Grocery List Essentials for College Students: Budget-Friendly & Healthy

Going to college could be the first time you’ve had to budget for anything, never mind the food you eat. The truth is college is expensive and you are on a student budget.

You can’t afford to eat out every day so you need to buy groceries. And to do that right you need a grocery list for college students on a budget.

You don’t have the time or the interest in shopping for food when you have so many other demands on your time (hello lectures). Yet you need to eat and to do so cheaply.

Going grocery shopping can be a chore for anyone, but especially if you’ve never had to do it regularly before. The fact is grocery shopping can be a lot of fun (you’re buying FOOD!), but it’s even more enjoyable, and easy, when you have a list of must have groceries to work from.

The key to sticking to your food budget is having a basic grocery shopping list which covers all your essentials. This is a breakdown of my affordable basic groceries that I think every student needs in order to have easy meals on campus.

Having your own essential groceries list helps to ensure your food dollars don’t go to waste. I have made sure to include a few snacks that not only will keep your body going throughout the day but also offer a bit of happiness in each bite!

grocery list for poor college students in a notebook with 2 tomatoes and a laptop.

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Why you need an essentials groceries lists as a college student

One of the best ways to make sure you have everything you need while living on a college student budget is to create and use a grocery list. A grocery list is simply a tool that helps you save both time and money while shopping for groceries.

When you’re busy with classes, work, and extracurricular activities, you don’t have time to cook a healthy meal from scratch.

That’s why it’s important to include essential things on your student shopping list that are easy to prepare, such as frozen vegetables or fruit, and rice, pasta, and beans. With a little bit of preparation ahead of time, you can easily create a healthy meal in no time!

What is a basic grocery list?

A basic grocery list is a list of ingredients that are essential for making your meals every week. The ingredients on your list will depend on what type of meals you want to cook and the snacks you want to have on hand. However, there are some basics that every grocery list should include.

Some cheap and healthy groceries essentials for your college grocery list include: pasta, rice, canned goods, frozen vegetables, bread, eggs, cheese, and yogurt.

These things can be used to make quick and easy meals or snacks that will help you stay fueled up during long days on campus. Be sure to stock up on these staples so you always have something to eat.

What grocery items should I always have?

There are 10 grocery items that I recommend everyone have, including students. With them you can make breakfast, lunch and dinner multiple ways.

Meals such as; french toast, peanut butter on toast, meatless spaghetti, overnight oats, porridge, tacos, sloppy joes, chili & rice, bean pasta, omlet, hotdogs, egg on toast to name just a few. Here’s the top 10 grocery items to always have:

  1. rice
  2. pasta/spaghetti
  3. oatmeal/oats
  4. bread or wraps
  5. eggs
  6. peanut butter
  7. milk
  8. canned tomatoes
  9. dried or canned chickpeas or kidney beans
  10. hotdogs or ground beef or vegetarian alternative

Cooking Essentials

We all need a little help in the kitchen and these are my top 4 essentials, without which cooking and meal prep would be so much harder and time consuming.

The essential grocery shopping list for poor college students

essential groceries you need on hand always

In addition to the 10 grocery items above I strongly suggest you always have, there are a few more essentials to keep in your dorm room if you have the space.

When you have these essentials on hand, it’s easy to put together a meal without having to run out to the grocery store. This can help reduce waste and save you money. You can also avoid impulse buys by always having a small stockpile of groceries that you need.

  • canned beans (your choice of chickpeas, kidney beans, haricot, pinto and black)
  • nuts (e.g. cashews, walnuts, brazils, peanuts)
  • dried fruit (your choice of sultanas, raisins, apricots, figs)
  • canned veggies (corn, green beans, potatoes, peas)
  • frozen chopped veg
  • ramen/instant noodles
  • coffee or your favorite tea
  • canned tuna or salmon
3 pages of the ultimate grocery list for college students on a budget. Free printable download.

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breakfast grocery list for grocery ideas for quick morning meals

Mornings are about getting up and going, usually as fast as possible. But breakfast is important and if you don’t make it at home, you’ll end up spending money that you haven’t budgeted for. These breakfast essentials will give you plenty of meal options whether to eat at home or on the go.

