Basic College Grocery List: The Must-Haves on a Budget! (+ Free Printables)

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Today I’m tackling the struggle of coming up with a college grocery list!

I know, such an exciting topic.

jars of nutella on shelves with a hand reaching up to grab one

In all realness though –

If you can master the art of the college grocery list, it’ll save you time and money. Plus, it’ll take the headache out of going to the store!

Often enough, I’ve found myself at the grocery store without a list because I needed to rush to the store.

And without a list, it’s usually the same outcome:

  • I buy a ton of unnecessary items
  • I go way over budget
  • I buy something I already have
  • I end up with random items at the end of the week that don’t go together!!
  • I forget things I actually needed
  • and I end up feeling overwhelmed

If you’ve felt/done this before –

Keep reading!

Whether you live in a dorm room with a meal card, or out on your own in an apartment these college grocery list tips will work for anyone! 

In this post, I’ll cover essential items to pick up at the store for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and TREATS.

Because with all the stress of college, you’ve gotta treat yourself at least every once in a while.


We’ll talk:

Meal ideas, and college budget plans. I’ve even listed out all of the ingredients needed for a successful grocery haul!

Plus:

I’ve got two FREE printables to help you make your own college grocery list.

Let’s get right to it!

Meals for Your College Grocery List

college girl wearing mask while looking for food to buy in an isle at the grocery store

Breakfast

Honestly, I’m a BIG breakfast eater.

But…

On school mornings, between catching some extra sleep, doing last minute homework, and just getting to class, I just don’t have the time (or energy) to put a lot of effort into cooking.

So, I’ve come to value quick and easy on-the-go breakfasts, and I’ve found a lot of great ideas.

Some of my breakfast ideas for busy students:

1. Peanut butter toast with banana slices, sprinkled with chia seeds is a quick and tasty breakfast that leaves me feeling quite satisfied.

2. A protein bar or shake – something to grab when you literally wake up with only enough time to rush to class.   

3. Yogurt – which sounds lame. However, just add some fruit, granola, honey/peanut butter + chia seeds and you’ve got almost a whole meal!

4. Instant oatmeal – same idea as the yogurt: simply add toppings to it to make it more fulfilling.

5. Muffins are also a great grab & go food to have handy when you’re starving, but running late and needing something to fill that empty stomach.

6. Breakfast burritos: my favorite breakfast! It’s as easy as scrambling some eggs on a hot plate, adding in a sprinkle of cheese, tossing in some bacon or sausage, then rolling it up in a tortilla and you’re set!

Side note: You can save yourself more time in the morning if you make some of these foods the night before. Like breakfast burritos, overnight oatmeal or (if you’re Betty Crocker) muffins.

That way all you have to do is reheat (or not) and go! 

Now, let’s dive into:

 

Lunch

This is a meal that can be easily forgotten, I’ve done it so many times! Especially during midterms and finals week.

Or:

It can be a meal that you just don’t have time for and swinging by McDonald’s is just quicker. We’ve all been there!

Yet:

It’s the most important meal to help keep you going for the rest of the day! And, double that importance if you’re not a breakfast person.

With that in mind…

Here are some tasty ideas to satiate that midday hunger: 

1. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are always a staple. They’re easy to make and they get the job done.

2. Premade salads are a great option, as well! They even come with a little fork which keeps packing your lunch simple.

3. Soup – and it doesn’t have to be top ramen. There are so many different varieties of soup that are sure to keep you full and are still a snap to make.

4. If you’re into finger foods, you can make a snack platter for lunch. Think hard-boiled eggs, carrots, celery, tomatoes, pita chips & hummus.

It’s fulfilling, as well as healthy!

Oh, and another great sandwich idea is:

5. A turkey sub! It’s packed with protein and it has customizable toppings…

…which means it’s the perfect time to sneak some veggies into your diet.

Again, these meals can be made in advance! It’s so much more convenient to have food ready when you’re cramming for a test.

Now:

One of the hardest meals to shop for, I think, when living in a dorm room/apartment is –

 

Dinner

Because when you have homework, group projects, social events, and deadlines to meet and there’s a Chinese place just down the street…

Do you really want to the spend time making a whole ass meal when you can just pick up the phone and order takeout? Hah!

You get the point! Convenience is KING when it comes to eating as a college student.

But:

We’re also conscientious, poor college students and eating out ADDS up quickly.

That’s why we’re making a college grocery list; to resist temptation and save your budget in moments like this!

Check out these dinner meals that will NOT waste your time:

1. Throw together some ready to steam veggies, instant brown rice, teriyaki sauce, and some cut up frozen meatballs and you’ve got yourself a quick teriyaki bowllike this!

2. You can never go wrong with a frozen pizza, I’m sorry you just can’t!

If you don’t have access to a toaster oven or an actual oven, maybe opt for some microwavable pizza bites instead.

3. Another dinner dish idea that may take more than 10 minutes, but still definitely less than an hour:

Start with some cooked chicken breast, then whip together some instant mashed potatoes plus a packet of gravy and finally add fresh veggies to your plate –

And viola! 

A quick grownup dinner that would make your mother proud.

However:

If you don’t have the means to cook some chicken breast, grab a rotisserie chicken instead! Costco sells them for only $5.

In fact, grabbing a rotisserie chicken for dinner is always a good idea when you’re crunched for time. There are SO many easy meals you can make with one!

4. Of course, there’s the salad option as well! Lettuce & fixings are super simple to throw together on the fly.

5. But you could also just as easily microwave some noodles, add in your favorite pasta sauce, with cheese and a protein source. This is another quick and simple dinner meal!

