Dining out every night and buying only organic produce isn't a realistic option for many college student budgets. Even recent—and not so recent—graduates have a tough time eating well when broke.

I spoke with some accomplished chefs about how they kept their taste buds in tact when cash wasn't exactly flowing. Be prepared, some key staples include ramen, pasta and you guessed it, pizza


tomato, chicken, bread, lettuce, cheese, salsa, vegetable
Emily Gordon

Tortillas were a key staple for Nicole Bassis, Executive Chef at Taste Buds Kitchen in NYC, while in college. When she was studying at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) she would keep these bad boys around, mainly because they pretty much never go stale. It's also possible, and acceptable, to have them for every meal.       

Easy Mac

vegetable, cheese
Kelly Marcus

Easy Mac is almost considered a food group once you get to the U. Chef and owner of Arties Steak & Seafood Spiros Chargares used to literally beef up his cheesy goodness with cooked ground meat.

It's an easy way to add in some protein and change the consistency of the mac. Try pimping out your own Easy Mac by combining Chargare's ideas with these tips.


pork, beef, meat, bacon, barbecue, sausage
Audrey Mirabito

Bacon is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about eating on a budget, but 2nd City Executive Chef Jordan Andino knows that adding bacon can upgrade practically any meal. Prep a batch in the oven and add it to any cheap pre-packaged food you can think of.

"Mexican Dirty Rice"

rice, meat, vegetable, scrambled, pork
Julia Marks

Director of Culinary Development for the ICE, Chef James Briscione, pointed out that most young chefs are so tired from being in the kitchen all day that their fridge mostly houses condiments.

Briscione was hesitant to share his staple recipe that he calls "Mexican Dirty Rice" which is basically a mix of rice, Rotel tomatoes, canned black beans and canned corn seasoned with salt, hot sauce, and cumin. He would make a big batch and use it throughout the day, stuffing it in wraps and topping it with an egg for breakfast. This is bare bones meal prep for peeps on a budget.

Instant Ramen

vegetable, pasta, salad
Meredith Marcus

You knew this one was coming. Instant ramen is in the same league as Easy Mac, unofficially tied for #1 college food staple. Chef Sabrina Sexton, Program Director at ICE, recommends pimping out the cheap stuff with veggies, chicken, and condiments.

Three of the chefs I spoke to said ramen was something they consistently ate. Andino also had good tips for spicing up basic ramen by adding scallions, shredded carrots and a fried egg on top.

Things That Don't Require Cooking

meat, sweet
Tarika Narain

I wasn't expecting so many chefs to say that they ate out a lot in college. Chef Robert Ramsy, a Culinary Arts Chef-Instructor at ICE, credits a sandwich shop he used to frequent with kicking his picky eater habit to the curb.

Even Chargares, who recommended eating salad and pasta in addition to Easy Mac, loves a greasy quick slice of pizza. I wonder if he's tried to eat some zaaa in all these different ways?

Chefs, they're just like us—from meal prepping to pizza pushing and ramen pimping to Easy Mac heaven. It turns out college can't ruin your taste buds after all.