get.
13. Overnight Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding
Although this one takes a little forethought, it looks delicious — and crazy good for you!
Dana at Minimalist Baker concocted this yummy-looking chocolate chia seed pudding, and all you need to make it is a refrigerator, some containers and a decent chunk of time.
Plus, the recipe makes four servings, so you can feed your suitemates, too. Check it out!
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk: 71 cents
1/3 cup chia seeds: 83 cents
1/4 cup cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder: 75 cents
2-5 tablespoons maple syrup: 26-65 cents
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional): 5 cents
1/4 tsp sea salt: 3 cents
1/2 tsp vanilla extract (optional): 7 cents
Total price: $2.70-$3.09, or 68-77 cents per serving
14. Cheesecake in a Mug
Let me come clean: Cheesecake is my favorite non-ice cream dessert, and a cobbled-together, microwave version of this immaculate confection makes me… nervous.
But Jutta’s Hungry Little Girl recipe is compelling — and cheap enough for even a cheesecake purist to at least try out.
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar: 8 cents
2 tablespoons sour cream: 14 cents
3 tablespoons cream cheese: 60 cents
1/8 teaspoon lemon juice: 10 cents
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract: 3 cents
1/2 egg: 8 cents
Mix-in of your choice (if desired): Up to you, but it’d be hard to spend more than $1 worth of mix-ins in a single mug!
1 vanilla wafer: 3 cents
Total price: $1.06, plus mix-ins
15. Healthier Chocolate Mug Cake
The one single-serving food I’ve been familiar with almost forever is the chocolate mug cake. It’s perfect for those moments when you’re desperate for something dense and chocolatey, but don’t have time to run to the store.
But I’m excited to try this healthier version from Sophie, which calls for plain yogurt and whole wheat flour to lighten up the recipe.
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour: 7 cents
2 tablespoons granulated sugar: 3 cents
1 1/2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder: 28 cents
pinch of baking powder: 1 cent
1/4 tsp. vanilla: 3 cent
3 tbsp. plain yogurt: 18 cents
Total price: 60 cents
That’s one affordable sweet-tooth satisfier!
More Ways to Save on College Eats
Although these recipes are sure to keep you busy and full for a while, you can’t eat everything out of a mug.
If you’ve got access to a real kitchen, all the better — you’ve got endless opportunities for good, cheap eats!
Cheers — and bon appetite!
Your Turn: Which of these recipes are you going to go make RIGHT NOW?
Disclosure: A toast to savings! Thanks for allowing us to place affiliate links in this post.
Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Her writing has also been featured at The Write Life, Word Riot, Nashville Review and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.