3 meals you can make for the price of your favourite beverage splurge

A reality check for students (and everyone) on a budget.

A reality check for students (and everyone) on a budget

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

The quickest way to blow your meal budget when you're away at school may be to use more of it than you intend to on drinks. The price of beverages, from a pint of beer to a large coffee, can add up over the week without offering much bang for your buck in terms of satiation — at $8 a pop, they fall distinctly into 'splurge' territory. For the same price, you can make an entire stellar homemade meal, often with leftovers to spare. 

We have three such recipes right here. The results are delicious, filling, and will keep your food budget on track this school year. And, there are options noted with each recipe to revise them to your dietary preferences.

So make your drinks at home or reach for one from your own fridge, and cook up something that tastes like a million bucks, all for less than $8 per serving.   

Saucy Baked Pizza Chicken 

Who needs pricey takeout chicken pizza when you can have homemade pizza chicken?! All of the flavours you love in a slice can be found in this budget-friendly meal, made for two, for the price of a pint of beer or large whipped cream-and-caramel-topped coffee. Ask a friend to bring over a salad and call it dinner. 

Preheat your oven to 400F degrees. Rub 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts with 2 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon of dried Italian seasoning and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, and then place on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake the chicken for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and then top each chicken breast with 2 tablespoons of marinara sauce (per breast) and ¼ cup shredded mozzarella (per breast) and a few slices of cured pepperoni or salami. Transfer the chicken back to the oven and bake for a further 10 minutes. The internal temperature of the chicken should read 165F degrees on a digital thermometer or release no pink with the clear juices when you slice into the thickest part; keep baking for another 5 minutes or so if the chicken is not up to temperature. Serves 2. 

Make it vegan: Replace the chicken with extra-firm tofu, the pepperoni with sliced vegan sausage or crumbled smoky tempeh, and mozzarella with a dairy-free version. 

Make it gluten-free: The recipe can be made as is but note: some pre-shredded cheeses use gluten-containing starches and flours to keep the shreds distinct (grate your own cheese to avoid the problem); look for a certified gluten-free label on your pepperoni or salami as these can often contain wheat flours or starches. 

Another chicken recipe to try that comes in under budget: Harissa-Marinated Chicken 

Curried Lentils with Spinach, Rice and Naan 

This vegan, Indian-inspired dinner is a complete meal-in-a-bowl, filled with nourishing and affordable lentils and rice. This dinner for four can be made for the price of a pint, so you can feed your housemates or have a handful of packed lunches waiting for you for the week. 

Cook 1½ cups basmati rice according to package directions. For the lentils, in a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil or neutral oil over medium heat and then add 2 cloves of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon of minced ginger and 1 tablespoon of curry powder, and sauté for 1 minute, until fragrant. Add 2 cups of water, 1 cup of dried brown lentils, 1 (14 oz) can of coconut milk, 1 vegan bouillon cube and ¼ tsp salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until the lentils are tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. At the last minute, stir in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and a couple of handfuls of baby spinach to wilt. Serve the lentils over the cooked rice and/or with prepared naan. Serves 4. 

Pump up the protein: For a budget-friendly protein option, top your lentil bowl with a poached or fried egg. 

Make it gluten-free: Skip the naan and serve with gluten-free brown rice tortillas in its place. 

Another lentil recipe to try that comes in under budget: Mexican Lentil Soup

Loaded Roasted Sweet Potato Nachos 

Healthy baked sweet potato rounds are covered in your favourite nacho toppings for a dinner-meets-bar snack that's better tasting — and better for you — than anything you'll find outside of the house. 

Preheat your oven to 375F degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Scrub and dry 4 small or 2 very large sweet potatoes and then peel and slice each potato into rounds about ½-inch in thickness. Add potatoes to the prepared baking sheet and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, ½ teaspoon of ground cumin, ½ teaspoon of ground chili powder and ½ teaspoon salt. Spread them out in a single layer and roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes are soft and beginning to caramelize on the bottom. Flip the potatoes to show the caramelized side up for serving; add them to a large platter or build them up right on the baking sheet: top them evenly with 1 cup of canned black beans (drained and rinsed), 2 cups of shredded iceberg lettuce, ½ cup of salsa or diced tomatoes, 1 diced ripe avocado, 2 sliced green onions, ½ cup Greek yogurt and the juice of ½ lime. Serve with hot sauce, if desired. Serves 4. 

Pump up the protein: Leftover cooked, shredded chicken or cooked ground beef are game-changing nacho protein toppers. Vegetarians may want to add a sprinkle of cheddar cheese or crumbled tempeh instead.

Make it vegan: Replace the Greek yogurt with non-dairy sour cream or yogurt. 

Another sweet potato recipe to try that comes in under budget: Sweet Potato, Coconut and Ginger Soup

Allison Day is the cookbook author of Modern Lunch. Find her online at and on Instagram @allisondaycooks


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