Meal planning is probably the last thing college students think about. But if they aren’t on the school meal plan, they’ll need to pick up food items at a local grocery store. In this post, you’ll find inexpensive food for a poor college student grocery list.
Are you a poor college student or know someone who is? I have definitely been there. I worked three jobs in college and I still was still somehow poor!
Unfortunately, you still have to feed yourself even if you don’t have a lot of money. This is especially true if you opted out of your school’s expensive dining hall meal plan.
If you need a list of groceries to fit a college student grocery budget, you’ve come to the right place. You’ll find lots of budget friendly foods to eat that don’t require time consuming cooking.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before getting to the specific food items and meal ideas, I wanted to address some common questions people have.
A college student’s budget for food should be about $300-$400 per month. Cooking their own food will help them eat healthier and save money.
If you want to save money on groceries, there are a few things you can do. First, make a list of the items you need and stick to it. Don’t deviate from your list unless you have a really good reason. Second, buy only what is on sale. Third, compare prices between stores before buying anything. Fourth, buy in bulk when it’s cheaper per unit. Fifth, use coupons and other discounts whenever possible.
Walmart is a good option because they have a wide variety of food options at reasonable prices. ALDI is another great place to find inexpensive groceries but the selection is limited.
The best way to store food on a college budget is to buy in bulk and stock up when prices are low. This will allow you to buy more for less money. Additionally, it’s important not to eat out too often, as this will increase your food bill significantly.
Must-haves for breakfast
You know what they say…breakfast is the most important meal of the day! Here are some cheap breakfast items you can get on a budget! You’ll want to keep your dorm room stocked up with these items for easy meal ideas!
- Eggs are good source of protein that will fit your grocery budget. They cook easily in the microwave and are loaded with nutrition. If you don’t like microwaved eggs, you can buy an inexpensive egg cooker or Dash mini griddle.
- Granola bars have always been one of my go-to buys for breakfast and snacks. They’re cheap and easy to grab when you have to rush to an early class! Granola bars are definitely a life saver!
- Bagels or bread are extremely cost effective! Bread is so affordable. You can get an entire loaf for a couple dollars. If you’re worried about bread not having enough nutrition to start the morning, you can add some peanut butter to add some protein to your quick and easy meal!
- Instant oatmeal was my best friend in college. I always kept a supply of instant oatmeal my dorm room. It’s okay if you don’t have a microwave in your room. Most college dorms have a microwave in a common area for students to use.
- Cereal is usually only a couple bucks for a box than can last you a while (assuming your roommates aren’t taking your food). Don’t be tempted to buy the biggest box as it’s generally cheaper per ounce to get the medium size. If you’re trying to add a bit more nutritional value to your cereal, a cheap way is to add some milk into your cereal!
- Yogurt is a favorite breakfast food. You can even top it with cereal or trail mix for a quick meal. It’s perfect for snacks too!
- Chia seeds will add healthy fiber to your morning meal. Sprinkle a little in your yogurt or add them to your hot or cold cereal. You an also make a simple chia pudding by mixing them with vanilla almond milk and a sweetener.
Grocery shopping for lunch
Grocery shopping for lunch is easier and quicker than buying groceries for dinner. But what if you don’t know what to make? There are so many different options that it can be difficult to know what to make. Plus, you might want to make something that’s healthy, or you might want to make something that’s easy and quick.
- Deli meats are an easy and affordable option for college students to get some protein in.
- Bread or rolls are a staple for making sandwiches and thankfully budget friendly!
- Leafy greens are great for making a quick salad. You can also top them off with leftover meat from dinner for a more filling meal. I’ve found leftover rotisserie chicken is great for salads!
- Frozen pizza is cheap and something I know I never get tired of! If you’re looking to add more nutritional value, you can add some deli meat to the top for some easy protein. I’ve even put leftover rotisserie chicken as a pizza topping before!
- Canned soup is easy to store and easy to make. It’s great for a quick lunch in-between class!
- Ramen is a staple for college students. It’s great because all you need is a microwave to make this budget-friendly meal! Ramen was always on my basic college grocery list.
Favorite foods for dinner
There are a few things that you can do to make grocery shopping for dinner easier. First, try to make a list before you go to the store. You might not always have everything you need, but you can make sure that you have enough to get by.
If you have some recipes in mind, add the necessary ingredients to your list. That way, you won’t have to worry about running to the store at the last minute.
- Rotisserie chicken is perfect for quick healthy meals because it requires no cooking! I’m all for meals that aren’t time-consuming! The leftovers are also great for making chicken salad for lunch so make sure you have some mayonnaise.
- Chicken breast is my go to affordable meat, even as an adult. You can make so many different dishes with chicken breast. You don’t have to make anything fancy though with it. You can use various seasonings to easily spice up your chicken!
- Frozen meatballs are an easy way to get some protein in. When I was in college, there were times I would just eat meatballs as a meal to get some easy protein. I’d put them in the air fryer and just eat them plain! But, if that’s not your style, serve them up with pasta and your favorite tomato sauce!
- Frozen burgers are easy to cook in your room using a mini Dash grill! You’ll just need to set the grill on a heat safe plate to catch the grease.
- Instant mashed potatoes take only a few minutes to cook for an easy side dish.
- Pasta is always on my grocery list, even as an adult. It’s easy to cook and super affordable. Go for the whole wheat if you want something more nutritious.
- Canned fish is an inexpensive and easy way to add healthy seafood into your meals. Tuna is super cheap but salmon doesn’t cost much more and is healthier.