  • peanut butter
  • bread or wraps
  • honey
  • oats or instant oatmeal
  • eggs
  • fruit (e.g. bananas, apples, oranges)
  • muffins
  • sausage
  • bacon

Budget breakfast meal ideas

There are a lot of different breakfast items that you can make on a budget. If you’re looking for some ideas, here are a few that I recommend:

  • Homemade mac-muffin
  • Toast with banana slices
  • Granola bars
  • Overnight oats with sliced banana
  • Yogurt with fruit, oats and honey
  • Instant oatmeal with toppings
  • Breakfast burritos
  • Bacon sandwich
young female eating while looking at her laptop with grocery list for cdollege girl on the screen.

grocery list ideas for one: shopping list for Lunches and Dinner Ideas

Shopping list for lunches

When it comes to a lunch ideas from grocery store, the options can be endless. However, that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of time in the kitchen or break the bank. In fact, there are plenty of great recipes and ideas that are both budget-friendly and healthy.

The key to lunch is ease, speed and maybe on the go too. As a student you have way too much to do to find time to follow a recipe for a mere lunch – save that precious time for dinner. Lunch times are made up of easy to grab and mix together ingredients like these:

  • salad items (lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, other leaves)
  • hummus
  • thinly sliced meats
  • bread
  • carrots
  • celery
  • spinach
  • cous cous
  • condiments for sandwiches (mayo, mustard, ect.)
  • canned tuna or salmon

Cheap lunches to fix and go

Sandwiches are the perfect lunch meal. You can make them with bread, wraps, buns, pittas or any other bread based item. For fillings you have as much choice as your fridge, cupboard and imagination will allow.

Tuna, salmon, cheese, egg mayo, egg plain, tuna melt, meat, hummus, bacon lettuce and tomato. You name it, you can make a sandwich with it.

Salads are another easy lunchtime meal. Not so easy to eat on the go, you’ll definitely want to sit and eat, but simple to fix. Salad leaves, cous cous, spinach, celery, croutons, spicy mayo, tuna, salmon, cheese, egg are all great ingredients to fix a hearty but healthy salad.

Soup is a winter warmer and can be extremely filling. Beans, vegetables, canned tomatoes, canned veg, a little protein, water and your favorite herbs and spices to add flavor. Heat and transport in a soup flask means a hot meal wherever you end up eating it.

Fruit can be a great lunch on the run. Easy to carry with you and eat anywhere, no wrappers to bin, and seriously cheap! 2 bananas and an apple will fill you up and keep you going for a few hours. Add in a handful of nuts and their protein will help you continue until you’ve time to fix dinner.

young male taking care of him self serving food into a bowl from his healthy grocery list for college students on a budget.

your grocery list for students on a budget: dinner items

When you’re back in your dorm after a long day, dinner needs to be quick, it needs to be easy and it needs to be tasty. With these ingredients you can make simple and delicious meals in 30 minutes or less.

  • frozen veggies
  • meatballs
  • frozen pizza (the best late night student dinner)
  • chicken breast (thighs are cheaper)
  • tofu (if you’re vegan/vegetarian)
  • ground beef or vegetarian alternative
  • eggs
  • dried or canned beans (chickpeas, kidney beans etc)
  • fresh veggies – (seasonal is cheapest and choose those you like to eat)
  • pasta
  • noodles
  • white rice (brown is healthier but more expensive)
  • canned tomatoes (to make sauces for pasta & rice)
  • herbs & spices of your choice (for example: parsley, oregano, basil, cumin, ginger, chili, garam masala, cayenne, curry powder)

Dinner meal ideas

Here are 10 dishes that fit your needs of easy, quick and delicious:

1. Roast chicken – This dish is easy to prepare and you can use the leftovers in several different recipes.

2. Spaghetti meatballs – Make them spicy or herby, add a cheesy topping, use spaghetti or penne or any other shape for a tasty meal

3. Chefs salad – A great way to get your daily dose of vegetables, and you can add variety by changing up the ingredients each time.

4. Rice and beans – A simple, cheap, and filling meal that’s perfect for weeknights.

5. Macaroni and cheese – Everyone loves this classic comfort food dish.

6.. Chicken soup – Use leftover roast chicken. Perfect for when you’re feeling under the weather or just need some warmth and comfort.

