Finally living on your own as a college student away from your parents is both exhilarating and frightening at the same time. After all, now you’re responsible for meals (with maybe a roommate or two), and your parents are no longer doing the grocery shopping.
The first time you strolled into a store on your own you were probably pretty excited, but that joy turned to apprehension as soon as you saw the prices of your favorite staples. How can anyone afford to pay rent AND buy groceries?!
I totally get that, as I was once in your shoes, but help has arrived! Before you go running back to your parent’s house to live, check out this ultimate cheap and healthy grocery list for a college student.
Plus, we’ve got a FREE printable grocery list for college students included in this article as well!
Tips for Creating a Cheap & Healthy Grocery List for a College Student
First of all, it’s perfectly normal to stress about grocery shopping as a college student. The fact that you’re even considering creating a grocery list is a huge step in the right direction because whenever I don’t, one of these things is bound to happen:
- I end up with something I already have plenty of.
- I go over budget (sometimes way over).
- I buy a lot of unnecessary items (hello, chips staring at me in the checkout line).
- I forgot the most essential things I needed.
But the first step to creating a basic college grocery list is simply assessing what utensils and cooking essentials you have on hand.
Assess Your Kitchen
The first step and thing to consider is your kitchen. There’s a major difference between living in a dorm room and an apartment with a full kitchen. If you’re living in a dorm room, space is likely limited, and you may only have a mini-fridge, toaster, hot plate, or microwave. You might have to get a bit creative with your cooking.
But if you’re lucky and have a full kitchen, then you probably have all the cooking utensils and appliances you need. And if you’re in an apartment, that is the best situation as you’ll have your own full kitchen.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- How will I be cooking my food?
- How much storage space do I have?
- Do I need quick and easy meals?
- What types of snacks and food do I like to keep on hand?
Consider Your College Student Grocery Budget
I know your college budget for groceries may not be your favorite subject. In fact, you may have assigned yourself to the poor college students category. But you can still feed yourself well and come up with easy meal ideas on a tight budget.
I’ve seen a wide range of budgets from $30 a week to unlimited because someone’s parents were paying for groceries. Each college student’s food budget is different depending on their food preferences, dietary restrictions, and financial situation.
Learn to Love Easy Meal Planning
Meal planning is the best way to ensure that you stick to your grocery budget. Planning ahead helps you create a grocery list based on the sales at your local grocery store.
If meal planning feels like a stressful challenge to you, head over to get schooled on how to create your own monthly meal plan on a budget (even with a free printable to get you started)!
It’s just like your parents creating a basic grocery list for the whole family when you lived at home. I have a list of my favorite meals to eat that I rotate through depending on what’s on sale. Most grocery stores have weekly sales with a circular ad you can refer to. Just simply head to the website of your favorite store.
Some of the most expensive items that can break your student budget are meats, fresh vegetables, and fresh fruits, so planning your meals around what’s on sale can help you save money.
If you don’t already feel like an expert on knowing how to save money on groceries, do NOT miss this Ultimate Guide to Saving Money on Groceries (these are the exact tips we used to help us get out of debt).
Also, deciding on the most important meal of the day is key. For me, it’s supper, but for many college students, breakfast is the most substantial meal they eat. If you love breakfast, it’s a good idea to have some quick meal ideas for a healthy diet that you can grab and eat quickly or on the go.
Buy the Store Brand Instead of Name Brands
I know it can be tempting to buy everything name-brand, but often the store brand is much less expensive and sometimes healthier. I’ve seen this with some spaghetti sauce, for instance.
You may think that the store brand won’t taste good, but just try to avoid name-brand items to save money. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Don’t Forget About Online Deals
One of the best ways to do a little research online first to find the best deals on groceries in your town. All major grocery chains publish weekly ads. You can also take advantage of rebate apps that give you cash back on select items.
One of my passions as a frugal mom is to do the busy work in helping people find great deals on items they need. Consider joining my Facebook Group, Hot Deals from Everyday Thrifty, to stay in the loop in with the latest discounts and promotional offers from favorite retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, and more. You’d be surprised at how often I find deals on pantry staples and snacks that are perfect for college students!
Just click the link below to join!
Consider Meal Kit Services
Shopping for groceries and planning out meals can be a daunting task. That’s where meal kit services such as Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, and Every Plate come into the picture. Hear me out, you can always find better grocery deals by planning your own means and shopping for yourself. But if you’re life is just too busy, meal kits are a great alternative instead of constantly doing takeout.
They, of course, save time, provide fresh ingredients, and come with step-by-step recipe guides. But they’re also a more economical option than they may appear at first glance, especially if you sign for for the first time under a promotional offer. For example, signing up for promos with meal kits such as Every Plate would allow you to have meals delivered to your door for less than $2 serving!
Here are our favorite meal kits with that have current promotional offers when you sign-up for the first time:
Of the options above, Every Plate and Dinnerly will typically be the cheapest on an ongoing basis. After that, the rest are pretty close in cost. All have large menus for a variety of diets.
A Cheap & Healthy College Grocery List for Students
Do you remember the five main food groups or the food pyramid from school? If you do, the goal is to create a balanced and healthy meal plan, and I’m adding a sixth category.
