Chili Con Carne on a College Budget

One day at work I was discussing the subject of recipes and healthy eating with one of my students. The conversation began with her lamenting her recent weight gain and how poorly she had been eating lately. While she admitted that she probably needed to start making better food choices and eating out a little less, she rationalized, “Eating healthy is so expensive and I just can’t afford to buy healthy foods on a student budget.” Actually this is not the first time I have heard this excuse. In fact it, it is one of many excuses that can range from, “I don’t cook,” to “I live by myself and I don’t see the need to go through the trouble of cooking just for me.” And so they conclude that their best alternative is to either eat out or take advantage of the numerous convenience foods (most of them highly processed) that exist in the average grocery store.

It seems the attitude has changed quite a bit since I was in college and living on a student budget. Back when I was a poor college student, eating out was a luxury with the exception of the occasional pizza shared among dorm mates. I did not think much about meal preparation the first 2 years since I lived on campus and was on the college meal plan. Once I moved into a small duplex off campus, however, and was paying month to month rent and utilities, I had a rude awakening. Although working part time at a restaurant helped, the free food benefit was only good on the nights I worked and then only after closing. It did not cover every meal and I quickly found out that if I was going to eat on a regular basis, I was going to have to buy groceries and cook since funds were extremely limited. Thankfully, I had a mom and step mom who were experts at shopping and cooking on limited funds and generously passed their wisdom on to me during my growing up years.

So while many of my college classmates were living on fast food, frozen dinners, and Ramen noodles. I was eating balanced and healthy meals and actually paying less. One of my favorite meals to prepare during the college years was black bean and turkey chili. While a 99 cent bowl of chili at a fast food restaurant might seem like a bargain at first to a struggling college student, it is most often served as a side which means in order to feel full you will most likely have to order more food to go with it and thus spend more money. This chili recipe is hearty enough to stand alone as a meal and can be made even more filling with some rice or cornbread. Plus at a total cost of $10.00 or less it may actually prove to be less expensive than that restaurant bowl of chili in the long run and a lot healthier since you control what goes in it.

Black Bean and Turkey Chili


One small onion chopped

4 cloves of garlic crushed and chopped

1 bell pepper (I prefer red) diced

2 tablespoons of cooking oil

1 ½-2 lbs of ground turkey

One packet of chili seasoning of your choice (or you can make your own*)

2 8 oz cans of black beans drained and rinsed (I soak and cook about 1 ½- 2 cups of dried beans from scratch)

1 28 oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes

1 cup of water

¼ cup of red wine or low sodium chicken broth

2 bay leaves


Sauté the onion, garlic and bell pepper in the oil in a large sauce pan` over medium high heat until the onion is translucent and the veggies are slightly softer. (Do not overcook the veggies)

Add the meat and brown in the same pan

Add the chili seasoning and the beans and mix thoroughly

Add the tomatoes, the water and the wine or chicken broth and the bay leaves

Cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour on medium low heat. (Up to 2 hours for richer flavor)

This recipe serves about 6-8 people but you could probably half the recipe if you desire less. Or you could eat some for one meal, pack some for lunch the next day, or freeze the rest for future meals if you live alone or have a small family. I cook mine in 30 minutes in an electric pressure cooker, but this can also be done in a slow cooker on high for 4 hours. To save even more money, substitute onion and garlic powder (about a teaspoon each) for fresh onion and garlic and skip the sauté stage. Canned beans are relatively inexpensive and quick; however, a bag of dried beans can be used for more than one meal and may be cheaper in the long run. To make this meal even heartier try serving with rice or cornbread.

*Easy Chili Spice:

2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons chili powder

1 tablespoon crushed red pepper (optional for spicier chili)

1 tablespoon dried minced onion

1 tablespoon dried, minced garlic

2 teaspoons white sugar

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper


Stir the ingredients together.

Store in an airtight container until ready to use