Making Italian Food on a College Budget

Making Italian Food on a College Budget

Being an Italian-American, food was the one unifying thing that brought my family together no matter what.  Whether it was over a hot meal, or a snack of fruits and vegetables, there was always stability around my kitchen table.

The sense of stability via food was the first thing to go when I had to budget and buy my own food in my first year of college.  Some nights I would eat a full meal, other nights it was cereal, sometimes I ate a singular food group, and on extremely exhausting nights, I would have some ice cream before collapsing in my bed.  Each of these habits made it exceedingly difficult to not only stay on budget, but give my body the fuel it needed to continue running “on full”.  To save you the trouble, I’ve compiled a guide on how to be able to cook a traditional Italian meal on a college budget.


Butter and Garlic Farfalle with Broccoli and pan-seared chicken.

Necessary Ingredients: Chicken Breast, Farfalle, Butter, Garlic Salt, Broccoli.

Why: This dish, while simple, is perfect for both Italian cooking experts and the novices.  It is delicious, nutritious, and most importantly, cheap.

The best place to buy farfalle (or any shape of pasta for that matter) is Trader Joe’s.  At $0.99 per pound, there is no cheaper place to buy pasta.  If you don’t live near a Trader Joe’s, just keep in mind that any pasta over $2 per-pound is not cost effective.  A pound of pasta can be broken up into anywhere from 4-6 servings, which should get almost everyone through a week of dinners.  

Butter is relatively inexpensive everywhere, I would recommend buying the cheapest brand by the pound (or four sticks).  Never pay more than $6 for a pound of butter.  The butter will last anywhere from two weeks to two months depending how much you prefer to use.

My favorite brand of garlic salt is Spice Classics, and it runs about $3 per 6 oz shaker.  This lasts about 4 months for use by one person with occasional usage for a group meal.

Chicken breasts are relatively inexpensive.  You can buy a pound for about $10 and freeze it in between meals.  A pound of chicken usually lasts me anywhere form 1-2 weeks.

Finally, broccoli at 2.19 per pound at Whole Foods (and thus less expensive everywhere else), can feed an individual for about $5 per week.

To cook the pasta:

  1. Boil pasta in a pot of water, with a sprinkle of garlic salt, until al dente (about 8 minutes on high).

  2. Strain, mix with butter and more garlic salt, and serve.

To cook the chicken:

  1. Set the stove temperature to a low level (around a 4/10 on a numeric scale).

  2. Melt a tablespoon of butter in the pan.

  3. Place the chicken breasts in the pan and cook evenly until golden brown.

  4. Serve with a pinch of garlic salt.

To cook the broccoli:

  1. Boil broccoli in a pot of water with garlic salt.  

  2. Cook until the broccoli meets your preferred hardness.

  3. Strain and mix with garlic salt and butter.

It’s that simple.  If you were to eat nothing but this meal, it would cost about $63 dollars per month, or $16 per week.  While this is not realistic (in terms of meal variability), it’s a great starting point to gauge other grocery store spending habits and take control of your health, set a schedule, stick to a budget, and gain the stability that I once had sitting around my mother’s dinner table.

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