- Fruits and vegetables
- Dairy/dairy alternatives
- Healthy Fats/Oils
Healthy snacks are a vital part of any college grocery list. Let’s dive into your cheap & healthy college grocery list by category, and I’ll also be giving you a list of pantry staples to keep on hand.
Pantry Staples for College Students
These are some pantry staples to always keep on hand because, in a pinch, you can make something fast with the food you have on hand if you stock up.
- Dried or canned beans
- Canned soup
- Chicken, beef, or vegetable bouillon cubes
- Canned tuna or chicken
- White or brown rice
- All-purpose seasoning
- Chia seeds
- Canola or olive oil
- Almond butter
- Peanut butter
- Tomato sauce or pasta sauce
- Canned veggies
- Protein powder
- Any other condiments you use
Grains & Carbohydrates for Your College Grocery List
Grains and carbohydrates provide energy for all that studying you’ll be doing. Wherever possible, choose whole grain options like brown rice versus white rice, as they are healthier.
However, the regular options are generally cheaper (unless the whole-grain pasta is on sale). You may have to settle with the less expensive option for your college grocery list.
- White or wheat bread
- Instant oatmeal
- Whole grain pasta
- Ramen Noodles (You can add some vegetables and get the cups that come with them for more nutritional value.)
- Instant mashed potatoes
- Egg noodles
If you’re on a strict low carb diet (such as Keto), check out these tricks for staying on your Keto diet on a tight budget!
Proteins and Meats
Protein is one of the most essential parts of your diet, but it can also be the most expensive.
If your college student grocery budget is extra lean, consider shopping the manager specials on meats at your local grocery store. You can get some excellent deals on items expiring soon. Then you can take them home and use them right away or freeze them if you have room.
- Lean meat on sale
- Chicken breast
- Deli meat
- Ground beef or turkey
- Frozen meatballs
- Rotisserie chicken (great for making quick meals like wraps and sandwiches)
- Veggie burgers
Frozen or Fresh Produce
Fresh veggies and fruit are usually the best option, but sometimes you can save money by buying frozen veggies. Plus, they are a great option for making soups.
- Bell peppers
- Frozen veggies (Frozen vegetables are great for stir fry or soups.)
- Frozen fruits (great for smoothies)
- Sweet potatoes
- Riced cauliflower
- Lettuce or salad greens
- Any other fresh veggies or fruits you love
Dairy or Dairy Alternatives
Dairy is another important category for protein and calcium. If you’re allergic to dairy or are lactose intolerant, you can just substitute the items below with what you normally buy.
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Cream cheese
Snacks for Your College Grocery List
It’s important to keep healthy snack options in your dorm room or apartment. You never know when you’ll need that late-night study pick-me-up or something to eat on the go. These are some healthy and filling snacks to add to your grocery shopping list.
- Nuts or seeds
- Trail mix
- Granola and granola bars
- Corn chips
- Protein bars
- Whole grain crackers
While these quick meals may not be the best for healthy eating, one of these options would make a great alternative if you’re in a hurry. You can also find healthier options of these with high protein frozen meals and even cauliflower crust pizza.
- Frozen pizza
- Frozen meal kits
- Frozen meals and dinners
- Scrambled Eggs or Avocado Toast
- Chicken Strips
Need more inspiration? Follow these 12 hacks which will help you create your own meals on the cheap!
Healthy Meals to Cook With Your College Grocery List Ingredients
One of the main goals of meal planning and creating a grocery list is to prevent you from buying fast food and help you stay under your college student grocery budget. Making a list also prevents you from buying extras when grocery shopping which can bust your budget.
Here are some healthy meal ideas to plan for:
- Peanut butter toast with bananas (or Nutella if you want to get fancy)
- Greek yogurt and granola
- Protein shake or bar
- Scrambled eggs or breakfast burrito
- Peanut butter & jelly or banana sandwich
- Tuna fish sandwich
- Turkey or deli sandwich
- Salad greens with your favorite veggies, meat, and cheese
- Soup (try this Healthy Chicken Lime & Avocado Soup)
- Snacking plate with deli meat or hard-boiled eggs and vegetables
Check out this recipe list of 20+ Quick & Easy Lunch Ideas to Save Money!
- Canned tuna or chicken and rice
- A stir-fry bowl with chicken, steamed veggies, stir-fry or teriyaki sauce, and rice
- Chicken breast and baked potato or sweet potato
- Spaghetti with meat sauce
- Homemade Pizza Rolls
- Rotisserie chicken wrap, sandwich, or just the chicken with a veggie or starch
- Grilled cheese sandwich and soup
- Ramen noodles and veggies
- Chips and salsa
- Nuts, cheese, and deli meat
- Granola bars
- Trail mix
- Fruit and cheese
- Mug Cake (only pennies per serving)
Don’t leave without printing out your FREE cheap grocery list for college students here!
Final Thoughts on Cheap & Healthy Grocery List for College Students
While it can be challenging grocery shopping on a strict budget, it’s totally doable, and now you have a list of healthy food to buy on your next shopping trip.
Just be sure to stock up on sales and plan your meals around them so you can buy expensive items like meat without paying full price. And remember to check out the manager specials on meat to save even more money on your groceries.
Depending on where you live, you may be limited with the amount of cooking or types of food you prepare. However, there are still plenty of healthy eating options on this list. With budget-friendly food choices, you can save money while eating well with this healthy college grocery list.