1. Frozen, Boneless Chicken Breasts

This is a meal staple that I would deem a classic. Chicken breasts can pair with absolutely anything, and buying frozen means that you can store them for months without worrying about them going bad. One of my favorite ways to prepare this meal staple is to coat a few pieces in my favorite BBQ sauce, add some simple spices, and wrap them in foil then bake them in the oven for as long as the instructions allot. I pair this with a baked potato and voila, I’ve created my ultimate comfort food. However, chicken breast also tastes great with a coating of garlicky herb spices and a side of rice or pasta, or hearty teriyaki and a veggie medley. Mix and match all you want, but this meal staple item is high on my list – literally.

2. Stuffed Pasta

This is a more vague meal staple suggestion, but that’s because there’s so many options. Whether the pasta in question is cheesy tortellini, or mushroom or beef-bolognese stuffed ravioli (my personal favorite), it’s always a good idea to have some variety of stuffed pasta on hand. I suggest stuffed simply because it’s an easy, pre-made way to bulk up a meal. You can buy frozen or refrigerated, depending on how quickly you plan on eating it. While most pasta is excellent with a traditional tomato or alfredo sauce, I suggest trying a veggie or chicken stuffed pasta with a drizzle of olive oil, Italian seasoning, and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.

3. Ground Beef

This is another meal staple that has a comforting resonance with me – my mother loved cooking with ground beef. And, just like everything else on this list, it’s a cheap way to get a healthy dose of protein and stay full. Much like chicken breast, ground beef can pair with almost anything: potatoes, veggies, taco shells, pasta sauce, the list could go on and on. A pound of beef can usually feed just me for 2-3 different meals, and though I buy fresh, it’s always okay to freeze portions of meat to use for later (just make sure to date it).

4. Frozen Shrimp

This meal staple is one that I’ve recently added to my queue of items to always have on hand, and I regret not adding it sooner. I buy precooked frozen shrimp, and all I do to prepare it is heat it in the wok, throw in some spices and veggies (sweet potato, corn, and okra are my current faves), and I have a filling, protein and nutrient packed meal in literal minutes. This meal is perfect for in between classes, and of course, is just one of the many ways that shrimp can be prepared as a meal.

5. Eggs

You didn’t think I could round off the list without this timeless meal staple, did you? Eggs may be thought of as a breakfast food, but that hasn’t stopped me from having eggs for any meal of the day on many occasions. Cheap, healthy, and with so many ways to cook them quickly, eggs are a must have for anyone on a budget and on a time-restricted schedule.

6. Notable Mentions

All of the items listed above are stand-alone entries because, with the exception of one other major ingredient, or just a few small ones, those items really do stand alone as the main part of the meal. Still, I think it’s necessary to give a quick shout out to the following foods: potatoes, rice, pasta (non-stuffed), mixed greens, quinoa, avocados, and bread. All items that, perhaps on their own aren’t quite enough, but paired with one of the meal staples above make an already sufficient meal even heartier. 

Looking for more articles about cheap and delicious food you can make? Check out this article about different ways to prepare ramen noodles.