5 Budget meal ideas

Emily B

As a student, you may be a bit short on money so you need to make the most of the money you have and therefore the meals you make. Here are some really yummy but cheap meal ideas for you to try!

Cheesy Cottage Pie (£1.40 per serving)

This classic is perfect for a cold day and can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days or frozen. Serves 4 hungry people!


  • 1 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2-3 medium carrots, chopped
  • 500g pack beef mince
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • large splash Worcestershire sauce
  • 500ml beef stock
  • 4 large baking potatoes
  • 85g butter
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 75g grated cheese


  • Heat the oil in a pan, and then add the onion and carrots for a few minutes.
  • When soft, turn up the heat, add the beef and cook, tipping off any excess fat.
  • Add the tomato purée and Worcestershire sauce, then fry for a few minutes. Pour over the stock, bring to a simmer, then cover and cook for around 40 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, heat the oven to 180C/ fan 160C/ gas 4. Then boil the potatoes for 10-15 minutes.
  • Drain, then mash with the butter and milk.
  • Put the mince into an ovenproof dish, top with the mash and ruffle with a fork and sprinkle on the cheese.
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is starting to colour and the mince is bubbling through at the edges. Enjoy!

Homemade tomato pasta sauce with mozzarella and spaghetti(£1.25 per serving)

Having been taught this by my lovely boyfriend I will never buy a tomato sauce for pasta again! It’s so delicious and easy to make. Serves two hungry people!

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 tsp mixed herbs
  • 2 balls of mozzarella
  • 150g spaghetti or pasta


  • Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onions and cook on a low heat until soft.
  • Add the garlic and tomato purée. Cook for a few minutes then add the chopped tomatoes and mixed herbs.
  • Let it cook off for about 5 minutes then add the sugar.
  • Simmer for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, boil a pan of water and add the spaghetti. Cook for 10 minutes until the pasta is soft then drain.
  • Add the mozzarella to the tomato sauce and take off the heat, the mozzarella should just start to melt, don’t stir it too much otherwise it will break up.
  • Serve the sauce over the spaghetti and enjoy!

Nacho chicken with sweet potato wedges (£1.50 per serving)

This recipe is so simple but so delicious! You can swap the sweet potato for white potatoes if you’d prefer. Serves 4.


  • 40g bag tortilla chips
  • 4 chicken breasts
  • 200g tub tomato salsa
  • 142ml pot soured cream
  • handful grated mature cheddar
  • 4 sweet potatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


  • Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Crush the tortilla chips.
  • Peel the sweet potatoes and cut into wedges, drizzle with olive oil and season. Stick in the oven for around 40 minutes.
  • Meanwhile after 20 minutes, put the chicken breasts on a non-stick baking tray, season, then slash each 3 times with a knife. Spoon 1 tbsp of salsa on top of each, then 1 tbsp soured cream.
  • Sprinkle the tortilla chips over the chicken, then the cheese. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the topping is golden and melting.
  • Take both out of the oven and serve with another dollop of sour cream. Delicious!

And who said desserts aren’t important too!

Lovely lime and ginger cheesecake (60p per serving)

This recipe is delicious, quick to make and will give you 8 helpings. You could also adapt the ingredients to suit your tastes, just make the basic cheesecake and add alternative flavours!


  • 225 grams ginger biscuits – crushed
  • 115 grams unsalted butter – melted
  • 300 grams full fat soft cheese (or mascarpone if you can afford it!)
  • 250 ml double cream
  • 2 limes – juice and rind
  • 8 pieces stem ginger or 4 teaspoons of ginger powder


  • Mix the biscuits with the melted butter and press into a 23cm spring form tin and then chill in the refrigerator for approximately 1 hour or overnight if you prefer.
  • Lightly whip the cream and then mix in the cream cheese (or mascarpone) and lime juice.
  • Add the stem ginger (or powder) and lime zest and mix in thoroughly.
  • Spoon onto the biscuit base and spread evenly over the surface.
  • Chill in a refrigerator for 2- 3 hours until firm.
  • Upon serving, sprinkle extra lime zest on to the top and enjoy!


Lemon Drizzle cake (35p per serving)

This simple and easy recipe can again be adapted and serve as a base for almost any cake recipe. Just swap the lemon for orange, chocolate or whatever you like! Approx. 8 servings.


  • 225g unsalted butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • finely grated zest 1 lemon & 1 lime
  • 225g self-raising flour

For the topping

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 85g caster sugar


  • Heat the oven to 180C/fan 160C/gas 4.
  • Beat together the butter and caster sugar until pale and creamy, then add 4 eggs and mix thoroughly.
  • Sift in the flour, and then add the finely grated zest of 1 lemon and lime and mix until well combined. Line a loaf tin (8 x 21cm) with greaseproof paper or butter, then spoon in the mixture and level the top with a spoon.
  • Bake for 45-50 minutes until a thin skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  • While the cake is cooling, mix together the juice of 1 lemon and 1 lime and 85g caster sugar to make the drizzle. Prick the warm cake all over with a skewer or fork, and then pour over the drizzle.
  • Leave in the tin until completely cool, then remove and serve. It will keep in an airtight container for 3-4 days, or freeze for up to 1 month so I often double up the recipe, freeze one and keep one.