Tips & Tricks

How To Eat Like A Millionaire On A College Budget

Posted on / by Alex Berger

Dinner is an incredible thing. It’s one of the few times during the day where we pause, come together and enjoy simple pleasures. I love good food and for a while fell victim to a common mis-perception. I mistakenly believed that I had to eat out at a nice restaurant or spend hours in the kitchen if I wanted to get great meals.

The reality is, you can have fantastic meals for a lot less than the $45+ dollars a person you have to pay at a nice restaurant. In fact, you don’t even need cabinets full of spices, fancy cookware and hours in the kitchen. I’ve had friends ask me how long I’ve been cooking? Usually their inquiries are accompanied by the assumption that I know some super secret or have spent a lot of time learning complex recipes. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

For 95% of my cooking I use a frying pan and a microwave. It doesn’t matter if I’m cooking fish, mushrooms, steak, shrimp or something more exotic. For the other 5% I use a large pot. My spice cabinet does have a few exotics, but I seldom use them. I use salt, pepper, occasionally some rosemary, and a bit of garlic.

My most recent project was Dungeness Crab, shrimp, acorn squash, and spinach leaves. The shrimp is one of my regular meals, as is the acorn squash, but preparing crab was new to me. To illustrate just how easy a top notch meal can be, I recorded part of the process on my camera and have attached it below. (Unfortunately, my movie editor was acting up so it’s uncut, unedited and raw. I’d just woken up from a nap as well when I started cooking so I apologize for being a bit groggy, repeating myself, and sounding a bit goofy at times.)

Cost for the meal:
1 Dungeness Crap – $6/pound
1/2 Pound of Shrimp – $4.99/pound
1 Acorn Squash – $1
Spinach – ~$1

Total meal price – Less than $16.

The following is also a great, easy meal:
Purchase whatever you desire: Ribeye, Porterhouse, Sirloin (1 of the 3 is usually on sale for about $4.99 or less a pound). If none of these are properly discounted settled for a Chuckeye Steak. The chuckeye is a cut that is mostly ribeye with a small taste of chuck. One of the most important things to keep in mind is how thick the steak is. You don’t want it super thin. The trick to cooking in a frying pan is medium-low heat (3-4 on most electric stove tops) and something medium thick that will cook through before it burns. I also prefer bone-in steaks (the bone helps flavor the steak).

I’m a huge fan of a surf/turf combo and will do shrimp as well if I’ve found them at a good price.

Sides (Mix/Match From):

Acorn squash, yams, sweet potatos, rice, green beans, broccoli, swiss chard, portabella mushrooms, salad.


Butter, olive oil, salt, pepper

To cook the steaks, set the heat under the frying pan to either 3 or 4 (just depends on the burner), then add a quick dab of olive oil. Toss in a smudge of butter, then lightly salt and pepper both sides of your steaks. Let the steaks cook, flipping them about halfway through. Be aware that the butter will turn golden and sear so the steak may look like it’s slightly burned. Just flip it when this starts to happen. You should be able to notice a difference between the butter burn and a real burn. Don’t be afraid to check the steak with a slice and, worst-case scenario (it’s starting to burn and not cooked anywhere near sufficiently), toss it on a plate and in the microwave for 15 seconds. If you have to use the microwave make sure to toss it back into the pan for 20-30 seconds on both sides afterwards to get the flavor back.

  • Acorn Squash – See Video.
  • Yams, Sweet potatos, red potatos – Microwave until soft to the touch. Cut in half. Add butter and or brown sugar/honey.
  • Rice is optional. Unless it’s special rice I’d say skip it.
  • Green beans – 2 options: First is to microwave in water w/ butter until soft; 2nd, is to toss them into the frying pan with butter and a little oil. Possibly add a smidgeon of salt.
  • Broccoli – Microwave w/water and butter (bowl w/saran wrap over it) until soft.
  • Swiss Chard/Spinach – Frying pan with a small amount of water and a decent amount of butter. Just let it cook down. You’ll know when it’s done.
  • Portabella Mushrooms – slice into thin pieces and cook in the frying pan. Add a little fresh squeezed lemon for added taste. Use diced chives (like small green onion greens w/long stalks) if you want to make it fancy.
  • Salad – Mix and match. Try something besides iceberg lettuce.
  • Yellow squash – Poke with a knife, then microwave until soft. Slice in half, add butter/brown sugar.

Loads of other options but that should be enough to get you started.

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.