Lets me just say that healthy eating in college is ridiculously hard. There’s zero time to finish all your reading, let alone cook a well-balanced meal! Grocery shopping is key to success, but how do you know what to buy without going way over budget?! You need this healthy college grocery list to help you make smart choices.
From helping you pack for college to helping you make money online in college, I love to simplify college life. In this guide, I’ll help you create the best college grocery list for your needs and budget. Say goodbye to late-night ramen and pizza binges for good! (Okay, maybe not for good)
Create a Healthy College Grocery List
How do you create a healthy college grocery list? I used to be really intimidated by grocery shopping. In college was the first time I ever stepped foot in a grocery store on my own, and I didn’t even know where to start.
Because I didn’t have any grocery list, I would overspend and buy things I wouldn’t end up eating. I would think I wanted one thing, but then it would just go to waste. Basically it was a disaster!
First, let go of the idea of having the perfect list. Don’t stress too much about making sure everything is organic and eco-friendly and clean and pesticide free and all those other confusing (and expensive) concerns.
Don’t beat yourself up over buying prepackaged food. Sometimes it’s necessary with a college schedule! Most of all, be kind with yourself. Don’t freak out if you eat something “bad,” it’s not a big deal. Health is 100% about balance.
Remember the food pyramid that was forced on you in grade school? Think of that now, it’s actually super important when considering your grocery list. Here are the groups you need to keep in mind when shopping:
Okay, I know snacks isn’t a section of the food pyramid, but it’s still a huge part of college grocery lists! There are a lot of healthy options for each group. Here are some tips for getting started grocery shopping in college.
Consider Your Kitchen
Before we talk about anything else, we need to talk about kitchens. For my first year in college, I lived in a dorm. We had a “mini kitchen” which was basically just a mini-fridge and a microwave. That majorly limited what I could cook in my own dorm.
That being said, a lot of dorms have a hallways kitchen with the staples like an oven, microwave, stove, etc. After my first year, I lived in a small apartment where I had a full kitchen. My college grocery list majorly expanded once I was out of the dorms.
What I’m saying with all of this is that you’ll have to get a bit creative when cooking in the dorms. Most things need to be microwavable or pre-cooked, but you have more options than you think.
Here are some dorm cooking must haves:
- A rice cooker & steamer* – You can use this to cook fresh rice super quickly and steam veggies. It’s something I use every week! This one right here is small enough for a dorm, and it’s really cheap.
- Microwave popcorn maker – This collapsable bowl just needs some popcorn kernals and a few minutes in the microwave. Then, you’ll have enough popcorn to feed your entire floor without any of the added stuff that comes with in-the-bag popcorn.
- Microwave pasta cooker – Forget about boiling water, this pasta cooker is a gamechanger. Just add some water and your favorite pasta and you’ll have a delcious bowl of pasta in minutes. This one is super affordable!
- Food storage containers – Finally, don’t forget some containers to keep all your leftovers in. This full set has everything you need.
* Check with your dorm rules about whether these are allowed!
College Grocery Money Saving Tips
Grocery shopping can be majorly expensive, especially on a college budget. I’ve found that it’s easy to keep costs down by using a list (and sticking to it!) as well as using some money saving apps. Here are some resources for keeping costs down as a college student:
- Ibotta – The Ibotta app lets you get rebates on all your receipts. It works for most major retailers, and it’s basically free money. All you have to do is scan your receipt to start getting cash back on purchases you’re already making. It also lets you know when there are local deals and coupons, double score! I’ve made over $20 just by scanning my receipts!
- Swagbucks – Swagbucks isn’t a grocery app, but it is a great way to earn rebates and gift cards for grocery shopping. I’ve used Swagbucks to get over $50 in gift cards to places like Walmart and Amazon.
How to Get Groceries in College
When I was in college, I didn’t have a car my first year. That made it really hard to find what I needed nearby. I would have to ride my bike over a mile to a nearby store and bring back only what I could carry in my backpack. This was a serious hassle!
