Key Items for a College Grocery List

Shopping smart can save you time, effort and money

Young man reading shopping list in produce aisle, side view, close-up
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Whether it's a lack of space, appliances or time to cook, eating well as a college student can be really tricky. With the help of a smart grocery list, spending and eating wisely in college can be much easier than it seems. Just make sure to include at least a few items in the following categories:

Breakfast That Can Be Taken to Go

Of course, it would be dreamy to have the time, energy, money, and ability to make a delicious breakfast every morning made of pancakes, bacon, eggs, and some fruit. But breakfast in college—when and if it happens—often looks much different, even though nearly everyone knows how important breakfast is. When grocery shopping, look for things that you like that can easily be taken to go and require little to no prep time.

  • granola or breakfast bars
  • yogurt
  • cereal (to put in a bag or container to eat dry)
  • bagels (and peanut butter, cream cheese, jam, etc.)
  • fruit

Having breakfast may be a pain sometimes, but it can make all the difference in your energy level and ability to focus for the day. Having things that are tasty and easy to grab on your way out the door and eat on your way to class will make it more likely that you'll at least get something in your stomach before the day begins.

Easy-to-Make Small Meals or a Snack

Things don't have to be fancy to fill you up, provide nutrition and taste good. You can make lots of tasty and filling meals with inexpensive ingredients and a microwave.

  • macaroni and cheese
  • ramen
  • oatmeal
  • soup
  • eggs (can be scrambled in the microwave)
  • bread
  • sandwich things (peanut butter, jelly, cold cuts, cheese)

There are lots of options within these seemingly-boring categories to help prevent you from getting bored with your options. For ramen, for example, remember that you don't always have to use the little seasoning pack that comes with them; you can sprinkle raw ramen noodles on a salad for some extra pep, cook them up with some butter and cheese, or add them to your favorite soup. Add fruit, nuts or peanut butter to your oatmeal for a different texture and flavor.

Nutritious Snacks That Won't Expire for a While

When buying snacks, go for items that pack a punch nutritionally without expiring too soon. You can also opt for frozen foods that are ready-to-eat when they thaw.

  • popcorn
  • whole-wheat crackers
  • mixed nuts
  • dried fruit
  • frozen blueberries
  • frozen edamame

Perishable Items That Will Last for at Least a Week

Even if you have a teeny tiny fridge in your residence hall, it's still a fridge, right? Treat yourself and your body to some healthy snacks that, although perishable, will last longer than just a few days.

  • baby carrots
  • apples
  • cherry tomatoes
  • milk
  • salsa (don't forget the chips)
  • hummus
  • cheese (bonus: string cheese is a grab-and-go snack)

You can use milk for your macaroni and cheese recipe or for cereal. (Maybe keep some chocolate syrup in the fridge so you can fix yourself some chocolate milk when you want a treat.) Baby carrots can be a snack on their own or even a nice side to your main meal. Slice cherry tomatoes for your sandwich or dip them in hummus. Buying perishable things can be smart if you know how to use each item in more than one way.

Flavor Enhancers

You don't need a full-fledged kitchen to experiment with new flavors. Having a few items on hand that can change the taste of a snack or dish can be an easy—and inexpensive—way to mix your menu up when things start to get boring.

  • salt
  • pepper
  • Italian dressing
  • sriracha
  • mustard
  • ketchup
  • barbecue sauce

A bottle of Italian dressing will last a long time in your fridge and can be used as a dip for veggies or even, when used lightly, as a tasty topping on a sandwich. Other spicy sauces and condiments (wasabi mayo, anyone?) can be added to various items to switch up the taste on a usually boring meal.

Of course, you don't need to buy all these things. (Where would you put them, anyway?) Be realistic when making your grocery list and make an effort to use what you have before heading back out to the store to prevent wasting both food and money.