Eating healthy on a budget is difficult for everyone especially college students. It all starts with coming up with a healthy college grocery list and that’s not easy! There was a brief period during my college days when I often indulge in ramen and fast food to save time and money. Yeah they were cheap and convenient, but it wasn’t sustainable for me because I started noticing a lack of energy and even weight gain. The freshman 15 is real!
I knew that if I wanted to feel good and look better, then I had to consider cooking my own healthy meals in the dorm but also within a reasonable college grocery budget. And I did and the more I experimented with cooking, the more I realized that I can use recipes with basic ingredients and simple preparation. Seriously, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to make delicious dishes. My budget was small too between $40-$50/week.
If you’re ready to make the change, then again is all starts by making a healthy college grocery list. It will make your trips to the store fast, budget-friendly, and stress-free. Fill this list with affordable yet nutritious food items. Consider versatility as well.
Read on because I cover essential healthy grocery items to pick up at the store for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and SNACKS.
How Do You Create A College Grocery List That’s Healthy?
Most students are used to having their meals prepared for them at home. As a result, they don’t have much cooking skills. They may not even know what to shop for. Without a grocery list, they are likely to buy too much, forget important items, and go over the budget.
So take your pen and paper out. Start by writing down the things that you would like to include in specific categories. For example, you should have a couple of meats, grains, dairy, fruits, vegetables, and snacks in the list. Think about healthy options for each of these. I have some suggestions below to help you fill it up.
Dorm Cooking Must Haves
Dorms tend to have limited cooking space. Since many are sharing these spaces with other roommates, it’s best to stick with simple meals that you can cook in half an hour or less. If the kitchen is busy, then you’ll have to make do with what you have in your room. Students may be allowed to bring a small fridge and a microwave oven. Unlock the potential of these appliances through creativity.
Be flexible enough to use pre-cooked items if you have to. Make sure that you add the following tools to your collection:
1. Rice Cooker
Take care of your daily carb intake with a rice cooker. You can get a small one for personal use at a cheap price. Just add rice and water. You won’t even have to monitor the progress. It will turn off when it’s done. It’s great for cooking beans, oats, polenta, and other grains. You can also use this as a steamer for vegetables and dimsum. Some have even made cakes and breads with it. The rice cooker is definitely more versatile than its name suggests.
2. Food Containers
Prevent waste by putting all of your leftovers in the refrigerator. Use containers with airtight lids to keep the food in good condition. These will also prevent spills during transport if used as lunchboxes. Transparent options are ideal for ease of identification. Be sure to get ones that don’t have BPA and other toxins.
3. Microwave Pasta Cooker
Most see microwave ovens as appliances for reheating and nothing more. However, they are actually powerful cooking appliances if you have the right tools and techniques. For example, you can use it for cooking pasta to make your favorite Italian dishes at the dorm. Get a microwave pasta cooker and enjoy.
4. Microwave Popcorn Bowl
If you love movie marathons in your dorm, then a microwave popcorn bowl is a must. Make multiple bowls of popcorn using your microwave oven. Add your preferred flavorings and say goodbye to oil to reduce the fat content. Your snacks will be ready in just a few minutes.
5. Induction Cooker
Ask if your dorm allows an induction cooker. You will need compatible pots and pans but it’s worth the investment. You can cook virtually anything that usually calls for a gas stove, but you don’t have to deal with open flames. This will tremendously expand the possibilities within your tiny dorm kitchen.
Where To Shop To Get Groceries In College
Students need to find stores that will help them stay within budget while providing the items in their healthy college grocery list. So these shopping tips for college students specifically should help you save money on groceries. These were my go-to stores when I was in college:
Few stores come close when it comes to the diversity and quantity of products sold. Walmart keeps its prices low especially when it comes to their grocery section.
2. 99 Cent Store / Dollar Store
There was a 99 cent store a block away from my school so all the college students went here for everything especially groceries. I loved to come here for produce: avocados, bananas, onions, tomatoes, and so on. I also purchased snacks and packaged foods from here too. While you’re here to find decent prices on groceries, see if they have airtight containers and other kitchen tools that you might be able to use.
3. Trader Joe’s
If you are concerned about the quality of your ingredients, then go to Trader Joe’s. They have less products on their shelves but these tend to have better value and they’re budget-friendly. You will find fresh, organic, vegetarian, and eco-friendly options inside. Many of the products bear their own brands.
Going to a physical store is easy when you have your own car. Not all students drive which makes the large haul hard to carry. Fortunately, companies such as Instacart offer grocery delivery services. Download the app and check it out here.
5. Amazon Prime Now
In some cities, it’s possible to use Amazon Prime Now app to get items delivered within an hour or two. You can use this for groceries and other products that you might need right away. In some places, grocery pickup is also available.
Free Healthy College Grocery List
How to Stay Within College Budget
Here are some tips on how you can stay within budget when purchasing healthier food options at the grocery store. You’ll love tip #5!
1. Prevent impulse purchases by respecting the list.
You’ve made an amazing healthy college grocery list. You’ve measured the amounts you need and found the price of each item. You have a great plan that works with your limited budget. Now go out there and respect what you wrote. Buy only what’s on the list and say no to everything else, no matter how tempting. If you find this hard to do, then allot a fixed amount for unlisted items.
2. Buy in bulk and keep an open mind.
Purchase your staples in large quantities because they end up being cheaper that way. For example, you can stock up on rice, pasta, oats, and the like without worrying about waste. Just make sure you store them properly. Be flexible enough to adjust when opportunities arise. If you want steel cut oats but the quick-cooking variety is on sale, then take advantage of it.
