Sunday, 4 September 2011

Cheap and cheerful vegetarian/vegan meals for students

It's back to school this week after a lovely summer holiday... 

My mind has been on university rather than school for some reason, even though my children are still a good few years away from going to college; maybe because I've been reminiscing with old friends and Mr O about the time, many years ago, that we got our 'A' level exam results and started to prepare to go off out into the big wide world. 

Unfortunately I didn't quite get the results I needed to get into my first choice polytechnic university (ahem, slight social-life/study balance issue there!) but after some panic driven phone calls, I secured a place on a decent course at my fifth choice poly uni, managed to find a place in the local halls of residence and was looking forward to the start of my days as a student.

Being a pretty good cook even back in those days, I found I had some bargaining power in the communal kitchen, as I could cook. I wasn't vegetarian then, but was well on my way, so meat-free meals featured strongly, especially as they were cheap to make; I soon found that if I offered to cook, I could spend less money on food (by pooling our food budgets) and get the washing up done by someone else...not a bad trade off eh?

If you want to save money and impress others with your culinary skills, you can find a week's worth of meal ideas on my vegetarian budget/student meal planner, and even more student meals and tips below.  I can't really call some of them recipes but they are all quick and easy to make, use basic ingredients, and will save you money which you can spend on your social life instead (and books, of course!)

Top tips
  • Combine food budgets with one or more friends/room mates.
  • Look out for special offers on tinned, fresh and frozen fruit and veg.
  • Look for reduced products which are near their sell by date.
  • Base meals around cheap carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes), dried or tinned pulses (peas, beans and lentils) and seasonal fruit and veg.
  • Forget about brand-names, even if your mum swears by them!
  • Shop at budget supermarkets or buy own label/budget foods from larger supermarkets.
  • Use up leftovers in another meal, don't throw them away (unless out of date). Most meals can be frozen for a month or kept in the fridge for a couple of days.
  • Follow these guidelines if reheating cooked rice, unless you want a dose of food poisoning! 
  • Use cheap herbs and spices  (e.g. mixed herbs, mild chilli powder, hot chilli sauce and garam masala) to pep up boring meals.
  • Use packet/dried mixes for burgers and sausages and own-brand meat-free products (if you like them).
  • Plan your main meals each week, as that will reduce the amount of food you buy and waste. Try Netmums and Money Saving Expert for more meal planning tips.
  • Be creative!
Quick meals
These quick, cheap and easy meals will all serve 2 hungry students (or one person for two meals.) It might sound strange, but a lot of my camping food ideas would make great student meals too.
  • Pizza  - make up a budget pizza base or plain scone mix. Flatten onto a greased baking tray. Top with tomato puree, mixed herbs, grated cheese and any toppings you have (choose from onion, pepper, mushrooms, tinned pineapple, olives, tinned sweetcorn etc.) Cook at 200C/Gas 6 for 10-15 mins.
  • Pasta or rice with chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce  - Fry 1 small chopped onion in a drop of vegetable oil, add 1 crushed clove garlic, 1 tbsp tomato puree, 1 tin budget chopped tomatoes, ½ tin budget chickpeas, a grated carrot/sliced mushrooms/chopped red pepper, 1 tsp chilli powder or garam masala. Simmer for 15 minutes, meanwhile cook the pasta or rice.
  • Baked bean curry -  Fry 1 small chopped onion in a drop of vegetable oil, add 1 crushed clove garlic and 2 tsp curry powder/paste. Add a tin of economy baked beans and heat through. Serve with boiled rice.
  • Pisto Manchego
  • Lentil spag-bol - Follow recipe but swap the chickpeas for 50g dried red lentils and 100ml water (reduce the amount of water and add a glug of red wine if there's any going!) Swap the chilli powder for 1 tsp mixed herbs. Simmer for around 20 minutes.
  • Make and cook veggie burgers/sausages from a packet mix, serve in budget pittas with budget coleslaw/salad, or serve with mashed potatoes, vegetables and veggie gravy.
  • Root vegetable soup - Fry 1 chopped onion in a drop of oil, add 2 chopped carrots, 1 potato, 1 parsnip and a handful of dried red lentils. Cover with 500-750ml veg stock made with a veg stock cube and boiling water. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Mash or blend, if you don't like chunks in your soup. Serve with bread.
  • Savoury pancakes - Use a budget pancake/batter mix to make pancakes. Fill with roasted veg and grated cheese, veggie chilli, or cheese and baked beans.
  • Baked beans/tinned spaghetti/scrambled eggs/cheese on toast.
  • Potato pancakes - Mix left over mashed potato with 1-2 eggs and 1-2 tbsp plain flour. Fry until golden brown on both sides.
  • Lentil hash - Fry ½ an onion in a drop of oil, with a clove of garlic, 1-2 tsp mild chilli powder and a pinch of mixed herbs. Add a diced carrot/sweet potato, 1 tbsp tomato puree, 50g of dried red lentils and about 200ml water. Cook until soft (about 15 mins), adding more water if needed. Spoon lentil mixture over a pack of economy tortilla chips and top with a handful of grated cheese/vegan cheese. Pop under the grill for a few minutes until the cheese is bubbling. 
  • Pasta bake - Cook 150g budget pasta for 8-10 minutes and drain. Meanwhile fry ½ chopped onion in a drop of oil, and add any other veg you have handy (eg: chopped carrot, parsnip, leek, cauliflower), a crushed clove of garlic and a good pinch of dried herbs. Add 100ml of veggie gravy (made with granules) and 100ml of cider to the pan and bring to the boil, while stirring. Simmer for 5-10 minutes (with pan lid on) until the veg are just cooked and the sauce has thickened. Pour the sauce over the pasta, mix and tip into an oven-proof dish. Top with some fresh breadcrumbs and grated cheese/vegan cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 190C/Gas 5.
  • Veggie sausage and baked bean pasta
  • Cheap veggie chilliFry 1 small chopped onion in a drop of vegetable oil, add 1 crushed clove garlic, 1 tsp mild chilli powder, 1 small chopped chilli, 2 tbsp tomato ketchup, 1 tin budget chopped tomatoes, 25g dried red lentils, ½ tin budget kidney beans . Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Serve with baked/jacket spuds or boiled rice.
  • Quesadillas - put a tortilla wrap into a frying pan. Add any left over veggie chilli or refried beans and some grated mozzarella/cheddar cheese/vegan cheese. Top with another wrap. Turn over and heat through.
  • Hawaiian Quesadillas 
  • Mexican rice burritos 
  • Hot dogs - Buy budget bread rolls and veggie hot dogs. Fry 1 sliced onion in a little butter or oil, until soft. Cook hot dogs. Serve hot dogs in rolls with the fried onions and a squirt of mustard or ketchup. 
  • Rice and peas
You can find more quick and cheap meal ideas (including veggie curry/chilli, garlic mushrooms, spicy rice, veggie sausage stew, frittata, pesto spaghetti, and noodles with stir-fried vegetables), and a list of basic cooking equipment you might need here. 

Find a basic student shopping list here.

..oh, and just in case you're interested, yes I did get my degree (in both science and socialising!) Pin It


  1. Fab ideas...I'll send a link to my daughter at uni! x

  2. I am not a great cook and i dont really like cooking,but your stuff seems quite simple, healthy and looks great. I will give some of your recipes a go, starting coming Tuesday [ got to use up some meat first, then for a new start. I will let you know how I get on. Thank you for sharing your ideas anyway!


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