10 Budget-Friendly Meal Prep Ideas For Busy Students

three meal prep salads

Forget the takeout menus and instant ramen! With a little planning and creativity, you can whip up delicious and nutritious meals that will fuel your busy college schedule without breaking the bank. This guide will show you 10 budget-friendly meal prep ideas that are perfect for even the most time-crunched student.

Benefits Of Meal Prepping In College

Meal prepping with smart meal prep ideas can be a real game-changer for college students juggling demanding schedules and limited budgets.

  • Saves time: Meal prepping can save you a lot of time during the week, as you won’t have to spend time cooking or trying to figure out what to eat.
  • Saves money: Meal prepping can help you save money on groceries. You’re likelier to stick to your budget and avoid impulse buys at the grocery store or unhealthy takeout meals.
  • Promotes healthy eating: Meal prepping can help you make healthier choices. You’re more likely to eat nutritious meals if they’re already prepared.
  • Gives you more control over your diet: When you meal prep, you can control the ingredients in your meals and make sure they meet your dietary needs.
  • Reduces stress and anxiety: Knowing that you have healthy and delicious meals readily available can take a lot of stress out of the day.
  • Boosts energy levels: Eating regular and nutritious meals can help students maintain their energy levels throughout the day.
  • Develop cooking skills: Meal prepping can be a great way for students to learn new cooking skills and experiment with different recipes.

Tips For Meal Prepping

  • Durability is key: Opt for sturdy proteins like lean meats, tofu, and fish that can be cooked in bulk and reheated. Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and farro are versatile and stay fresh for days. Don’t forget hardy veggies like broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes.
  • Prep time matters: Eggs are your friend. Hard-boiled, in omelets, or as muffins, they’re quick and portable. Soups and stews are convient. Make a big pot on the weekend and portion it out. Deconstructed salads with separate containers for greens, toppings, and dressing are a smart way to prevent wilting.
  • Budget-conscious bites: Beans and lentils are protein and fiber powerhouses that can be used in countless dishes. Frozen vegetables are often just as nutritious as fresh and much cheaper.

My Favorite Meal Prep Containers

Choosing the right containers ensures a successful meal prep experience. Here are some key reasons why using the right containers is crucial:

1. Food Fafety And Freshness:

  • Leakproof and airtight: Containers that seal tightly prevent leaks and spills, protecting your food from contamination and ensuring freshness.
  • Microwave-safe and heat-resistant: Choose containers that can handle reheating without warping or leaching harmful chemicals.
  • Freezer-friendly: If you plan to freeze some prepped meals, opt for containers that can withstand freezing temperatures without cracking or affecting the food quality.
meal prep containers

Only $16.99 for a 21-pack, these are super affordable!

2. Convenience And Organization:

  • Portion control: Containers with compartments or designated sizes help you portion your meals accurately, promoting healthy eating habits and preventing overeating.
  • Stackable and space-saving: Opt for containers that stack neatly in your fridge or freezer, maximizing storage space and keeping your meal prep organized.
  • Easy to clean and reusable: Choose dishwasher-safe containers for effortless cleaning and long-lasting use, reducing waste and saving money in the long run.
meal prep silicone reusable bags

Only $13.00 for a reusable 6 Pack!

Budget-Friendly Meal Prep Ideas

Here are 10 delicious and easy meal prep ideas to embrace healthy eating on a budget and ditch the takeout menus for good. These recipes are designed for busy schedules and budget-conscious minds, these recipes are your secret weapon for conquering healthy eating on the go. Say goodbye to bland lunches and hello to vibrant salads, hearty soups, and protein-packed bowls. All are prepped in minutes and ready to fuel your week with flavor and convenience. So ditch the takeout temptation, grab your favorite ingredients, and get ready to embrace the good life, one delicious bite at a time!

1. Easy Breakfast Burrito Bowls:

A burrito bowl tops the list of meal prep ideas because a well-constructed bowl can incorporate all the food groups: protein from meat, beans, or tofu, carbohydrates from grains like rice or quinoa, healthy fats from avocado or nuts, and vital vitamins and minerals from vegetables.

Creating a delicious and satisfying breakfast burrito bowl is all about choosing your favorite ingredients and layering them.