7. Shepherd’s pie – A hearty British dish made with ground beef or lamb and mashed potatoes on top.

8. Spaghetti bolognese – A classic Italian pasta dish that’s sure to please everyone at the dinner table.

9. Pizza night! – Whether you make your own pizza or grab a frozen one, this is always a crowd pleaser.

10. Tacos – Another versatile dish that you can customize with your favorite toppings.

messy cooking area with filled pan and various vegetables and utensils spread around.

Grocery lists ideas for Spices and condiments you want to have

Spices and herbs liven up the meals you make, turning something ordinary into something extraordinary. They can turn basic chicken and vegetables into a gorgeous spicy chicken curry.

  • olive oil or vegetable oil
  • salt & pepper
  • chili powder
  • oregano (dried herbs are cheaper)
  • cilantro (coriander in the UK)
  • basil
  • parsley
  • curry powder
  • garam masala
  • mayo
  • ketchup
  • sugar
  • soy sauce
  • stock cubes

food grocery list ideas for Budget fruit and vegetable essentials

You can have a healthy grocery list for college students on a budget and eating healthily on a low budget is totally possible. In fact fresh fruit and vegetables are often cheaper than processed, ready meals. 2 bananas and an apple is a hearty breakfast or 3 filling snacks. Buy cheaply and you could get them for around $1. These are the grocery list essentials you’ll want:

  • apples
  • bananas
  • oranges
  • potatoes
  • carrots
  • onions
  • garlic
  • spinach
  • tomatoes
  • frozen mixed veg
  • sweetcorn
  • broccoli
  • canned fruit
  • canned veg
young woman eating a burger while reading her book with a daily student shopping list in it.

Cheap and healthy shopping list ideas for the fridge

There are a few essential things that you should always have in your fridge, regardless of your diet:

  • milk (cows milk is cheapest)
  • eggs (eggs are versatile, affordable, and high in protein. They can be boiled, fried, poached, or made into an omelet.)
  • cheese (cheddar, slices or grated)
  • yogurt
  • butter
  • fresh fruit (lasts longer in the fridge)
  • bacon (because who doesn’t love a bacon sandwich?!)

grocery list Snacks you’ll want to have plus treats

You might have a tight budget and not have much spare cash for your student shopping list, but there’s no need to go without snacks. Truth is, you need to build them into your college budget, otherwise you’ll go over budget when you do buy them. And you will.

Because who can live without a few treats here and there? No student that I’ve ever known!

  • popcorn (don’t buy ready popped, it’s much more expensive)
  • pretzels
  • chips (crisps in the UK) Chips are the classic snack that everyone loves.
  • granola bars (or make your own with this recipe)
  • rice cakes
  • mixed nuts
  • dried fruit (nuts and dried fruit go so well together as a handful snack)
  • trail mix – perfect for when you need something hearty but not heavy.
  • hot chocolate
  • cookies
  • ice cream (hot days call for ice cream)
  • marshmallows 

Download your free copy of the cheap grocery list for college students on a budget when you subscribe to the FREE resource library

Young woman surrounded by books eating a healthy snack from her good grocery list for college students.

Student shopping List and groceries ideas FAQs

What is a good grocery budget for a college student?

A good grocery budget for a college student is one that fills you up with reasonably healthy food without using a huge amount of your total student budget. It can be tough working out your student grocery budget.

It really does depends on what money you have available after paying out for other college essentials. Where you are studying, dietary requirements and local grocery stores all impact on how much you need to budget.

For more help in settinga budget check out my guides to how much your grocery budget should be.

What food should I get as a college student?

The most important thing as a college student is to buy food you will eat so you don’t waste any money, or food. Cooking your own food will help you save money and eat healthier so you want to buy food you both enjoy and can cook easily.

This is why basic grocery lists are so good. They form the basis of buying the right food for your college lifestyle.

young black female hand checking off items on her university student food shopping list.

How do you make a good grocery list for one?

Start your grocery list for students by meal planning for the next week

The best way to start meal planning is by figuring out what you’ll need for the next week. This means thinking about breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as snacks in between. It’s important to be realistic with what you can cook or prepare in advance, so don’t overdo it on the list.