Having a car or nearby store is a serious help, but there are other alternatives available now. You can get apps like Instacart and Amazon Prime Now in most college towns, and they’ll deliver fresh groceries right to your dorm at a scheduled time. You can get everything you need, and they often have discounts to make it more affordable. I still use these services now that I’m done with college!
Your Healthy College Grocery List
Now that we’ve got all the “how” stuff out of the way, let’s start filling your grocery list with all the healthy (and delicious) college students need in their dorm or apartment.
College Grocery List: Fruits
I like to choose two different fruits on each of my grocery trips, but if you can adjust that if necessary. That’s just how much I know I eat! If you drink a lot of smoothies, you might want some more. In season fruits are generally cheaper, so keep that in mind when shopping.
Another thing to consider is buying easy fruits to take on the go, such as apples or oranges. Kiwi might be your favorite, but they are not very practical to take to class.
Fruit Ideas for Students
- Other in-season finds!
College Grocery List: Veggies
You can buy and cook whatever veggies you prefer, but I like to keep it simple because I know I will not bother with any fancy cooking routines during the semester.
My favorite go-to’s are frozen veggies (microwavable!) and potatoes which can be also be baked in the microwave. (I realize potatoes are technically a starch but I’m including them here.) These are excellent for quick meals. There’s also a wide variety of canned veggies available too which are incredibly easy to prepare.
Veggie Grocery List Ideas
- Cauliflower rice
- Mixed greens frozen veggies
- Green beans
- Salad mix
- Tomato sauce
College Grocery List: Grains/Carbs
When it comes to grains, stick to whole grains if you can, such as whole grain pasta and bread. You can fit a lot of your snacks in this category as well, such as popcorn, oats, and cereals.
Remember to read labels before you buy, and check for important information like sugar and fat content. Otherwise, grains/carbs are so great at helping you feel full.
Grains and Carbs for College Students
- Whole wheat pasta
- White rice
- Brown rice
- Whole wheat bread
College Grocery List: Meats/Proteins
I’m actually a vegetarian, so that why I’m calling this the “meats and protein” category. I’ll be including both meat and meat-replacement options so you can get that much-needed protein intake.
If you don’t have a full kitchen, stick with pre-cooked options here. You don’t want to risk a food-born illness. For example, you can find pre-cooked chicken and fish in the frozen food section of most grocery stores.
Protein for College Students:
- Lunch meat
- Black beans
- Veggie burgers
- Peanut butter
College Grocery List: Dairy
Dairy is my favorite section on this whole list, but it’s sometimes hard to shop for. I also love dairy alternatives, so I’m including a lot of those on here as well. Make sure you have room for anything you pick in your refrigerator and check expiration dates.
Dairy Grocery Items for College Students
- Milk (or dairy-free milk)
- Shredded cheese
- Sliced cheese
- Cream cheese
- Coffee creamer
Grocery List for Students: Snacks
While you might not think snacks belong on a healthy grocery list, I think you should most certainly keep room for them in your budget.
Buying healthy snacks at the store will prevent you from searching for snacks later that might not be as healthy. I personally opt for crackers, popcorn, baked chips, and granola bars. Yum!
Snacks for College Students
- Rice cakes
- Baked chips
- Apple/banana chips
- Fig cookies
- Granola bars
- Dark chocolate
College Grocery List: Extras
Finally, let’s talk about the extras you might need that don’t fit into a single category. You might need these, you might not!
Extra Grocery Items for College Students
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil
- Sparkling water
- Cooking spray
Build Your Own Healthy College Grocery List
Now that you know everything you should include on your own healthy college grocery list, you’re ready to get shopping! Don’t let the grocery store intimidate you. As long as you keep your list focused on what you want to eat and what you can budget for, you’re good to go.
Check out an example grocery list made from the suggestions above. This is what I would shop for while in college:
What do you think of this healthy college grocery list? How do you keep your grocery list healthy? Let me know in the comments!
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