  • Grains: Start with a base of cooked and fluffy carbohydrates like brown rice, quinoa, whole-wheat tortillas, or even roasted sweet potatoes.
  • Greens: Add a layer of leafy greens like spinach or kale for extra vitamins and freshness.

Protein Power:

  • Scrambled eggs: A classic choice for breakfast burritos, offering protein and versatility. Spice them up with salsa or herbs.
  • Black beans: A plant-based protein option that adds fiber and texture. 
  • Tofu scramble: Use crumbled tofu and stir-fry it with your favorite spices.
  • Sausage or chorizo: For a heartier option, add cooked sausage or chorizo.


  • Diced tomatoes: Add freshness and acidity with chopped tomatoes. 
  • Sauteed bell peppers and onions: These classic breakfast companions add sweetness and texture.
  • Avocado slices: Creamy and delicious, avocado provides healthy fats.
  • Sliced mushrooms or asparagus: For a gourmet touch, try sauteed mushrooms or asparagus for a unique flavor profile.


  • Salsa: Choose your favorite salsa for a burst of flavor and spice. Pico de gallo or verde are popular choices.
  • Hot sauce: Add an extra kick with a drizzle of hot sauce. 
  • Cheese: Sprinkle some shredded cheese for a savory and melty element. Cheddar, Monterey Jack, or Cotija all work well.
  • Fresh herbs: Cilantro, chopped green onions, or a squeeze of lime juice add a refreshing lift.
  • Sour cream or Greek yogurt: For a touch of creaminess, add a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt.

2. Sheet Pan Dinners

A sheet pan meal is a complete dish prepared and cooked entirely on a single baking sheet. I love these meals because everything cooks together, minimizing dishes and cleanup. No more pots, pans, or overflowing sinks! Line the pan with parchment paper for even easier clean-up. One pan, one dish, dinner’s done.

Toss together any protein like chicken, pork, or tofu add potatoes and veggies on a sheet pan with olive oil and spices. Roast at 425° for 35-45 minutes for an easy and flavorful dinner.

3. Smoothie Packs

Packed with fruits, vegetables, and even superfoods, smoothie packs are a great way to increase your intake of essential nutrients. You can easily add protein, healthy fats, and fiber to your smoothie packs for a complete and satisfying meal. Save time by chopping, measuring, and portioning ingredients in advance. No more scrambling to put together a smoothie in the morning rush. Simply grab a pack, blend, and enjoy! Perfect for busy mornings or on-the-go snacking.

Choose frozen fruits for ultimate convenience and portion out desired amounts into freezer-safe bags. Think berries, bananas, mango, pineapple, or your favorite mix. Add a generous handful of spinach or kale for a nutrient boost. Add a scoop of protein powder, nut butter, or chia seeds for an extra energy punch and longer-lasting satiety. Don’t forget to spice things up with ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, or herbs like mint or basil.

In the morning, simply grab a frozen pack and toss it into your blender. Add your chosen liquid (yogurt, milk (or milk alternatives: almond, oat, or coconut), or even water), starting with about 1/2 cup and adjusting to your desired consistency. Blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Frittata Muffins

I made frittata muffins all the time when I was in college. From veggie-loaded delights to cheesy bursts of flavor discover endless meal prep ideas for these bite-sized wonders.

Here’s how to meal prep delicious and nutritious frittata muffins:


  • Base:
    • 12 eggs
    • 1/2 cup milk (or dairy-free alternative)
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • Mix-ins:
    • Veggies: Diced bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, etc.
    • Protein: Cooked sausage, bacon, ham, chicken, tofu, etc.
    • Cheese: Shredded cheddar, mozzarella, feta, goat cheese, etc.
    • Grains: Cooked quinoa, brown rice, farro, etc.
    • Herbs and Spices: Fresh herbs like parsley, chives, basil, or dried spices like oregano, thyme, paprika, etc.


  1. Pre-heat oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease a muffin tin with cooking spray or line it with muffin liners.
  2. Whisk eggs, milk, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.
  3. Sauté your chosen vegetables until slightly softened. Add cooked meat, if using.
  4. Stir the vegetables and meat into the egg mixture. Add any other desired mix-ins like cheese or grains.
  5. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared muffin cups. Fill them about 3/4 full, leaving room for them to rise.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and set. A toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean.
  7. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
  8. Once cooled, store frittata muffins in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

5. Taco Bowls

Taco bowls have endless combinations. You can mix and match countless ingredients, from protein (ground beef, chicken, beans, tofu) to vegetables (corn, peppers, onions, black beans), to toppings (cheese, avocado, salsa, sour cream).

