We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.
Even if you have a meal plan, you must stock your dorm room with some staples to ensure you have healthy, nourishing food long after the cafe closes. However, college life doesn’t come complete with gourmet kitchens — or even a stove in most cases. Plus, you’re typically short on cash.
That doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to pizza and ramen for the next four to five years. Consider this guide your ultimate college meal prep grocery list. Here’s what to include.
Here’s a helpful hint that will help you long beyond your college years: stock up on simple, long-lasting shelf staples for snacking, salad toppings and adding a burst of flavor to meals. Your goal is to find whole foods close to their natural form, reducing unnecessary processing, additives and preservatives.
Looking for goods that last nearly forever helps you stretch your food budget — you only have to afford fresh fruits, veggies, meat and dairy options. Here’s what to include in your basket when you create that care package with your folks back home:
- Dried Fruit: Dried fruit is one of the best ways to add extra phytonutrients to your diet without breaking the bank, although it is high in sugar. Look for a rainbow of colors and add to salads or trail mix.
- Nuts: Nuts are lean vegan proteins laden with healthy oils and minerals like selenium and zinc for brainpower.
- Nut Butter: This stuff can make a simple cracker meal seem heartier. It also makes a tasty sandwich filling.
- Jerky: If you don’t eat meat, you can find vegan versions at specialty natural food stores. Otherwise, this lean protein is a favorite of athletes.
- Seeds: These also contain helpful minerals like magnesium for mental acuity and an upbeat mood.
- Pasta: However, stay away from the white, all-purpose stuff. It’s only a few cents more for lentils or whole grain, and it’s oodles better for you.
- Tuna: Here’s another inexpensive protein if you’re a pescatarian or meat-eater.
- Canned Vegetables: While not as nourishing as their frozen or fresh kin, they come in handy for adding a burst of phytonutrients and antioxidants to otherwise plain ramen meals.
The secret to making mama’s home cooking so good likely lies in her spice cabinet. Here are a few basics everyone should have on hand but feel free to add creative additions to your college meal prep grocery list as your cooking acumen improves:
- Salt and alternatives: You can find full potassium and half-and-half potassium-sodium blends. These help manage your blood pressure if you like things salty.
- Italian Seasoning
- Lemon Pepper
- Chili Pepper: You can find hot or mild, and an extra set of red pepper flakes helps elevate nearly any pizza night.
- Garlic: The fresh stuff lasts for months, although it does lose potency over time. Choosing bulbs over powder is worth it as crushing your garlic releases allicin, a beneficial phytonutrient that boosts immunity and may fight cancer.
Even the juiciest plain burger tastes hundreds of times better with the right condiments. They elevate recipes, helping you add the secret sauce that provides the right kick. Add the following to your college meal prep grocery list:
- Olive Oil: You probably won’t be frying much in your dorm room, so the smoke point isn’t an issue. This stuff is heart-healthy, can stand some heat and adds richness to nearly any dish.
- Balsamic Vinegar: This stuff is mild, making it appropriate for salad dressings to a reduction for drizzling over prepared meats.
- Tamari Sauce: Tamari sauce can do anything soy sauce can do. However, it’s higher in protein, and you can find low-sodium versions to protect your heart health.
- Salsa: Go as hot or as mild as you like. Salsa isn’t just a chip dip. It’s an ideal healthy addition to baked potatoes and steamed veggies like broccoli, adding flavor without all the fat and calories of butter or sour cream.
The price of meat alone could make you consider a vegetarian lifestyle. Fortunately, you can let your college-years poverty green your carbon footprint, as production accounts for nearly 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The meats that cost the least also tread lightly on the planet. Stock up on the following:
- Canned tuna: The chunk light stuff is better than albacore if mercury concerns you. It comes from a smaller fish with lower concentrations.
- Canned chicken: Sometimes, you need a break from the ocean, and a can of this stuff costs roughly the same as tuna.
- Beans: Beans are the ultimate source of vegan protein. They’re also filling, but learn how to soak them to avoid tummy aches.
- Chickpeas: Chickpeas are great for snacking. You can find them in various flavor coatings. Alternatively, mash them into hummus with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil for a hearty chip dip that gets you filling protein.
The Fresh Stuff
There’s sadly no substitute for fresh, organic produce on your college meal prep grocery list. It can also cost a small fortune — which isn’t kind to your college-student budget.
Here’s a hack to help you pay less: visit your local farmers market. You’ll green your carbon footprint, as vendors don’t ship their goods over long distances. You’ll also save a bit by buying local, as prices generally undercut grocery stores’ prices.
Do you want another hack? Go at the end of the day if you live in a location where the markets are only open on weekends. Many vendors would rather sell goods at a discount than take them home to rot before next week.
College Meal Prep Grocery List
Eating well in college is a challenge. Meal plans help, but the cafe isn’t open 24/7.
Add the items above to your college meal prep grocery list. You’ll report back to school with a well-stocked dorm full of healthy snacks to protect your brainpower.