My Sundays are filled with chopping, sizzling, and—of course—loud house music bumping throughout my home. My roommates can attest to the organized chaos that is our kitchen for a few hours during the day.
I choose to meal prep not to try to be a healthier individual but because I hate cooking for myself after long days, and I don’t want to spend money eating out all of the time. Meal prepping makes sure I eat well-balanced meals—instead of snacking my way through my refrigerator.
As a college student or recent graduate, it can be really challenging to find healthy(-ish) meals that don’t break the budget, or that don’t require too much equipment, time, and effort when it comes to preparing food.
In my cooking journey, I’ve found several recipes that require only one pot, and it’s been a game-changer. They’re delicious, budget-friendly, easy to change or ingredient-swap, and require minimal cleanup.
Overnight oats (about 10 minutes)
- Good and Gather old fashioned oats: $2.69 (Target)
- Skippy All Natural Super Chunk Peanut Butter (40 oz): $5.99 (Target)
- The Very Cherry Berry Blend (frozen): $2.99 (Trader Joe’s)
- Oat beverage (one quart): $2.29 (Trader Joe’s)
I can’t eat right away in the morning, so overnight oats is my savior because I get a filling breakfast to-go. Overnight oats require no cooking utensils, only a storage container like a Mason jar.
In the container, pour in a 1/2 cup of rolled oats. Add frozen fruit or berries (any kind you enjoy), and a tablespoon of peanut or almond butter. If you have a nut allergy, Greek yogurt is a good substitute because it still gives that creaminess and added protein. From there, pour in one cup of milk or water, mix it with a spoon, and top it off with a honey drizzle and sliced banana.
Rolled oats are usually affordable at any grocery store if you stick to the generic brands. Frozen fruit is also nice to have in the freezer because it lasts longer than fresh fruit and it’s cheaper than buying fresh produce.
Frozen fried rice with veggies (30 minutes)
- Frozen vegetable fried rice (16 oz): $2.49 (Trader Joe’s)
- Broccoli slaw blend: $1.99 (Trader Joe’s)
- Sliced white mushrooms: $2.99 (Trader Joe’s)
- Ground turkey: $2.79 (Trader Joe’s)
- Lime: $0.55 (Trader Joe’s)
- Eggs (optional)
- Oil, olive and/or sesame
Optional: Sriracha, soy sauce, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger powder, chili oil to taste
Fried rice is a great way to use produce before it spoils. This requires one large pan for cooking, a knife and cutting board, and possibly a bowl to hold the diced veggies.
Start by heating up the pan with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I like eggs in my fried rice, so I’ll crack two eggs in the pan and scramble them for about five minutes. Once the eggs are done, I’ll remove them from the pan and add more oil—I use sesame oil for this round.
If you want to add more protein, use ground turkey or chicken, or tofu, depending on your preference. Ground meat tends to be cheaper than chicken breasts or cut meat, and it takes less effort to prepare. Add the meat to the pan and season it to your liking. For a more Asian flare, I used a few tablespoons of Sriracha and soy sauce, two teaspoons of garlic powder, onion powder, and ginger powder, and a little chili oil (red chili flakes also work if you want more spice).
Let the ground meat cook until it’s gray (not browned) and add in your frozen fried rice. I use Trader Joe’s frozen vegetable fried rice and let that sizzle in the pan. After mixing for a few minutes, I’ll add my veggies. This week I had mushrooms and a Trader Joe’s broccoli slaw mix. Add the scrambled eggs, squeeze one lime over the top, mix thoroughly, and taste periodically to see if it needs anything.
Creamy pesto pasta with chickpeas and broccoli (25 minutes)
- Garbanzo beans (chickpeas): $0.89 (Trader Joe’s)
- White onion: $0.79 (Trader Joe’s)
- Penne pasta: $0.99 (Trader Joe’s)
- Oat beverage (one quart): $2.29 (Trader Joe’s)
- Pesto alla Genovese basil pesto: $2.69 (Trader Joe’s)
- Grated Parmesan Cheese: $4.49 (Trader Joe’s)
- Knorr chicken bouillon cubes: $1.19 (Target)
- Good and Gather plain cream cheese: $1.99 (Target)
The full recipe can be found on Budget Bytes—a website I recommend because it’s full of affordable, easy, one-pot meal options. This pasta dish also requires butter, garlic, onion, milk, cream cheese, pasta, chicken, and chicken broth. Start with one large pan and heat 2 tablespoons of butter or olive oil with half a chopped onion and a clove of garlic.
The recipe says to add diced raw, chicken, but because I’m lazy I’ll use a can of chickpeas instead. It takes less time and it’s cost-effective; at Trader Joe’s a can of chickpeas costs 89 cents whereas chicken breasts cost $4.49 per pound. Frozen chicken breast is another cheaper option if you want an animal-based protein.
Sauté the chickpeas with the onion, oil, and garlic for about two minutes, and then add 1 1/2 cups of uncooked pasta and 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth to the mix and let that come to a boil.
Instead of buying chicken broth, get chicken broth—dehydrated chicken stock—and use hot water to mix it. Chicken broth is much cheaper, tastes similar, and it lasts longer than cans or boxes of broth.
After most of the broth has been absorbed, add a cup of any milk, 1/3 cup of pesto, 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, and 3 to 4 tablespoons of cream cheese. I don’t usually use cream cheese often enough to purchase it, so I use plain Greek yogurt instead. Mix ingredients well and the pasta will get a creamy, Alfredo-like texture. I add broccoli, spinach, and red pepper flakes, but those are optional. These measurements give me five days’ worth of food, but the recipe can be adjusted for fewer servings.
Reach Staff Writer Taylor O’Connor from New Times sister paper, the Sun, at [email protected]