Vegetarian / vegan stew in two bowls

Cheap and easy student meals: 3 meat-free money saving recipes

Starting university this autumn? Don't go hungry - check out our cheap, low-meat meal recipes.
  Published:  22 Aug 2017    |      4 minute read

1. Vegetable stir fry (approx cost: 30-50p per serving)

This take on an authentic Pad Thai is a tried and tested student favourite - the recipe is so cheap, so easy and needs so little washing up. And don't forget, low-meat diet tends to be better for our health and the planet.

Low meat prawn and vegetable stir fry on a budget - with noodles, beansprouts and spring onions
Credit: Takeaway on Wikimedia CC3.0

This cheap vegetarian meal needs:

  • Half an onion, or a couple of spring onions (use the rest in your money-saving stew)
  • A clove of garlic (use some more of the bulb in the stew below)
  • 2 tsp of sugar (or a couple of sachets from your last coffee-run)
  • 3 tbsp fish sauce (a bottle of this goes a long way, but for a cheaper - and veggie - alternative, use light soy sauce)
  • 2 tsp tamarind paste (this will also go for miles but, if you prefer, save extra pennies by using instead a bit of your lime juice and some white wine vinegar mixed in with some sugar)
  • A couple of handfuls of beansprouts
  • A handful of mushrooms, and/or a red pepper
  • An egg
  • A block or two of noodles (the straight-to-wok kind are easier, but dried ones are usually cheaper, and you can pre-cook them in hot water for 3 mins using the same pan if you want)
  • Feeling fishy? Make this low-meat, not no-meat and add a few prawns for some variety: Sainsburys basics fish is all MSC certified. For another flavour combination, use half a breast of free-range chicken cut into strips instead
  • Get authentic: for real Pad Thai flavour, serve with some crushed peanuts and a wedge of lime.

Get cooking the best veggie stir fry:

All these ingredients might look a bit daunting, but this meal is super quick and super easy. Cook your noodles first in the same pan to save on washing up, or leave them heating in some boiling water while you do the rest.

Mix the sugar, tamarind paste and fish sauce together in a cup and leave them to sit.

Chop your onion and garlic and chuck them in some hot oil in a big frying pan.

Stir them for 30 seconds.

Add the chopped mushrooms and/or pepper, and cook for a couple of minutes (a bit of crunch is fine).

Now move everything to one side of the pan, crack the egg and stir it around in the clear bit for 30 seconds - it will look like a really broken omelette.

Add your beansprouts and any prawns, then pour over your cup of sauce, stir everything for another minute or 2, and mix in the cooked noodles.

Serve - with peanuts and lime if you're feeling posh. Done!

2. One-pot money saving stew (approx cost: from 13p per serving)

Be a money saving expert with this money-saving stew recipe. This is a great way to use up any leftover vegetables from your stir-fry. It will also keep for ages, so use your biggest pot for cooking.

Vegetarian / vegan stew in two dinner bowls, ready to eat
Credit: Jules on Flickr - CC3.0

To make cheap vegetable stew you'll need:

  • Half an onion.
  • A couple of cloves of garlic.
  • Some spices for taste - I like a couple of teaspoons of chilli powder, some garam masala, and a bit of five-spice... mix it up.
  • Some veg stock (tins of bullion powder are ultra-cheap and last for ages).
  • A tin or 2 of cheap chopped tomatoes.
  • A tin of kidney beans (or any other tinned bean goodness).
  • A tin of lentils or chickpeas.
  • All the veg you can find - I use a potato, some courgettes, carrots and a leek or two. Peel your root veg for use in the chips recipe below.
  • Any leftover veg you need to eat.
  • For a low-meat alternative, transform this dish into a cheap chicken casserole. Boil the leftover bones from some chicken legs to make a stock, and add any leftover chicken meat to the pan after it boils.

Get cooking your budget stew:

This is a simple student recipe. Start by chopping the onion and garlic, and add them to the pot with your spices to soften.

After a minute or so, tip in all your harder veg (leave things like courgettes, peppers or mushrooms for later) and stir them around with everything.

Add the tinned tomatoes, beans and lentils/chickpeas. Do a bit more stirring, then in goes your stock and hot water to 3cm or so from the top of the pan.

Chuck a lid on the pot and bring to the boil. Now cook until all your hard veg has gone soft, then add the rest of your veg to warm it through.

I keep topping the pot up with more hot water as it cooks, to get a fairly liquid stew that lasts for days, but if you prefer, you can let it boil down for something a bit more stodgy. Sorted.

3. Student chips, from veg peelings (approx cost: free)

Even your veg peelings don't need to go to waste. If you've got an oven in your student accommodation, save your skins for this super-easy fast-food snack.

Some lovely potatoes with their peelings and a potato knife
Credit: Pixabay

To make cheap chips you'll need:

  • Veg peelings
  • Salt
  • Oil

Get roasting your chips:

Pre-heat your oven to about 200 C, then spread your peelings out on a baking tray.

Chuck out potato peelings that are green and throw salt, pepper and oil over the remainder. Stir to ensure all the skins are covered, then chuck them in the oven.

Roast for 15-20 minutes, giving them a shake once or twice during cooking.

Serve with your favourite dips, or grate a bit of cheese over the top for a tasty snack. Enjoy!

The veg revolution

As it turned out, I spent my university days eating a lot of meat-free meals.

This was partly because of basic student maths (meat is expensive, therefore less meat = more money; more money = more 50p pints). But also because I was learning about the environmental impact of our meat consumption. Vegetables aren't just cheap, they're great for the environment too.

Hearing how soya monocultures were destroying the rainforests in South America, to produce feed for animals in the UK that went into my dinner, just convinced me that cutting down the amount of meat in my diet was the way to go.

And awareness about the impact of our high-meat diets has been rising since I was at university.

One 2013 study showed that 40% of people aged between 18 and 24 know about the environmental issues related to meat consumption, compared with 8% in 2007.

Students are campaigning on this, working with hundreds of universities to promote sustainable diets, for example with Meat-Free Mondays and People and Planet’s University League. Why not take action at your university?

Inspired to go flexitarian? Join students across the UK and choose food that's great for the planet and your bank balance.

Sign up and we'll keep you stocked up with tips.