Being a college student can be pretty challenging. While you’re trying to juggle studying, work, socializing, and everything else student life has to offer, the last thing you want to worry about is how to eat healthy in college. What’s more, it might be your first time living away from home and having to learn how to shop, cook, and manage your own finances. 

The good news is that eating healthy at college does not have to be difficult, expensive, or time-consuming! I’ve included a college grocery list along with some easy recipes for college students to help you eat healthy at college and save both time and money! 

What Is a Healthy College Diet?

To achieve a healthy college diet, you should focus on balance. This means no silly diets, detoxes, or restrictions. Instead, aim to include a variety of foods from all different food groups with lots of plant foods.

When it comes to macronutrients, carbohydrates, such as rice, bread, and potatoes, are essential for supplying our brain with energy, nourishing our gut bacteria, and fueling our workouts. Carbohydrates are the only fuel source our brain can use, making them essential for your college grocery list.

Proteins such as chickpeas, tofu, and tuna are important for building and repairing muscle tissue and also play a role in keeping our hair, nails, and skin healthy. 

Finally, healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, and seeds provide us with our main source of energy and essential fatty acids that build cell membranes in our skin, heart, and brain. 

By including foods from all three groups, you can ensure your body is appropriately fueled to tackle another busy college day! 

Don’t forget foods you enjoy can be important too! It’s okay to enjoy a few pieces of chocolate after a long day. Eating a healthy balanced diet means enjoying a bit of everything in moderation, so there’s no need to cut out your favorite “less healthy” foods completely! 

Healthy College Grocery List  

Below is a healthy college grocery list that you can use for your next shopping trip. This college grocery list is filled with a variety of healthy foods to give your diet balance and cover your macro and micronutrient needs. Plus, the foods are fairly cheap and accessible for college students.

Healthy College Grocery List:

College Grocery List

  • Oats – plain rolled
  • Canned legumes – chickpeas, lentils, beans 
  • Brown rice 
  • Frozen vegetables 
  • Canned fish e.g. tuna, salmon 
  • Milk of choice
  • Potatoes and pumpkin 
  • Eggs 
  • Flour
  • Wholemeal pasta 
  • In-season fruit and vegetables 
  • Whole grain bread 
  • Canned tomatoes 
  • Herbs & spices 
  • Cooking oil, e.g. olive oil 
  • Some healthy snacks, e.g. popcorn, nuts, yogurt
  • Instant coffee
  • Foods you like

If you want to write your own healthy college grocery list taking into account your personal likes and dislikes, any allergies or intolerances, and so on, you can use the following tips to help create your own college grocery list. Use this as your go-to guide for how to eat healthy in college.

How to Eat Healthy in College

1. Write your list before you shop and stick to it

Before you go shopping, write down what you’re going to have for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. If you need some recipes, check out the easy recipes for college students below. Then write a list of everything you’ll need for those meals. This will reduce the chance of you buying unnecessary items which will only go to waste. It will also prevent you from making multiple trips during the week, as you are less likely to forget items that are on the list. 

2. Buy in-season fruit and vegetables

Did you know that buying in-season produce is not only cheaper but also has better nutritional value? Fruits and vegetables that are in-season contain more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making them better for you. And since the produce is abundant, it’s available at a lower price.  

3. Take advantage of frozen vegetables

Contrary to what you might have heard, fresh is not always best. Frozen vegetables are snap frozen, meaning they retain almost all of their nutritional value. This means they are very healthy but come at a much cheaper price than fresh ones. Another advantage of frozen produce is that it can be stored in your freezer for months, while fresh produce will typically goes bad within a week. 

4. Buy more plant-based proteins

Plant-based proteins, such as chickpeas, lentils, and beans, are an awesome way to meet your daily protein target and are significantly cheaper than meat. For example, beef steaks cost around $4/lb., while canned chickpeas are approximately $1/lb. Evidence also suggests replacing some of our meat intake with plants can have a variety of positive health effects, including lowering our risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke later in life. And remember, eating plant protein doesn’t mean missing out on your favorite meals. Try using these easy recipes for college students below for some yummy plant protein loaded meals.

5. Shop in bulk food stores

Dried goods, such as rice, pasta, flour, nuts, and seeds, can be purchased in bulk from your local bulk food store. These often come at a cheaper price than in the supermarket, and you can take along your own jars and containers for a more sustainable option. 

6. Buy generic/supermarket-owned brands

They may not be the fanciest, but the supermarket-owned brands are often the cheapest, and the nutritional quality of the food is usually similar to the upmarket brands. I also find they taste just as good too!  

7. Make your coffee at home

Coffee can be an essential part of a college student’s diet, which is great! Caffeine is a type of stimulant that works by blocking adenosine receptors in your brain. This prevents you from feeling sleepy and instead increases your alertness. You can consume moderate amounts of caffeine as part of a healthy diet, but if you’re buying coffee at a shop every day, it could be costing you up to $25 a week! Instead, try making your own coffee at home and take it to college in a thermos.  

