10 Tips for cooking tasty meals on a student's budget

10 Tips for cooking tasty meals on a student's budget

With the cost of living going through the roof, getting by on a student’s budget can be tricky. Here’s some tips for saving on your grocery bill while still enjoying delicious, nutritious meals.


A trip to the supermarket for your weekly shop has never been so expensive, especially for those who are budget conscious.

In the past year, we’ve seen grocery prices increase by almost 10 per cent. In 2023, they are forecast to go up another 8 per cent.

According to research by Finder, the average household now spends $185 a week on groceries – up from $148 in February 2022. That’s an extra $1924 per year.

As a student, it can be tough trying to make ends meet, particularly if you’re also juggling rent, study and other living expenses.

“One of the biggest myths is that you need to fork out a lot of money for a meal to be tasty or nutritious,” Chisholm Hospitality Education Manager and chef of more than 20 years Carmel Cammarano says. “That’s not the case.”

Here, Carmel explains how to cook tasty, cheap meals on a budget.

1 Avoid supermarkets where possible

Shopping at your local market or greengrocer instead of big chain supermarkets can save you a lot of cash, says Carmel.

“For students who attend Chisholm’s Dandenong campus, the Dandenong Market offers a treasure trove of bargains,” says Carmel. “For those living closer to Frankston, Henry's Mercato Bayside offers great value for money.”

Henry’s Mercato Mornington is another option for students living further south.


If you have the space for it, you may even consider growing your own food in a veggie garden.

2 Be strategic about when you shop

If you shop at markets or greengrocers at closing time, you may get more bang for your buck. Also, stock up on grocery items when they’re on sale.

“Every supermarket has a certain time of the day when they mark down their goods,” says Carmel. “If you can identify what time of day that is, you can always grab a bargain.”

3 Choose cheaper cuts of meat

If you’re a meat eater, opt for economical cuts of meat. They may take longer to cook, but they are often just as tasty. Examples include oyster blade, gravy beef, diced lamb, shanks and mince.

“Mince is the best thing in the world if you’re a meat eater,” says Carmel. “You can do 5000 different things with mince.”

4 Stick to a meal plan

Having a weekly meal plan can help you stick to your budget and avoid waste, says Carmel.

“When you go shopping without a plan, you start buying random things,” she says. “Having said that, sometimes it is good to shop a couple of times a week, so that you’re not throwing away vegetables.”

5 Repeat where appropriate

You can save money by using the same ingredient several times a week in your student meals.

“You might use broccoli in a pasta bake, the next day in a stir fry and the third day do some grilled broccoli as a side,” says Carmel. “You’ve eaten green vegetables three days that week, but in different ways, so you don’t feel it’s repetitive.”

Also, try to repeat meals a couple of times a month so that you’re using up ingredients in the pantry and saving money.

6 Don’t shop while you are hungry

Here’s a simple smart shopping tip. Eat before you buy your groceries. That way, you won’t be tempted by the treats at the checkout.

7 Keep veggies in sight

Carmel suggests placing your vegetables on your fridge shelf, rather than in the crisper drawer.

“People don’t see them down there and they go off,” she says. “My recommendation is to get a tray or something that sits in the fridge and stick all your vegetables that you need to use in the next two days in there. When you open the fridge, you’ll see it and be reminded to use them.”

8 Find inspo in apps and magazines

There are all sorts of apps available to help you be more efficient with your cooking. The SuperCook app, for example, helps you find recipes for ingredients you already have on-hand.

“Another place to find cheap recipes that are quite nutritious is in the magazines you get in supermarkets,” says Carmel. “They always focus on ingredients that are in season, which is cheaper.”

9 Cook as a household

If you’re living in a share house with other people, why not cook together? “It’s cheaper to cook for four people overall than to cook for one all the time,” says Carmel.

10 Prep and freeze

Having meals on hand in the freezer when you don’t feel like cooking can help you resist the urge to order take aways.

“If you’re cooking a lentil soup or something along those lines that is really hearty, put a serve in the freezer,” says Carmel.

Buying lunch out every day can really add up too. Eat leftovers or pre-prepare your lunch and ditch your daily coffee.

“Think about what you spend the most money on during the week,” says Carmel. “Is it a coffee? Is it a hot chocolate? What can you do to minimise that cost? Maybe find an alternative or buy one every second day.”

The benefits of cooking at home

  • Save money on food
  • Meals are usually less calorie dense
  • Add what you like and bulk up meals with your favourite ingredients
  • Feel rewarded for making something delicious for your household

Tasty, inexpensive recipe suggestions

Chicken Dim Sims with Sticky Soy

Chicken Dim Sims

Makes approx. 8


80 gm chicken mince

½ small red chilli, finely chopped

½ garlic clove, crushed

1 cm piece fresh ginger, finely grated

3 sprigs chopped fresh coriander

5 ml fish sauce

10 wonton wrappers

1 egg, lightly whisked


  1. Place the mince, chilli, garlic, ginger, coriander and fish sauce in a bowl. Mix until well combined.
  2. Lay the wonton wrappers out in a single layer. Spoon small balls of the mixture into the centre of each wonton. Brush the edges of one side of the wonton and bring the edges up to tightly close the filling. Press to seal along the edges.
  3. Line a large steamer basket, (bamboo or metal) with non-stick baking paper. Place the wontons over the base of the basket in a single layer. Place the basket over a wok of barely simmering water (making sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the steamer).
  4. Cover and steam for 8-10 minutes or until cooked. Repeat with remaining dim sims. Serve with the soy.

Sticky Soy


50 ml light soy sauce

50 ml sweet soy sauce

50 ml honey


Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and simmer gently until reduced by two thirds. When cool the sticky soy should be the consistency of honey. Pour into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator where it will last for up to 3 weeks. Bring to room temperature to pour.

* These dim sims can be made with any mince you have on hand or even prawn meat. Just substitute the mince element. They can be made and frozen as well for another time. Why don’t you make a large batch to do a few dinners when you are too tired to cook? Freeze in a single layer before transferring to a zip lock bag for storage.

All the vegetables stir fry

Serves 1 – just increase the quantities to make dinner for 2 nights or to serve more people.

This recipe can be adapted to include meat or tofu if you require, just add more of the sauce ingredients so it’s not dry.


5 ml sesame seed oil

300g of cut vegetables, whatever you have on hand you need to use up. cut the vegetables thin or small so they cook quickly.

½ clove garlic

5 gm sambal oelek

5 gm ginger, grated

40 ml soy sauce, light

40ml sweet chilli sauce

100 gm hokkien noodles


  1. Heat a saucepan of water for noodles.
  2. Heat oil and add vegetable ingredients in an order dependent on their size and their cooking time, hard veg first (like carrot and broccoli), soft veg after (like mushrooms and capsicum) and stir-fry until half cooked.
  3. Add garlic, sambal oelek and ginger.
  4. Add soy sauce and sweet chilli.
  5. At the same time cook noodles in boiling water for 2 mins or until cooked. Drain and add to stir fry.
  6. Adjust seasoning and serve immediately.

Thought about a career in hospitality?

If you’re looking to learn more about cooking, Chisholm offers a variety of cookery and patisserie courses to launch you into a hospitality career.

Chisolm’s Certificate III in Commercial Cookery, for example, teaches you how to plan and cost menus and prepare food in a safe and cost-effective way. It’s a Free TAFE for Priority Course with high demand from Victorian employers. Find out about your eligibility.


For more information about what it’s like to become a chef, check out our recent blog. Otherwise, get in touch and we’ll gladly answer your questions.