Making a taco bowl is a fun and easy process, and the beauty lies in its customizability. Here’s a basic guide to get you started, but feel free to adjust and add your own personal touches:



  • Cooked rice (brown, white, quinoa, cauliflower rice)
  • Canned or cooked beans (black beans, pinto beans, lentils)
  • Salad greens


  • Ground beef, chicken, turkey, tofu, tempeh, lentils (cooked and seasoned)
  • Grilled or baked fish/shrimp


  • Chopped bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, corn, avocado, olives
  • Shredded carrots, cabbage, lettuce
  • Pickled jalapenos


  • Salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cheese
  • Cilantro, chopped onion, lime wedges
  • Hot sauce, crema, pico de gallo


  1. Prepare your base: Cook your rice or quinoa according to package instructions. If using beans, rinse and heat them up. Assemble your salad greens in the bottom of a bowl (optional).
  2. Cook your protein: Brown your ground meat, grill or bake your chicken/fish, or cook your tofu/tempeh. Season with your favorite taco spices.
  3. Chop your vegetables: Wash and chop your desired vegetables.
  4. Assemble your bowl: Layer your cooked rice or quinoa, beans, protein, and vegetables in a bowl.
  5. Top it off: Add your favorite toppings like salsa, guacamole, sour cream, cheese, cilantro, onion, lime wedges, hot sauce, or crema.

6. Tuna Salad Wraps

Tuna salad wraps are a fantastic choice for meal prep due to their convenience, versatility, nutritional value, and additional benefits. They offer a portable, delicious, and healthy solution. So, mix up your tuna salad, grab your favorite tortillas, and get wrapping for a week of flavorful and satisfying meals.

Making a delicious tuna salad wrap is a breeze! Here’s a basic guide with room for your own creative twists:


  • Tuna: Canned tuna packed in water, drained and flaked. Choose chunk light for a more textured bite or solid white for a smoother texture.
  • Mayonnaise: Classic mayo, Greek yogurt for a lighter option, or even hummus.
  • Flavor Boosters: Chopped celery, onions, pickles, red bell pepper, olives, capers, herbs or parsley.
  • Crunch Element: Chopped nuts, sunflower seeds, or crumbled crackers.
  • Wraps: Whole-wheat, spinach, low-carb, or tortilla.


  1. Mix your tuna salad: In a bowl, combine flaked tuna with your chosen mayonnaise. Add in your desired flavor boosters, crunch element, and a squeeze of lemon juice (optional). Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Spread it on: Lay your tortilla flat and evenly spread your tuna salad mixture across it, leaving a small border around the edges.
  3. Add your extras: If you like, add additional toppings like avocado slices, lettuce leaves, tomato slices, or shredded cheese.
  4. Wrap it up: Fold the bottom edge of the tortilla over the filling, then tightly roll it up from the side. Tuck the end in to secure the wrap.
  5. Refrigerate and enjoy: Wrap your creations individually in plastic wrap or store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Hands holding a pot with hard boiled eggs inside to meal prep

7. Hard-Boiled Eggs

Hard-boiled eggs are a nutritional powerhouse, convenient meal prep superstar, and budget-friendly option. They are packed with protein. Each egg has about 6 grams, keeping you feeling full and satisfied. They are an excellent source of choline, vitamin B12, and other essential vitamins and minerals. They are low-calorie. Only around 70 calories per egg, making them a weight-conscious choice.

Method 1: The Cold Start Boil:

  1. Gather your tools: You’ll need a saucepan, a slotted spoon, and a bowl of ice water.
  2. Fill your pan: Place your eggs in a single layer at the bottom of the saucepan and cover them with cold water. Aim for at least an inch of water above the eggs.
  3. Heat it up: Bring the water to a rolling boil over high heat.
  4. Time it right: Once boiling, immediately remove the pan from the heat and cover it with a lid. Set a timer for the following cooking times based on your desired yolk consistency:
    • 6 minutes: Soft-boiled yolks with runny centers
    • 8 minutes: Medium-boiled yolks with slightly firm centers
    • 10-12 minutes: Hard-boiled yolks with fully cooked centers
  5. Ice bath: transfer the eggs to the bowl of ice water. Let them sit for at least 15 minutes to stop the cooking process and cool the eggs.
  6. Peel and enjoy: Once chilled, gently peel the eggs under running cold water for easier removal.

