Eating well doesn’t have to be spendy.  Behold some ideas and apps that can help you plan your meals and also save you money!

grocery list

The Only Dorm-Room Grocery List You’ll Ever Need

Can we please stop talking about how dorm room diets mean eating ramen on a daily basis?

Ok, so maybe it was because I grew up as a total foodie. In fact, going to supermarkets was and still is a passionate hobby of mine (who says that?). It never occurred to me that so many of my fellow students had no idea what to do when they walked into a supermarket.

I’m certainly not saying that it’s their fault. Maybe their parents always took care of the food and these students never had to fend for themselves. If you’re in this position, don’t sweat it.

Look at the list below, and you’ll see just how many different types of meals you can make from it. It doesn’t have to be complicated or difficult either. Learn how to get some nutrition first, then worry about making them into fancy meals.

Dorm Room Grocery List

Protein

Protein is super important for a good diet, as it helps you with bone and muscle growth. It’ll keep your energy levels up, which helps when you need to stay up late for any last-minute study sessions.

An easy way to get protein into your diet is eating meat, but it can get expensive, so check the supermarket for any sales or stick to cheaper meats like chicken and pork. Every once in a while, you can mix in things like seafood or beef.

If you’re a not a meat eater, eggs are always a great option. Other types of protein include soy products like tofu and tempeh, quinoa, dairy products, chia seeds, nuts, and beans.

Vegetables

No, I’m not your mom, but I am telling you that you need to eat your veggies. They’re essential to a healthy and well-balanced diet. Not only are they low in calories, but they provide wonderful nutrients and vitamins to your body to keep you strong. You’ll also save money by eating more vegetables, as they tend to be much cheaper than meat and fill you up faster because of the high fiber content.

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Another frugal tip: buy seasonal veggies or frozen ones. Frozen and in-season veggies tend to be cheaper, saving you more money. Don’t know what’s in season where you are? Check out the United States Department of Agriculture’s Seasonal Produce Guide. Another good indication is seeing fresh produce on sale at your local grocery store.

Need some suggestions? Here are some good ones with lots of flavor that you’ll be able to find pretty much anywhere:

  • Kale or spinach
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli (Buying frozen tends to be cheaper.)
  • Frozen vegetable mixes (The stir fry mix is particularly popular.)
  • Bell peppers (Green ones tend to be cheaper.)
  • Tomatoes (Canned can be great, too!)
  • Cucumbers

Fruit

A nice alternative to junk food. Believe it or not, it can be a bit cheaper per serving, as well. You can even incorporate it into meals by using it in a smoothie or a salad. Some pretty inexpensive options include grapes, apples, oranges, pineapples, and pears.

Purchasing canned fruit is another great option, but make sure they’re not the ones that are submerged in syrup.

Whole Grains

Fiber is necessary for a good diet. Plus, it’s cheap, fills you up, and can help you extend the life of your meals by adding it onto any leftovers you may have.

Fiber options include:

  • Whole wheat bread
  • Rice (brown, wild, or long-grain)
  • Cereal
  • Cous cous
  • Oatmeal

Spices

Spices are cheap and can add flavor to any dish to bring it to life. Think about your mom’s homemade spaghetti sauce or casseroles – I bet she sprinkled spices here and there.

If you’re a little hesitant, at least get some salt and pepper in your pantry. And Italian seasoning goes well with pretty much everything.

If you’re willing to branch out a little, here are some suggestions for newbie cooks:

  • Rosemary
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Paprika
  • Hot pepper flakes
  • Cilantro
  • Curry powder
  • Salad dressing
  • Vinegar or lemon juice

And while it’s technically not a spice, you should definitely get some oil in your pantry. Olive or vegetable oil is easy to find in most supermarkets. If you’re feeling adventurous, try butter or sesame oil.

Snacks

Sometimes you’re not into a full meal, and that’s totally okay. Or you happen to be running from class to class and don’t have time to eat lunch. Or maybe you forgot to buy groceries for the week.

Here are some affordable snacks (not all are healthy, though):

  • Chips
  • Peanuts
  • Protein bars
  • Trail mix
  • Chocolate
  • Cookies and crackers
  • Frozen meals (spring rolls, bagel bites, etc.)

Sample Menus

Here’s a sample menu that you could pull from the grocery suggestions above. Just for giggles, there’s a healthy option and a not-so-healthy one. Sorry – I can’t bring myself to put ramen on that list.

Healthy Version

Breakfast

Oatmeal with milk and frozen berries or scrambled eggs with cheese.

Lunch

Whole wheat quesadillas (Sandwich two tortillas with shredded cheese, veggies, and lunch meat and heat it up.)

Dinner

Grilled chicken salad with spinach or kale and homemade dressing (Vinegar and oil or lemon juice is pretty delicious!)

Unhealthy Version

Breakfast

Fruit Loops (or another type of sugary cereal) with milk and coffee

Lunch

A chocolate bar and instant mac and cheese

Dinner

Frozen bagel bites with bacon

Apps to Try

Don’t stress if you’re worried about putting meals together. Thankfully, there are apps that can help you out with recipes and cooking tips.

Recipes by Ingredients

I’m not a college student anymore, but I still use this app all the time. There are times when it looks like I literally have a bunch of random ingredients and I can’t make a decent meal out of them. This app lets me enter in all those seemingly random ingredients that I have in my fridge, and it’ll show me a list of recipes I can make with what I’ve got. It really has saved me from more trips to the grocery store.

ShopWell

Think of this app as a nutritionist in your pocket. I started using this on my last few grocery trips, and it’s helped me look at nutritional information to see if there is any ingredient I needed to avoid (super helpful if you have dietary restrictions like I do). The app also gives you healthier alternatives.

BigOven

I love planning menus for the week. If you have a lot to do, not having to think about what you’re going to eat is super helpful. The feature I like the best is called “Use Up Leftovers.” You write what ingredients (or leftovers) you have, and it’ll suggest a new recipe for you to try. Again, I’m a foodie, so any variety in my meals is fine with me.

Your Turn

Worrying about what you should eat during college shouldn’t totally stress you out. Grab the grocery list above, try some of these apps, and you’ll impress your classmates with your cooking skills in no time. Just make me a promise that you won’t add ramen in your diet, okay?

For more from author Sarah Li Cain, click here