- Rice is such an affordable side dish that also goes great with any meal! For a healthy meal, you can get some brown rice instead!
- Frozen vegetables is a great option. Frozen veggies are more convenient than fresh produce and are much more affordable than the vegetables that are pre-prepped by the grocery stores. They also taste better than canned vegetables and can be microwaved right in the bag!
When you need to eat something but don’t have time for cooking a whole meal, you’ll want to grab some healthy snacks. Here’s a list of budget friendly food college students should stock up on:
- Trail mix is an easy snack when you need something you can eat on the go. I like to buy a big bag of trail mix at Costco because it lasts a while and it is budget friendly.
- Sunflower seeds are another great snack option. Believe it or not, they’re a great source of protein. They’re also a great source of healthy fats.
- Chocolate chips are the perfect snack for when you feel like you’re starving but don’t want to eat a whole bag of chips. They’re an easy way to get some protein and make sure you’re staying full throughout the day.
- Dried fruits are a great option for when you want something you can eat on the go. They’re filling and some are even good for you! Choosing dried fruits that are low in sugar is the best option for when you’re on a budget.
- Fresh fruits are always a good option. They’re filling and you can get a bunch of them in one bag.
- Fruit cups are an easy snack when you need something you can eat on the go. They’re also a good option for when you’re out of fruit. They’re packed with vitamins and you can get a lot of fruit salad in them.
Basic grocery list items
Most people are overwhelmed by the amount of items a grocery store has. Here’s a list of basic groceries you should have on hand.
- Tomato sauce is a great way to add flavor to meals. You can also add it to pasta sauce to make a delicious pasta dish.
- Peanut butter is a great option for when you need to fuel up quick.
- Jelly is perfect for adding a little sweetness to your toast or sandwiches
- Mayonnaise is great for adding flavor to sandwiches and eggs.
- Ketchup can be mixed with mayonnaise for a tasty sauce. It’s also great for adding flavor to your food.
Poor college student grocery list
To make getting groceries super easy, I created a printable list for you. It has all the top choices listed and additional spaces for you to add your own favorites.
This grocery shopping list for college students should help you save money while shopping! This basic college grocery list will help make sure you’re saving money while getting all the groceries you need!
Just fill out the form below to have the printable sent to you immediately!
Easy meal ideas
Now that you have a basic grocery list to go off of, you’re probably wondering what to make with them. Below are some easy ideas for meal planning.
1. Banana and peanut butter sandwich
In addition to being high in potassium and magnesium, bananas are a great source of vitamin B6, which helps with brain and nerve function. They’re also rich in vitamin C, which helps with the absorption of iron, an important mineral for students, who are often running on a schedule. They’re also good sources of fiber and are very low in fat. The best part is that they’re easy to store in your dorm room and don’t require refrigeration.
2. Greek yogurt
Yogurt is a great source of protein, calcium and vitamin D, which helps your body absorb iron. In addition, it’s a good source of vitamin B12, which is important for a healthy nervous system. The best part is that it’s low in calories and very easy to store.
3. Protein bars
Protein bars are a great way to get a good amount of protein and other nutrients into your diet without consuming a lot of calories. They’re also easy to store and are very low in fat. They’re perfect for college students, who often have a busy schedule and don’t always have time to eat a full meal. There were some days I’d eat multiple protein bars in college because I didn’t have time to pack myself an actual lunch.
4. Yogurt and granola
This is one of the most popular breakfast options for college students. Yogurt is a great source of protein, calcium and vitamin D, which helps your body absorb iron. Granola is a great way to get a good amount of healthy carbs into your diet, while still getting some protein and fat. It’s also very easy to store and eat. Vanilla yogurt with chocolate granola was one of my favorite breakfasts to have in college.
5. Blueberry and granola cereal
Blueberries are a very good source of vitamin C and antioxidants. They’re also low in calories and can be stored for a long time without refrigeration. They’re great for your health, but also taste great and are easy to eat. If you’re not a fan of blueberries, you can easily swap them for other berries.
Granola is a great way to get a good amount of healthy carbs into your diet, while still getting some protein and fat. It’s also very easy to store and eat.
6. Canned salmon and rice
This is one of the easiest and best-tasting ways to get protein into your diet. It’s also a good source of vitamin D, which helps your body absorb iron. In addition, salmon is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important for your health. It’s also very easy to store and is low in fat.
7. Granola and yogurt
Granola is a great way to get a good amount of healthy carbs into your diet, while still getting some protein and fat. Yogurt is a great source of protein, calcium and vitamin D, which helps your body absorb iron. It’s also very easy to store and eat.
8. Turkey sandwich
Turkey is a very good source of protein, while also being very low in fat. It’s also very easy to store and can be kept in your dorm room for a long time. It’s also a great way to get a good amount of protein into your diet.
Oatmeal is a great source of protein, while also being very low in fat. It’s also a good source of vitamin D, which helps your body absorb iron. It’s also very easy to store and eat. This was always one of my go-to breakfast items!
10. Tuna and salad
This is one of the easiest and best-tasting ways to get protein into your diet. It’s also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important for your health. It’s also very easy to store and is low in fat. It’s a great budget-friendly meal.
11. Chicken salad
This is one of the easiest and best-tasting ways to get protein into your diet. It’s also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are very important for your health. It’s also very easy to store and is low in fat.
12. Beans and rice
Beans are a very good source of protein and fiber, while also being very low in fat. They’re also a good source of vitamin D, which helps your body absorb iron. They’re also very easy to store and can be kept at room temperature.
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