Try and break down your meals into simple recipes with few ingredients. That will make grocery shopping easier and less time consuming.

Make a foodstuff shopping list of ingredients needed for your meal plan

Making a list of what you think you’re going to eat can seem like a daunting thing to do, but it doesn’t have to be. Using your meal plan identify the ingredients you need in order to cook those meals.

For instance, to make this super easy sloppy joes meal you need just 4 ingredients: ground beef, mustard, ketchup and brown sugar. If you don’t already have an ingredient for your planned meals then add it to your base grocery list.

Check what essential food items you already have

The first step to creating a good groceries list is to go through your food cupboard and fridge and take inventory of any staples that need replenishing. This will help you save time and money, as you’ll be able to buy only the things that you need.

You want your cupboards to contain staples such as; pasta noodles, rice, eggs, milk, and canned goods. These are essential for making meals at home, so it’s important to always have them on hand.

Don’t shop without your base grocery list!

The key to a good grocery list for one is taking it with you to the store. Sounds obvious doesn’t it? But so many people (not just students) make their list and promptly leave it at home.

This one thing ruins all the grocery list ideas you had for future meals and you have to work from memory. Which will cost you more money, believe me.

4 young students sat around a table eating pizza.

5 money saving ideas for a college student grocery list

There are many ways to save money and getting your food necessities on a budget. Many of them are not exclusive to being a student, far from it. Saving money on groceries is something all of us strive to do.

Why spend more than you need to? These are my top 5 things to do to increase your savings:

1. Meal plan for your ideal grocery list for college students

The most important part of keeping to a strict food budget is knowing what meals you are going to be cooking and therefore what ingredients you need. As mentioned above, when you plan your meals you know exactly what you need to buy for your meals.

No impulse buying of random things that you end up throwing away. Plan each meal taking account of your diary commitments for the week. You might only need 4 dinners and 6 lunches to go, depending on activities you have already got planned.

2. Use technology

Technology is here to help. There are many apps and websites that offer coupons and discounts on food items. Ibotta is one of the most popular. Fetch is great for earning rewards/cash. All you do is snap and upload an image of your receipts (for ANYTHING, not just groceries).

You can also use technology for other tasks related to food shopping, such as creating a list of what you need or finding the best deals at different stores.

3. Eat Some thing before you shop

Another great way to save money is to eat before you go shopping. I’m sure you’ve heard of this one before. If you’re not hungry, you’re less likely to buy junk food or expensive items. When you are hungry you make poor food choices and you will buy more food.

4. Don’t Buy Bottled Water

There is really no need to buy water to drink in the western world. Our water is almost always safe to drink. If you can honestly say your tap water tastes foul then invest in a water filter jug and enjoy a cheap grocery haul every week without the water.

5. Generic brands are your grocery list must haves

Generic and value brands cost much less than premium and taste just fine in their own right. In fact some of them have the exact same ingredients as the premium brand and are made by the same company in the same factory!

Premium brands cost more partly because the manufacturer needs to recoup all the advertising money they have spent trying to tell us their product is best.

Related posts:

18 Items We Cut From Our Food Shopping Lists To Save Big Money

4 young people sat on the floor in a library discussing their student shopping list.

Grocery list for 2

Creating and working from a basic grocery list for 2 is perfect if you are sharing with a friend. You can save money by agreeing on dorm room food essentials you’ll both contribute to.

Create a dorm grocery list for bulk buying things like rice, pasta, oats and lentils and you’ll save more money together. Without having to eat the same meal every single day.

The Basic grocery list for college students

A starter grocery list is an essential tool for new college students. Having a dorm food list of essentials means you can stick to your food budget and plan some healthy, tasty meals. Instead of relying on expensive foods from campus, a deli or eating fast food too often.

By creating your first grocery list of the things you need, you can start as you mean to go on. You’ll avoid buying unneeded items, buy the right foods to make the right meals for you and stay on track with your food budget.

Come and follow me on Pinterest for more money saving hints and frugal tips!

Pinterest image of a grocery list for college students.
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Last Updated on 10th May 2022 by Emma

About Emma

I'm here to help you become confident in making the best money decisions for you and your family. Frugal living has changed my life, let me help you change yours.

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