Nothing says "back to school" like having to buy your own groceries. If you're like most students, you probably went home for the summer and enjoyed four months worth of free, all-you-can-eat food and home-cooked meals. Maybe you never even set foot in a grocery store.

With summer coming to a close, the reality of having to replenish your student pantry with groceries is starting to sink in. Not only does the first “stock-up” shop take a financial toll on your hard-earned summer dollars, it’s often a nightmare trying to haul so many bags from the grocery store back to your student dwelling without a car. beer, wine
Zoe Zaiss

One of the best ways to reduce the sting of these burdens is to pull one last mooch off of Mom and Dad and raid their pantry before heading back to school.

If you live close enough to drive back, the sky (or at least the car roof) is pretty much the limit with what you can take. For those of us flying back, however, we’re restricted to what we can fit in a suitcase. In times like these, it’s paramount that we make the most of what we pack, so there are important criteria for what to take and what to leave behind. Because of this, I broke down the best way to pack your suitcase when you're going back to school.

1. Size

beer, coffee, cake, tea
Hannah Latour

Some containers are just too awkward to pack. A cubic Tupperware is going to take up a lot of valuable space in your suitcase. If possible, try transferring food to smaller containers or plastic bags. Be creative with how you pack — stuff smaller food items (i.e. granola bars) into shoes and wedge cans between clothes or along the sides of your suitcase.

2. Weight

tomato, vegetable, garlic
Hannah Latour

While it may be tempting to pack wholesale-sized quantities, keep in mind that you’re limited to 50 pounds unless you want to risk paying overweight fees. That said, if the value of the food you're taking exceeds the cost of overweight fees (or even the fees associated with checking a second bag), it might be worth it.

3. Cost

tea, beer, coffee
Hannah Latour

Don’t waste valuable space on the cheaper food items you could buy for yourself at school. Prioritize the more expensive health food items to make the most of your cost-to-space ratio. I’m talking about the nut butters, dates, dried fruit, beef jerky, nuts, spices – basically those pricey items that are similar in cost to your tuition.

4. Breakability

jam
Hannah Latour

Stay away from foods that will inevitably be destroyed or leak all over your suitcase. There’s no sense packing crackers or anything that will just get crushed, and there’s nothing worse than unzipping your suitcase only to find jam all over everything.

5. Perishability

vegetable, pasture, squash, summer squash, courgette, yellow summer squash, pumpkin
Hannah Latour

Depending on the length of your trip from door-to-door, you might be able to get away with frozen foods. After one Christmas break, I successfully took back a bunch of frozen meat with the defrosting kept to a minimum. The trick to this one is to keep food frozen up until the very last minute before putting it in your suitcase. The temperature in the luggage compartment of airplanes is usually fairly chilly, so your food shouldn’t thaw too quickly.

Stay away from frozen fruits and vegetables as these defrost pretty quickly. Meat or things that tend to freeze in large, solid blocks are probably your best bet. Depending on your space availability, it's also possible to take produce back – just be careful about how you pack it.

bread
Hannah Latour

To make the most of the abundance of free food from home, you have to combine the potential cost-savings with the amount of space you have in your suitcase. Leave the canned tomatoes at home, and go for the almonds. If you can optimize that cost-to-space ratio, your stomach and your bank account will thank you.