Easy College Dining On a Budget

College students have enough on their plate to worry about without adding cooking on a budget to the list. That’s where pantry meals come in; meals that are made mostly out of ingredients you already have in your pantry.

According to a study conducted by Ohio State University, 70% of college students feel stressed about their finances. However, you don’t have to choose between cutting down expenses and eating filling, nutritious food. 

Not only are pantry ingredients inexpensive, but they’re also quite healthy according to Kate, home cook and owner of Nibble and Dine, a blog dedicated to fast and easy recipes. Pantry meals also call for less frequent trips to the grocery store, which is beneficial to college students without cars.

Below are some pantry staples you should always keep on hand according to Kate.

Dried and Canned Beans and Lentils

Not only are beans and lentils some of the healthiest foods to eat since they’re a great source of protein and fiber, but they also have a really long shelf life. Dried beans can last for over 10 years in your pantry, and canned beans can last for 2-5 years.

Canned Tomatoes

Whether diced or crushed, canned tomatoes are one of the most important things to keep on hand according to Kate. These can be used as a base for chilis, soups and tomato sauces. 

Different Types of Rice and Pasta

Carbs are necessary in a nutritious diet. Brown rice and whole wheat pastas are one of the healthiest sources of carbs. 

Onions, Potatoes and Winter Squash

Though these count as fresh produce, they can last anywhere from 1-3 months in the pantry. They also can be included in almost any chili or soup recipe. 

Canned Tuna and Salmon

Another great source of protein, canned fish can last for years. Canned fish can be used in pastas, sandwiches or eaten on its own. 

Dried Spices and Seasonings 

One of the benefits of making a lot of pantry meals is that you can season as you go, according to Kate. “If you use a variety of different types of spices and season the food well, you can really make a pantry meal taste amazing,” she said.

Pantry meals are a great way to start cooking according to Kate. They are very forgiving to newer cooks. “You don’t have to worry about expensive fresh produce going bad in your fridge before you get around to cooking it,” Kate said.

Below are two pantry meals Kate developed. 

Easy Vegan Chili


2 tablespoons oil (olive or vegetable)

1 medium onion, diced

1 bell pepper, any color, diced

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons sweet (non-spicy) smoked paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, for a spicier chili)

1 15 ounce can black beans, undrained

1 15 ounce can kidney beans, undrained

1 14 ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1 cup frozen corn

1 cup vegetable broth

Serve with: prepared rice (white or brown), or quinoa (optional)

Optional garnishes: cilantro, diced jalapeno, diced onion, tortilla chips


1. Heat the oil in a stock pot or Dutch oven on medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the diced onion and bell pepper. Sauté for 2-3 minutes or until the onion begins to soften.

2. Add kosher salt, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder and cayenne pepper (if using). Stir and cook for about 30 seconds or until the spices are fragrant.

3. Add in the undrained canned beans, diced tomatoes, corn and broth. Stir to combine. Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for 15 minutes or so, until the broth has thickened slightly, stirring occasionally.

4. Taste the soup and add more salt and/or seasonings if needed.

5. Serve as-is or over prepared white rice or quinoa and top with garnishes (optional).

Serves 4. Prep time: 30 minutes

Orange Apricot Energy Bites


1 cup dried apricots

6 large pitted Medjool dates (about 2 inches in length; if yours are smaller, use an additional 1-2 dates)

1 orange

1 1/4 cup roasted salted cashews

1 tablespoon honey (optional)


1. Place the cashews in the bowl of a food processor and pulse in 1-second increments until the cashews are broken down into small pieces, about 9–10 pulses. Remove the cashews from the food processor. Separate out 6 tablespoons of the cashews, set both aside.

2. Place the dates and apricots in the food processor and pulse in 1-second increments until they are broken down into chunks, about five pulses.

3. Zest the orange, measure out 2 teaspoons. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice into a small bowl. Add the 2 teaspoons zest to the food processor. Add between 1-2 tablespoons of the orange juice to the food processor (use less for firmer bites, or the full amount for softer, more tender bites). For added sweetness, add 1 tablespoon honey (optional).

4. Pulse the mixture in the food processor a few more times until the fruit is broken down into smaller pieces and the mixture starts to clump together.

5. Add in the cashews, except for the reserved 6 tablespoons. Pulse the mixture a few more times until the cashews are evenly incorporated throughout and the mixture starts to form a ball.

6. Pour the reserved cashews onto a plate. Roll the mixture into small balls and place them on top of the cashews. Roll the balls around until they are evenly coated in the cashew pieces. Store in the fridge or freezer; the bites will firm up more as they chill.

Makes about 16 bites. Prep time: 10 minutes

Ally Turk

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