Easy Recipes for College Students 

Here are 6 easy recipes for college students that are cheap and healthy. Some of these recipes can be made in bulk, which is great if you live with housemates or want to cook for a few days in a row. Meal prepping and cooking in bulk will not only save you money but also time and stress, especially when you’ve gotten home late after a long day at college and cooking is the last thing you want to do. If you want to learn more about meal prep, read one of my previous articles, Affordable Cooking 101: How To Meal Prep On A Budget (With Recipes).

Peanut Butter Banana Overnight Oats

Peanut Butter Overnight Oats

Ingredients:

  • 1 ripe banana
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 cup plain rolled oats
  • ¾ cup milk of choice
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of cinnamon

Method:

  1. Mash banana in a large bowl.
  2. Add peanut butter, milk, yogurt, and honey and mix until well combined.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and mix until smooth.
  4. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight. Enjoy.  

Mega Muesli Smoothie

green and white drink with straw in clear drinking glass

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups milk of choice
  • ½ cup muesli 
  • 1 banana, pre-frozen
  • ½ cup frozen cauliflower or broccoli 
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

Method:

  1. Place all ingredients into a blender and blitz until smooth and creamy. Enjoy.

Check out more healthy college breakfast recipes here

Easy Chickpea Salad Sandwich

yellow corn on glass bowl

Ingredients:

  • ½ can chickpeas
  • Small handful mixed salad leaves
  • 2 slices of your favorite whole grain bread 
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard 
  • 1 tbsp fresh spring onion 
  • 1 tbsp fresh dill 
  • ¼ red onion – diced 
  • 1 tsp hulled tahini 
  • ½ tsp curry powder 
  • ½ medium carrot – grated 
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar 

Method:

  1. Mash chickpeas in a small bowl. Add spring onion, red onion, and carrot. 
  2. In a separate bowl, mix together tahini, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, dill, and curry powder. Add to chickpea mash. 
  3. Build your sandwich – add salad leaves and chickpea smash between two slices of your favorite wholegrain bread.

Also try these Budget-Friendly Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Bean Bowls here.

Potato & Veggie Omelet 

pile of vegetables

Ingredients:

  • 2 large potatoes, peeled
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 1 carrot, grated 
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 eggs
  • 50 ml (approx. 1/4 cup) milk of choice
  • 1 medium brown onion, finely diced
  • 1 tsp dried parsley 

Method:

  1. Slice potato, zucchini, and carrot into ½ cm thin slices and coat with 2 tbsp olive oil. Place onto a fry pan on medium heat and cook through.
  2. In a large bowl, place five eggs (whites and yolk) and remaining olive oil and whisk. Add milk, onion, carrot, and parsley. Pour over cooked vegetables in the pan. Reduce heat to low and cover with lid to cook evenly for approx. 20 min or until liquid is absorbed. 
  3. Slice into quarters and enjoy.  

Easy Pasta Salad

white and red ceramic bowl

Ingredients:

  • 50g whole-meal penne pasta 
  • 100g or 3.5 oz. canned chickpeas 
  • ½ medium cucumber, diced 
  • 1 medium tomato, diced 
  • 2 tbsp fresh dill 
  • ¼ red onion 
  • ¼ fresh lemon, juiced 
  • 1 tsp olive oil 
  • 2 tbsp fetta, crumbled 

Method:

  1. Cook pasta according to packet instructions until al dente. Set aside to cool. 
  2. Add cucumber, tomato, olives, red onion, chickpeas, dill, and fetta. 
  3. Drizzle with lemon and olive oil – serve and enjoy!

Batch Veggie-Filled Fritters 

brown bread on black ceramic plate

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans chickpeas, drained and mashed
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed 
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 zucchinis, grated 
  • 2 carrots, grated 
  • 1 sweet potato, grated 
  • 1 can corn kernels 
  • 8 tsp whole-meal flour 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil 

Method: 

  1. Add onion, zucchini, carrot, sweet potato, corn, chickpeas, garlic, and whole-meal flour to a large bowl and stir to combine. 
  2. Shape into approximately 20 fritters. Heat oil on pan and fry fritters until golden and crisp. Serve on a bed of salad, eat on their own, or add it to your favorite burger! TIP: fritters can be refrigerated/frozen, so you can cook them fresh when it is most convenient for you!

Summary

If you’re wondering how to eat healthy in college, know that it can be easy and affordable. Using a college grocery list along with some easy recipes for college students will help you eat healthy at college while saving time and money. Ensure you include a mix of different food groups for good nutrition and take advantage of foods like oats, canned beans, and frozen veggies to save money.