Quality or quantity: Meal planning on a budget

Shrimp, snap peas and a pinch of spices is just one of many ways to turn a boring batch of ramen noodles — the college student's staple food — into a more exciting and flavorful dish. (File photo)

For many college students, grocery shopping on a budget can be difficult and often leads to choosing between quantity or quality, but there are plenty of meals that you can make to keep the costs down.

When meal planning on a budget, first make sure to write out a list of groceries. Writing down a list will help you stick to your budget and allow you to look for any potential sales on those items. Looking through sale ads prior to shopping can also help narrow down the items you plan to purchase.

If you are overwhelmed by the world of “couponing,” don’t worry — yet. There are go-to meals that you can cook that will be both easy to make and delicious. When you are meal planning, remember that you don’t have eat junk food to stick to your budget — there are healthy and cheap options.

1. Ramen

Ramen can certainly be healthy. Ramen packs can be purchased for nearly 10 cents and you can use them as the base of your meal. Once you have your ramen, spice it up and make a meal you can enjoy. The easiest way to spice up your ramen is to buy a bag of stir fry mix; this will cost you roughly $3 to $4. Stir fry mix normally comes with a blend of vegetables and a pouch of sauce to add to your meal. A bag of stir fry can be used for about two to four meals if portioned out.

You can stop there, but if you want to add meat, check your sale ads and see what meat is being advertised. Some stores may have buy-one-get-one-free deal. If you take advantage of such a deal, put the other one in the freezer for a later meal.

Once you have your ingredients, cook the ramen without the seasoning packet which often isn’t healthy and contains a lot of sodium. Cook up your vegetables — and meat if you want —then add this to your ramen noodles.

This recipe can cost anywhere from $5 to $12 and produce about three to four meals, depending on portion sizes. You can change up your vegetables if you have a preference or find additional things to add in. This dish can be even cheaper depending on the brands you use.

2. Rice and beans

For all of those college students who love Chipotle but hate the price tag, there is another option: make your own. The famous rice bowl can be made at a lower cost; it’s just as delicious and can provide leftovers for later. A 16-ounce bag of rice can be as cheap as 64 cents, a can of beans can be as low as 50 cents. Vegetables and meats will vary. Most vegetables can be purchased at reduced prices if you shop sales.

Making your meal at home is often a cheaper alternative to eating out. The other benefit in buying these ingredients is that you can meal prep since you will have extra food. This is a healthy meal option that will last a while and costs just under $5.

3. Spaghetti

Now if you are really trying to save and want to get a large yield of food, a great option is spaghetti. A box of pasta costs $1, and an inexpensive sauce can range from $2 to $4. Spaghetti can also provide three to five additional meals as well.

These three easy meals don’t compromise quality for quantity. All of these dishes can be added upon, but even more costs can be cut by not choosing name brand products. As a college student, shopping for groceries can seem like an expensive and overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be.

Shopping the sale ads before hand and creating a game plan for your meals will help you out. Consider meal prepping to help out financially and save time throughout a busy week. Meal planning on a budget is possible with the correct preparation.

Monica Diaz is the Collegian’s social media editor and a senior in mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com

I'm Monica Diaz and I graduated in May 2020 with a degree in broadcast journalism and Spanish. I severed in several roles while working for the Collegian, but most of my work focused on rebuilding the Collegian digital brand with an increased social media presence. I also worked on KKSU-TV and appeared as an anchor on MHK All Day in my last semester on campus. In my spare time, I enjoy a good cup of coffee and spending time with family. I have a passion for journalism because I believe that everyone deserves to have their voice heard.