5 Cheap & Healthy Muscle-Building Dinners


Vince Del Monte, WBFF Pro Fitness Model, Certified Fitness Trainer
and Nutritionist and author of No Nonsense Muscle

When it’s time for dinner, you don’t have to rely on your college dining hall or the fast food and pizza places that surround most campuses. In fact, you shouldn’t. Dining hall buffet tables are loaded with breads, pastas, potatoes, fatty meats and limp, soggy vegetables. They also encourage overeating. The restaurants that surround college neighborhoods are fine for occasional evenings out with friends, but they shouldn’t be your everyday meal.

If you have a microwave in your dorm you can easily whip up a muscle-building dinner that is quick, cheap and tasty. You also have the convenience of eating in your room when it’s convenient for you and on your own schedule, not someone else’s. But, there are also some quick, high-protein dinners where a microwave isn’t needed at all.

Here are five of my favorite dinners that you can make in just a few minutes. They taste great and cost less than a fast food meal that will leave you looking and feeling awful. You will notice that I use some of the same ingredients in several of these, like fresh baby spinach, cooked shrimp and eggs. This makes it easy for you to buy just a few groceries and eat like a king all week.

Curried Stuffed Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes rock, guys. They cost about .69 per pound, are loaded with fiber, protein and beta-carotene and you can cook one in the microwave in about ten minutes. Cook a few of them at once and save the leftovers for one of my sweet potato lunch or breakfast recipes. Cost: about $3.50.


  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 3 ounces of chopped cooked Canadian bacon or cooked chicken breast
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • ½ teaspoon mild curry powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Prick the sweet potato several times with the tines of a fork and place it on a paper plate or microwave-safe dish. Cook the sweet potato on high power for 8-10 minutes or until a fork goes through it easily.

Use the tines of the fork to prick a line down the center of the potato (lengthwise) and then press on each end until it pops open. Use a spoon to gently scoop out the flesh and place it back on the plate or dish, leaving the skin intact.

Mash the flesh with the fork until all of the large pieces are broken up. Mix in the coconut oil until completely melted and then mix in the Canadian bacon or chicken. Sprinkle with the curry powder, salt and pepper and mix again. Scoop it all back into the skin and reheat if needed before eating. Makes one serving.

Miso Soup with Shrimp

Shrimp seems expensive when you look at the price per pound, but it’s actually a protein bargain. While you may pay $7 for a pound of 31-40 count shrimp, that pound will make between 5-8 meals if you don’t go crazy with it. Six shrimp is a good portion of protein and filling enough when combined with other foods. Most supermarkets will steam them for you free of charge. Between the miso, shrimp and egg whites, this is a protein-packed meal for very little money. Cost: about $3.25.


  • 1 packet Miso soup mix (*find these for less than a dollar in Asian markets or the Asian section of your supermarket)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ½ cup fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 5-6 medium cooked shrimp
  • 2 boiled egg whites, chopped (use the yolks later in a sandwich or for a snack)
  • Salt to taste (be sure to taste the miso first)
  • Dash of red pepper flakes
  • 1 chopped green onion

In a microwave safe bowl, combine the miso soup mix and the water, using a fork to mix well. Add the spinach leaves and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Add the shrimp, egg whites, salt and pepper flakes and microwave for one more minute. Top with the chopped green onion and enjoy! Makes one serving.

Spinach-Strawberry Salad with Shrimp

Here’s another meal you can make with that same pound of shrimp and you don’t even need a microwave. Spinach is loaded with vitamins and antioxidants and is also one of the vegetables highest in protein. Strawberries are high in fiber, Vitamin C and antioxidants. The olive oil and walnuts provide healthy fats. On top of all that, this salad tastes amazing. Cost: about $5.50.


  • 1 cup fresh baby spinach leaves
  • 5-6 large strawberries, sliced
  • 5-6 medium shrimp, cut in half
  • ¼ cup chopped yellow onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons extra-light virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard

In a large bowl, combine the spinach leaves, strawberries, shrimp, onion and walnuts. Mix them up well. In a small dish or jar, combine the olive oil, Balsamic vinegar and mustard and mix very fast with a fork until creamy. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss well to coat. Makes one serving.

Florentine Frittata

This recipe is kind of a riff on traditional eggs Florentine but a lot easier to make and much better for the microwave. You get protein from the eggs and Canadian bacon, iron, Vitamin C and fiber from the spinach, Vitamin D and flavor from the cheese and it’s all ready in about five minutes.  (I specify mozzarella string cheese for this recipe because it is such a great thing to have on hand in the dorm. No need to run out and get shredded cheese). Cost: about $4.00.


  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3 large, organic eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup chopped yellow onion
  • ½ cup fresh baby spinach leaves, torn
  • 3 ounces Canadian bacon, chopped
  • 2 mozzarella string cheese snacks, pulled into several strips
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper

Spread the olive oil onto the bottom and sides of a microwave-safe, shallow, round casserole or glass pie plate.  Pour in the eggs and then sprinkle on the onion, spinach leaves and Canadian bacon.  Lay the strips of cheese on top in a tic-tac-toe or lattice pattern. (The cheese may sink a little, but that’s fine) Then season with salt and pepper.

Microwave on medium heat for about 3 minutes or until the eggs are cooked through. Use a spatula to remove it to a plate and enjoy. Makes one serving.

Buffalo Chicken Strip Sandwich

What college guy doesn’t like Buffalo wings? Unfortunately, they are not very good for you, so save them for really special occasions. But this recipe is much healthier for you. The butter is switched out for olive oil, you are using un-breaded chicken breast instead of wings and skipping the bleu cheese altogether, but trust me you won’t miss it. Hot red pepper sauce is great for you – it speeds the metabolism and opens up your capillaries, helping to oxygenate your blood and your muscles. Cost: about $4.50.


  • 1 cooked chicken breast, cut into strips
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce (more if you really like it hot)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ cup fresh baby spinach leaves (sub Romaine lettuce if you like)
  • 3-4 thin rings of yellow onion
  • 2 slices whole-grain (preferably sprouted) bread, toasted if possible

Place the cooked chicken breast strips on a microwave safe plate or in a small bowl. In a small bowl or jar, mix together the hot red pepper sauce, olive oil, salt and pepper. (If you have a jar with a lid, just shake it up really well.) Pour over the chicken and use your hands to toss it well until all the chicken is coated.

Microwave on high for 1-2 minutes or until hot and set aside. Spread the Dijon mustard on one slice of bread and add the spinach and onion rings. Top with the chicken and cover with the second slice of bread. Enjoy!

As you can see, you can get several delicious, high-protein, whole food meals out of just one bag of groceries and none of these meals will set you back more than a few dollars. Save the pizza, chicken wings and other less-healthy meals for celebrations, occasional nights out with friends or as a designated cheat meal. By eating healthy the rest of the time, you can enjoy those treats without guilt, without sabotaging your fitness goals and without going broke.

Avoid the Freshman 15 and pack on 15 pounds of MUSCLE instead!
–> http://www.vincedelmontefitness.com/programs/freshmanmass/

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4 thoughts on “5 Cheap & Healthy Muscle-Building Dinners

  1. Do you have any vegetarian recipes for b/l/and d?

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  2. That Buffalo Chicken Strip Sandwich looks great.

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  3. cool post.

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