Now that we’ve got some main meal ideas figured out, let’s move on to picking some things to eat between meals.

 

Snacks

Snacks come in many different shapes and sizes. One thing we do have to keep in mind is that it’s just that: a snack.

A few of my go-to snacks are: 

1. Pretzels with peanut butter! Super simple to prepare ahead of time and a great snack if you’re out and about.

2. Another option is a handful of fruit, like berries, grapes, apple slices, or a banana.

3. You could also munch on a cheese stick, beef stick, mixed nuts, trail mix, or a granola bar.

Just think little foods when it comes to snacks. They’re there to tide you over till the next big meal, without making you too full.

Lastly, we can’t forget to indulge our sweet tooth!

 

Treats

Now:

Not all treats need to be gooey chocolate lava cakes.  In fact, when it comes to treats, portion control is a must.

Some college treat options that I think are awesome: 

1. Mug cakes are definitely my favorite! Just add water or milk to the dry ingredients, pop in the microwave and enjoy.

2. Halo top ice cream is a guilt-free frozen treat. It has protein in it and you can totally eat the whole pint without sweating it!

3. Hot chocolate & biscotti cookies are a match made in heaven.

4. Kettle popcorn – pre-popped or microwavable! Just be mindful of moderation here, the satisfying crunchiness can be too easy to overeat.

5. And finally, homemade rice krispy treats. All you need to do is melt some butter with marshmallows, stir in rice crispy cereal and then flatten to cool.

Yummy treats for days!

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Basic College Grocery List

woman holding handwritten grocery list in in one hand and vegetable in other hand at the supermarket

So with all the above meals in mind, here is what I typically include on my grocery list.

P.S. I made this list into a FREE printable – grab it at the end of this post!

Breakfast items:

  • peanut butter
  • loaf of bread
  • chia seeds
  • protein bar
  • protein shake mix
  • yogurt
  • fruit
  • granola
  • honey
  • instant oatmeal
  • eggs
  • tortillas
  • sausage
  • bacon
  • salsa
  • cheese
  • muffins (or muffin mix)

Lunch items:

  • jelly
  • premade salads
  • hummus
  • carrots
  • celery
  • turkey
  • lettuce
  • tomatoes
  • pita chips
  • turkey deli meat
  • condiments for sandwiches (mayo, mustard, ect.)

Dinner items:

  • veggie steamer bags
  • instant brown rice
  • teriyaki sauce
  • frozen meatballs
  • frozen pizza and/or pizza bites
  • chicken breast
  • rotisserie chicken (ONLY $5 at Costco)
  • instant mashed potatoes
  • gravy packets
  • fresh veggies
  • bags of salad
  • pasta noodles
  • pasta sauce

Snacks:

  • pretzels
  • berries
  • apples
  • bananas
  • cheese sticks
  • beef sticks
  • granola bars
  • mixed nuts
  • trail mix

Treats:

  • Mug cake mixes
  • Halo Top ice cream
  • hot chocolate
  • biscotti cookies
  • rice krispies cereal
  • marshmallows
  • butter

Looking for food ideas with a healthier focus? Check out this grocery list for health-conscious students.

 


 

Alright –

That wraps up my meal ideas and it’s generally what I eat in a busy college week. Now let’s talk money.

Living Within Your College Grocery Budget

An important deciding factor for whether something should be on your college grocery list or not is the price.

Stretching those dollars is KEY when it comes to grocery shopping on a college budget.

So:

I’ve got 12 ways for you to save money on groceries (without coupons) ready for you to read here.

 

Free Printable College Grocery List

I’ve also crafted a pre-made college grocery list for you below.

And it’s a good starting point! But we all have different tastes, so over time you’ll figure out what you love to have around and you can come up with your own list.

Many of these food items are inexpensive and can be found at your local dollar store. Go figure!

Some, of course, do require having some sort of refrigerator (likely a mini fridge if you’re living in the dorms) and a heat source such as a hot plate, oven, or microwave.

Also:

Try hitting up your local farmer’s market for some great deals on fresh produce. Supporting local businesses when you can = WINNING!

Plus:

Or if you prefer to fill out the list with your own favorite foods, there is a printable fill-in-the-blanks list available as well!

College Grocery List

Trying to put together a college grocery list and not sure where to start? Check out this one for student's on a budget. There's a free printable included in the post! #college #collegelife #collegedorms #food #budget #frugal #grocery #grocerylist #printable #printables

Trying to put together a college grocery list and not sure where to start? Check out this one for student's on a budget. There's a free printable included in the post! #college #collegelife #collegedorms #food #budget #frugal #grocery #grocerylist #printable #printables

 


Grocery list for college student conclusions

I hope this college grocery list helps you on your future trips to the store!

I know it can be challenging at times to cook and not hit up the vending machine or the nearest fast food eatery…

But:

Preparing your food will help you cut down on food costs BIG TIME. Even if you don’t prep every single meal.

Convenience store foods and eating out all the time is expensive.

Feeding yourself like that is a quick way to burn up your food budget in the blink of an eye. And as a broke college student, you’ve gotta make that shit last!

So:

Do yourself a favor by grocery shopping regularly (I like to do it once a week). That way when hunger strikes you can make good money decisions, and not impulsive ones driven by a lack of preparation.

What’s on your college grocery list?

Have any other quick & easy meal ideas you can share?

Drop me a line below!

 

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cheap example grocery list for college students infographic to save to Pinterest for later

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