Cheap, cheerful, and delicious college dinners


After a summer of mixed weather, we enjoyed the sun we had, Mayo are in yet another final against Dublin, and September has sneaked up on us, so it’s back to reality for most of us in Mayo.

School has started for the younger children and next week many of our offspring will be starting a college course somewhere in the country. The best tip that I can share, apart from bringing a healthy lunch box to school, is to make sure that all children of all ages eat a good breakfast every morning. It is hard to beat cereal with milk (warm milk on cold mornings ) and it sets them up for the day.

I got an email last week from a worried mother as her daughter is starting college, living away from home for the first time, and is limited in cooking skills. There are a lot of students starting college this week or next, and many have little or no cooking experience. Beans on toast will only do for so long, so I thought I would share a few easy and cheap recipes that will hopefully help them out. Pasta is always associated with students, and there are lots of great sauces available in supermarkets to add a bit of flavour. Expense is lessened if you can make these sauces from fresh though, so here are a few that anyone with limited cooking experience should have no problem to make.

Bacon and cheese pasta bake

This dish will serve from four to six people so it is perfect to make to feed everyone in the house or keep some for later in the week.


4 rashers streaky bacon   

225g penne pasta   

1 onion (chopped )   

1 clove garlic (finely chopped )   

340g grated Cheddar cheese   

30g butter   

3 tablespoons plain flour   

475ml milk


Preheat the oven to 180C. Place bacon in a large, deep, frying pan. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble, and set aside. In a large pot with boiling salted water, cook pasta until al dente. This means just cooked, about 10 minutes should do. Drain.

In a medium frying pan, cook the chopped onion and garlic for about three to four minutes. Take off heat and add chopped cooked bacon and set aside.

To make the sauce, in a medium saucepan melt the butter over low heat. Once melted, add the flour and stir constantly for two minutes. Gradually add the milk and continue stirring until thickened. Stir in 2/3 of the grated Cheddar cheese and stir until melted.

Combine cooked pasta, bacon and vegetables and sauce. Pour into a two litre baking dish. Sprinkle over remaining Cheddar cheese. Bake uncovered in preheated oven until cheese on top is melted and brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve warm.

This dish is definitely easy to make and can be added to if there are other ingredients in the fridge that may need using up, like ham, mushrooms, peppers, etc. Experimenting with food is how all the great recipes were invented, after all.

Pan fried Cajun chicken breast in a bun

Chicken fillets are another easy thing to cook. A fillet is actually another name for a chicken breast without any bones. You can usually pick up four for €5 in most supermarkets, and that is where you can pick up some cheap burger buns as well. Apart from that, you need a little oil, some Cajun seasoning, a bit of salad (optional ), and a bag of oven chips


Firstly, turn on the oven to 200C. Put the chips on an oven tray and cook on the top shelf for about 15 minutes, or check the instructions on the packet.

In a bowl, add a good drop of oil, a nice bit of the Cajun spice, and the four chicken fillets. Mix all the ingredients together to make sure that each piece of chicken is oiled and spiced. Heat a frying pan and carefully place the chicken fillets on and cook for 2-3 minutes each side. Take off the heat and put them on a tray in the oven to cook through. They should be ready when the oven chips are. Put each chicken fillet into a burger bun with a bit of salad and serve with the chips. How easy is that?

If you are a parent with a college student, why not give them this page as an easy reference.Yes, I know that they know everything, but they will find it hard to get such detailed and simple recipes on the web without a lot of looking, so you never know! If you have a culinary query, contact me on [email protected]  Talk to you next week.


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