8. Soup

For convenient, delicious meal prep, look no further than soup. It holds beautifully in the fridge, and the longer it sits, the more the flavors have a chance to marry, resulting in a richer, more satisfying dish. Soups can easily incorporate all food groups – protein from meat or beans, carbohydrates from noodles or rice, vegetables for fiber and vitamins, and healthy fats from avocado or olive oil.

Choosing a good soup recipe depends on your preferred flavor profile and dietary needs. Here are a few options with varying levels of complexity and ingredients:

Easy and Hearty:

  • Minestrone Soup: This Italian classic is loaded with vegetables, beans, and pasta, making it a complete and satisfying meal. Customize it with your favorite veggies and herbs.
  • Lentil Soup: Packed with protein and fiber, lentil soup is a budget-friendly and healthy option. Add spices like cumin, turmeric, and coriander for a warm and flavorful twist.
  • Chicken Noodle Soup: A timeless comfort food that’s perfect for chilly days. Use leftover rotisserie chicken for faster prep.

Creamy and Delicious:

  • Tomato Bisque: Creamy and flavorful, this soup is perfect for bread dipping. Consider adding roasted vegetables or pesto for extra depth.
  • Broccoli Cheddar Soup: A childhood favorite that’s easy to adapt for adults. Substitute cauliflower or another vegetable for a twist.
  • Cream of Mushroom Soup: This versatile soup can be enjoyed as is or used as a base for other dishes like chicken pot pie.

Vegetarian and Vegan:

  • Black Bean Soup: Smoky and spicy, this Mexican-inspired soup is packed with protein and flavor. Top it with avocado and cilantro for a fresh finish.
  • Lentil and Vegetable Stew: A hearty and nutritious one-pot meal that’s perfect for colder weather. Adjust the vegetables based on your preferences.
  • Carrot Ginger Soup: Light and refreshing, this creamy soup is packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Add a dollop of Greek yogurt for extra protein.

9. Chili

This chili isn’t just a culinary masterpiece, it’s a champion of convenience making it one of the best meal prep ideas. It simmers to perfection in one pot. And for those who follow a vegetarian path, it’s a protein and fiber powerhouse, a delicious reminder that comfort food can be healthy too.

A good basic chili recipe for meal prep is all about simplicity, hearty flavor, and versatility.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers (any color), diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef (you can substitute ground turkey, chicken, or lentils for a veggie option)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • 1 (15-ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (adjust to your spice preference)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and bell peppers, and cook until softened about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for another minute.
  2. Add the ground beef and cook until browned, breaking it up with a spoon. Drain any excess fat.
  3. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes with green chilies, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, oregano, and cayenne pepper. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Bring the chili to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer it simmers, the deeper the flavor will be.
  5. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Serve hot with your favorite toppings, such as shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, avocado, cilantro, or diced jalapeños.

10. Snack Box

Ditch those boring sugary snacks. Make your own Starbucks-worthy snack boxes – like, cheese and fruit heaven in tiny, delicious bites! Takes no time, keeps you going, and is perfect for school and work.

Creating a delicious and satisfying snack box for meal prep is all about finding the right balance of taste, nutrition, and convenience.

Choose your container:

  • Snack containers with compartments: Opt for divided containers to keep different snacks separate and prevent them from getting soggy.
  • Reusable bags or pouches: Eco-friendly options for dry snacks like nuts, seeds, or granola.

Pick your snacks:

  • Protein sources: Hard-boiled eggs, cheese slices, hummus with veggie sticks, roasted chickpeas, chicken or tuna salad wraps.
  • Healthy fats: Avocado slices, almonds, nut butter, olives, dark chocolate squares.
  • Carbohydrates: Whole-wheat crackers, rice cakes, apple slices with peanut butter, popcorn, Greek yogurt.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Berries, grapes, celery sticks, baby carrots, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes.