(Fried "lobster" rolls I made for less than $5)
These days, being a traditional college student goes hand in hand with having an empty bank account. Even with a part time job, many students will resort to eating 25 cent ramen packs and Taco Bell meal deals. There is a reason the "freshman fifteen" exists, and I blame it on improper nutrition.
The key to making real meals on the cheap is to begin with low-cost, minimally-processed ingredients. If a Taco Bell meal costs $3.50, that money could instead be put towards a $1 five pound bag of rice from Walmart, coupled with roughly 4 cans of vegetables.
Sure, rice and canned vegetables may hardly be classified as a meal, but there's still a lesson to be learned. For the cost of one Taco Bell meal, a person could make 4-5 homemade meals.
Let's extrapolate. Say a student eats out 4 times a week. Using our low-ball estimate of $3.50 per meal, that means this student would spend $14 a week on unhealthy, overly-processed foods. Instead, that $14 could pay for an $8 four pound package of boneless chicken breasts, a $2 ten pound bag of rice, and a $4 bag of frozen stir fry veggie mix.
The result? Instead of four unhealthy meals, a student can pay the exact same amount for nearly double the number of meals, and likely half the crappy trans fat/saturated fat/cholesterol/what have you.
It doesn't even have to be healthy
Even if you don't go the veggie, rice, and protein route, you can still save money buying and making your own meals. I made the delicious fried lobster rolls pictured above for less than the cost of chinese takeout.
The bottom line is that fast food companies buy their ingredients, and markup their sale prices enough that they still make a profit. Somewhere in that process, you as a customer are giving away money that could have been saved by making your own food. Sure, cleaning dishes is not fun, and cooking after a long day of classes can be tedious. However, if you find yourself broke while still eating fast food, making your own meals will be healthier and cheaper in the long run.