A Guide to Healthy Grocery Shopping for Students

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Updated Jan. 2015

One of the most overwhelming chores a college student has to face is grocery shopping. Because most college students move right out after they graduate high school and look for an apartment or dormitory near their college, there is a real need to be self-sufficient. Grocery shopping might sound simple, but it is actually a very tiring thing to do. One needs to plan what they will have for meals the whole week, make a list of what to buy and try to stick within the budget. There are even other things to consider such as what food to keep around during emergencies, snacks and late night cravings, times to prepare a meal cooked from scratch, shelf life of groceries and so much more.

fruitsCollege students should consider healthier and better tasting grocery choices to maintain energy throughout their busy days. At-home meals are not only economical, they also fit into their hectic lives as students. Below are suggestions for how to plan meals inexpensively but healthily.


A usual college student is more worried about getting to class than eating breakfast first thing in the morning. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It keeps us from feeling tired during the mornings and gives us a lot of energy to start out day. An ideal breakfast should be around 300 calories. Depending on what you enjoy eating and are willing to prepare, breakfasts may consist of a variety of foods. Consider cereal with fruit, oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg, yogurt, bacon or sausages with eggs, peanut butter toast and more for quick and cheap at-home options. Remember that fruits like pears, apples, bananas and grapefruits are packed with vitamins and minerals, however it is also important to include proteins and healthy fats in the morning. However, if you are typically running behind in the morning or would prefer to grab something on the go, there are many fast food options that are on the healthier side that you can choose from. Check out WebMD’s “Breakfast Ideas for a Buck” here. A week’s worth of healthy breakfast options can cost as little as $10-15.


Easy and inexpensive lunch options include packing a sandwich, making extra food at dinner to save for leftovers, and salads packed into on-the-go containers in advance. Fruits such as apples, bananas, and oranges are perfect for packing into backpacks for healthy lunch additions. Small packages of pretzels, 100-calorie packs of treats, and yogurt also make for great supplements to student lunches. Don’t forget that water bottle to stay hydrated. Also, remember that many college campuses offer free food including pizza, snacks and coupons for nearby restaurants given in exchange for attending an event or information session. While these may not be the healthiest meal options, when done in moderation can be an excellent free or cheap alternative especially for students trying to save money on their grocery bill, in addition to helping students become more involved on their campus. Lunches can easily cost $15-20 per week if thought out in advance.


Many college students opt for dinners out with their friends to socialize and have fun after a long day’s work. For the student on a budget, allotting a specified amount of money to spend on meals out per week may be a good way to stay out of trouble. When you do stay in to eat, dinner is just another thing on your to-do list next to homework and cleaning your room. One-pot dinners are one of the best things to make. Soups and pasta are the fastest meals to prepare, and often very inexpensive. Adding in vegetables such as a salad or throwing broccoli into the pot of pasta are a cheap and healthy ways to bulk up your dinner. Chicken breasts, lean ground beef and fish are great ways to add lean proteins to your meals. If you find yourself wasting these perishable items, canned tuna and salmon, as well as frozen chicken and can be bought well in advance and stored. For the more culinary-inclined student, preparing meals in advance for reheating on a day where you have more free time is a great option to eat fancier meals all week long. In addition, many healthy frozen meals are available such as Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, and Kashi meals, which are often on sale. Like lunch, $15 to $20 may be enough for a week’s worth of dinners.


Keeping junk food at a minimum will not only keep you feeling better, but will ward off that sneaky Freshman 15. One Snickers bar is 250 calories with a whopping 12 g of fat. A one-ounce serving of potato chips (15 chips) is 150 calories and 10 g of fat. Healthier options  include peanut butter, strawberries, apples, nuts and granola bars. Dark chocolate is also a good option when craving a sweet snack, just keep your portions in moderation. For salty snacks, wheat crackers, pita chips with hummus spread, and nuts are a nice treat. These snacks focus more on healthy fats, lean protein and fiber versus the sugar and saturated fat found in junk food. In all, snacks may cost you $5 to $10 per week depending on what you buy and where you buy it.

More or less, a weekly budget for meals at home can be around $60. While this might sound a lot, it is just a small amount compared to how much going out to eat all the time would cost. Not to mention, much healthier. While going out to eat or opting for free meals on campus are fun and tasty, a good way to save money and be healthier is to purchase your own groceries.

By: Nancy Claire – Degree Jungle writer, teacher, and researcher.

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