3. Find a part-time job inside or outside of the campus.
Aside from controlling your expenses, you can also increase your funds by getting a job nearby. Use the money to improve the quality and increase the quantity of the food you eat. For example, you could tutor other students, assist professors in their research projects, work at a store, fix computers, and so on.
4. Get cash online with Swagbucks.com
Swagbucks let people earn money by doing easy tasks such as completing surveys, testing products, and watching videos. A lot of companies are interested in getting honest feedback from viewers and consumers. They are willing to pay individuals for their time and opinions because these help them improve their businesses. Check them out here and see if you like their offers.
5. Earn cash back using the Ibotta app.
What if you could get cash with every purchase you make? Now it’s possible with Ibotta which is available via mobile app and desktop browser extension. Just submit your receipt and wait for the rebates. The best part is that Ibotta covers grocery pickup and delivery from participating stores.
College Grocery List: Fruits
A grocery list for college girl dorm living almost always starts with fruits. Buy whatever’s local and in season because these are likely to be the cheapest and the freshest options available. You don’t have to get a dozen types per outing. Two to three kinds should be enough for most. Eat some between classes to keep your energy up throughout the day. Consider the following for starters:
College Grocery List: Vegetables
Versatile veggies are what you’re after. Make it a colorful mix with different textures and nutrient contents. Don’t hesitate to buy canned or frozen veggies during the busiest parts of the semester if they can help you cook faster and reduce your grocery trips.
- sweet potatoes
- bell peppers
- green beans
- salad mixes
College Grocery List: Grains/Carbs
Carbs are not evil. They are vital for health that’s why it should be a must on everyone’s college dorm grocery shopping list. If you’re allergic to gluten, there are plenty of gluten-free options. So consume a healthy amount on a daily basis. Opt for whole grains for high fiber and nutrient content. You will see the difference when you compare the nutritional information of various items.
- brown rice
- whole wheat pasta
- whole wheat bread
- whole wheat crackers
- granola bars
College Grocery List: Meats/Protein
Next up on this university student food shopping list: protein. Most people want a bit of meat in their diet for protein. However, vegetarians can also get enough protein from non-meat options. Consider going with pre-cooked options if you don’t have access to a stove. Beef tends to be expensive and pork is filled with unhealthy fats. The following are excellent and affordable alternatives:
- peanut butter or almond butter
- black beans
College Grocery List: Dairy
As long as you don’t have intolerance to dairy, this section of the grocery can be a good source of nutrition for students. Look for plant-pased products if you have any allergic reaction.
- low fat milk
- low fat cheese
- half and half/non-dairy creamer
College Grocery List: Drinks
Drinks can perk up students when they need to finish projects. These can also be a source of nutrients and soothing comfort. Just make sure you have them in moderation. Consider getting the following:
- orange juice / apple juice
College Grocery List: Snacks
You can enjoy snacks without guilt as long as you pick healthy items. Avoid the usual potato chips and sugar-infused treats. Look for the following snacks to bring to college instead:
- Banana chips
- mixed nuts
- granola bars
- rice cakes
- dark chocolate
Some items don’t fall neatly into other categories but you might still need them in your tiny dorm kitchen.
- olive oil
- cooking spray
- brown sugar
- all-purpose flour
Healthy College Meal Ideas
The poor college student grocery list is now complete, lol! Only thing left I want to share with you is some of my favorite college meals. These were healthy meals I created in my dorm room a lot because they were quick and easy. Check out these dorm food ideas!
Overnight Oats: Put oats in a mason jar and add water or milk. Leave it overnight for the oats to absorb water and thicken. In the morning, you can top this with berries, sliced bananas, peanut butter, raisins, or chocolate shavings.
Tuna Sandwich: Get some protein early by spreading tuna on wheat bread for a breakfast sandwich. Of course, you can also opt for a cheese or peanut butter sandwich if you prefer.
Salad Mix: If you are spending lunch outside, then just grab a salad mix and have the meal at your favorite hangout.
Pesto Pasta: If you have leftover meat, then you could whip up pasta with pesto sauce, olive oil, garlic, and spinach. Use the microwave for this to finish quickly.
Chicken and Veggies: Buy some rotisserie chicken on your way home from class. You can pair this with brown rice or mashed potatoes using the rice cooker. Consider steaming vegetables to complete the meal.
Burrito Bowls: Prepare the bowl starting with your grain of choice such as rice, cauliflower rice, or quinoa. Add some proteins like cooked beans, meats, or tofu. Finish it off with toppings like cheddar cheese, cabbage, salsa, avocado, Greek yogurt, tomatoes, olives, onions, and jalapenos.
Fruit Basket: Make sure that you keep a basket filled with fruits for quick bites while studying. This is far more healthy than the typical junk food people snack on.
Trail Mix: You don’t have to hike the trails to enjoy a trail mix. Have a jar handy in your room. You can buy the mix or make your own. Use roasted nuts, seeds, raisins, granola, banana chips, pretzels, and dark chocolate.
Mug Cake: Give yourself a treat once in a while. Get a mug cake mix from the store for that occasional indulgence. Add water and heat in the microwave for a few minutes until it reaches the desired consistency. You can add crushed nuts and other toppings as well.
Liked this college grocery list post? Then check out: 16 Easy Recipes You Can Make In Your Dorm