When I started college, I didn't realize that my cooking and grocery shopping knowledge was more advanced than others until I noticed my roommates' reliance on the microwave. Fast forward a few years to my current roommate who's ending her freshman year in college. We're taking baby steps to wean her off her meal plan and prepare her for the year to come in her first apartment. I've been teaching her that by paying attention to the prices of similar foods, the nutritional benefits of your go-to ingredients, and the shelf life of the items you're buying, you'll be able to create a college grocery list that fits your budget and can be used for a variety of recipes. Below is a sample college grocery list that can be tweaked to fit your needs for the upcoming week.

Pantry Staples

penne alla vodka, pasta, homemade, dorm, Easy
Tess Citron

You're going to want to keep it simple for the first few trips. You won't know how often you'll have time to cook or have a grasp on how quickly you'll go through your food without some trial and error as you observe how your schedule works for you. When you hit up the grocery store, consider picking up these pantry basics. 


From bow tie to penne, pasta is a quick base for a well-balanced meal. I often find boxes on BOGO sale, and have a stock of them to fix on any given night. 

Jars of Sauce

I love picking up jars of sauce simply because they can quickly jazz up any pasta or chicken dish without the intensive prep required for a homemade red or white sauce. 

Parmesan Cheese

Along with seasonings and jars of sauce, a shake of Parmesan is an added touch to give your meals a homey flair.

Olive or Vegetable Oil

You're going to need a cooking oil for most of your kitchen endeavors, whether you prefer olive, vegetable, or coconut oil. Look for the best deal on dollars per ounce, because the final product will taste about the same.


bread, sandwich, tomato, cheese, meat, toast, vegetable
Jocelyn Hsu

While meat might not be an option in your diet, these are what I usually buy. Go for tofu or veggie patties if you prefer vegetarian protein sources.

Chicken Tenderloins

Chicken tenderloins (aka chicken fingers) are great because they range from $4-$6 and are the perfect size and amount to go with any dish. They're easy to season and sauté, and just as easy to cube and throw in a pasta dish. Pick your favorite seasonings, and you can make a million meals with this simple protein.

Ground Beef

Ground beef can be a little pricey, but it's great for hamburgers, chili, Hamburger Helper, tacos, and more. Ground turkey will also work, but it's not as flavorful as beef. 

Cold Cuts

Cold cuts are perfect for snacking on or making a quick sandwich on busy days. Get your cold cuts from the deli counter if possible to ensure a fresher package of meat.


Eggs are a baking necessity, an easy breakfast option, and can be prepped numerous ways. I always grab at least half a dozen at the store, because I never know what might call for a couple eggs in my Pinterest recipes. 

Frozen Veggies

vegetable, pea, frozen peas, legume, broccoli, cabbage
Katherine Baker

In my recent attempts at "adulting," I've found love in the frozen vegetable section. Veggies might not be in your favorite, but fresh vegetables can be pricey and stressful to prepare. By choosing frozen vegetables, you can balance out your meals while still saving a little money. Plus, frozen veggies have an almost infinite shelf life in your freezer, so you never have to worry about them going bad.

#SpoonTip: There are so many types of frozen veggies to enjoy, but these are just my faves.

Riced Cauliflower

Hello, healthy fried rice! Stir-fry this riced veggie with your favorite meat and veggies for a healthier, filling meal without the heaviness of a typical rice dish. 

Ready to Steam Whole Green Beans

After steaming these green beans per the package instructions, heat with olive oil and butter, some minced garlic (optional), and generously season with garlic salt. You'll never eat them another way again.

Drinks and Snacks

orange, citrus, studying, notes, taking notes, notebook, textbook, study snack, snack
Jocelyn Hsu

Try to keep snacks around the house that won't give you more cravings or tempt you to eat throughout the day when you don't really want a snack. Oh, and keep a water pitcher in the refrigerator, so you aren't wasting money on plastic water bottles every week.


Packaged watermelon, blueberries, and pineapple is a quick grab-and-go snack option that will increase your fruit intake and satisfy your sweet tooth. Apples are also good to have on hand because they don't require peeling or chopping to enjoy.

Peanut Butter

Buy natural peanut butter if it's within your budget, as it's a great way to avoid refined sugars. Pair it with some apple slices for a filling snack. 

Chips & Salsa

While this might not be the most health-conscious choice, chips and salsa are becoming more and more of a needed purchase as I get older. They're easy to set out when friends come over, and are at the very least a craving crusher to skip Chipotle and stay home to cook.


This flavorful, addicting popcorn is gluten free and comes in 10+ flavors. Munch on it plain, or make your own snack mix by throwing in some M&M's and pretzels. 

Instant Oatmeal

I love making a bowl of instant vanilla or cinnamon-flavored oatmeal to start my mornings. To cut back on refined sugars, choose plain oats and add toppings yourself. Whether it's fruits, sauces, or nuts, make every bowl of oatmeal your own in five minutes flat.

Halo Top Ice Cream

I am obsessed. I have a sweet tooth after dinner every night, and even with all the different flavors to choose from I still love good ole' vanilla bean Halo Top. 

Sun Chips

If you're trying to eat healthier but still need a salty snack, I'd suggest switching to Sun Chips. They're whole grain and lower in fat than most potato chips.

Pita Chips

Lots of chips on this list, I know. Pita chips can be used for dunking into hummus, but can also be paired with heartier lunches like chicken salad. 

Publix Buffalo Chicken Dip 

I'm so sorry if you aren't from the Southeast and don't have access to a Publix, but if you do you need to try this dip. It's a fun treat to have with or without friends, and is a necessary college comfort to indulge in every once in a while. 

Once you start using this college grocery list more often, you'll figure out your own preferences. Don't be afraid to "cheat" with ready-made proteins like rotisserie chicken and ready-to-steam bags of vegetables. Respect your free time and don't stress too much about making elaborate meals. With this simple grocery list and useful tips, I hope you feel comfortable at the grocery store during those first few trips.