college food staples

Picture this: You’re in your dorm room, it’s late at night, and your stomach is rumbling. You need a snack, but you don’t want to break the bank or compromise your taste buds. You think to yourself, “What can I make that’s affordable, tasty, and requires minimal culinary skills?” Don’t worry; you’re not alone in this dilemma. College students around the world face the same challenge daily.

You’ve probably struggled finding the right things to fill your fridge, fill you up, and keep your wallet filled with cash. It’s taken me three years to perfect the following list: The Eleven College Food Staples You Need to Keep Stocked.

Keep in mind that the list below is not necessarily focused on healthy options, but considering the limited time and even more limited budget of most college students, it’s a practical guide to affordable and satisfying choices. Read on and learn how to keep your tummy – and your wallet – happy!

1. Microwaveable Dinners: The Ultimate Convenience Food

Yes, a microwaveable meal. An 88-cent microwaveable meal. An 88-cent, relatively healthy, microwaveable meal! These things are delicious. I could eat them every day if I had to. My personal favorties are the salisbury steak and cheese-smothered patty meals. However, Banquet provides a variety of meals, including family-sized entrees, desserts, breakfasts, and lunch or dinner meals.

Plus, they’re relatively nutritious. You can click here to find out the nutrition information and here for more information, including coupons.

Elevate your microwaveable meal experience

Don’t settle for a dull microwaveable dinner. Enhance your meal with these simple suggestions:

  • Add a side of steamed veggies for a nutritional boost.
  • Top your meal with grated cheese or a dollop of sour cream for extra flavor and creaminess.
  • Serve over a bed of rice, quinoa, or couscous for added texture and heartiness.
  • Combine two different microwaveable meals to create your unique fusion dish.

2. Ramen: The Classic College Staple

Does anybody not have Ramen in their dorm? My school hands them out for free during Welcome Week. Ramen comes in a variety of flavors, from plain ol’ chicken to spicy lime shrimp. Pick your favourite, heat it up right in the cup (it tells you not to, but it’s safe – trust me), and enjoy!

Like Easy Mac, there are about a million and a half things you can do to Ramen to make it even more delicious.

Step up your Ramen game

Don’t settle for the basic Ramen noodle packet with its little flavoring sachet. Elevate your noodle game by adding a few simple ingredients:

  • Throw in some frozen veggies to boost the nutritional value.
  • Add a soft-boiled egg for a protein punch.
  • Drizzle some sriracha for a spicy kick.
  • Top it off with chopped green onions for a burst of freshness.

With these simple additions, you’ll transform your humble Ramen noodles into a gourmet meal. Your taste buds will thank you!

3. Oatmeal: A Hearty and Nutritious Breakfast

Starting your day with a bowl of oatmeal is an excellent choice for busy college students. It’s quick to make, filling, and packed with fiber and essential nutrients. Plus, it’s incredibly versatile – you can dress it up in countless ways.

Make your oatmeal Instagram-worthy

These easy and delicious toppings will turn your bowl of oats into a breakfast masterpiece:

  • Fresh fruit like berries, bananas, or peaches.
  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, walnuts, or chia seeds.
  • A spoonful of your favorite nut butter for added
  • creaminess and flavor.
  • A drizzle of maple syrup or honey for a touch of natural sweetness.

4. Frozen Pizza: A College Student’s Best Friend

Frozen pizza is a college food staple that’s perfect for those lazy nights when you don’t feel like cooking. It’s affordable, easy to prepare, and can be spruced up with a few simple additions.

Transform your frozen pizza into a gourmet delight

Upgrade your frozen pizza game with these creative ideas:

  • Add your favorite toppings like olives, mushrooms, or peppers before baking.
  • Sprinkle some extra cheese like feta, goat cheese, or blue cheese for added flavor.
  • Finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze or a sprinkle of red pepper flakes for a little zing.
  • Add fresh arugula or spinach after baking for a burst of green and added nutrition.

5. Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches: A Timeless Combo

PB&J sandwiches are a classic comfort food and an essential college food staple. They’re quick to make, affordable, and pack a powerful punch of protein, healthy fats, and natural sugars to keep you fueled for hours.

Mix it up with these tasty twists

Don’t get stuck in a PB&J rut. Switch things up with these easy variations:

  • Use almond or cashew butter for a different flavor profile.
  • Swap out jelly for fresh fruit slices like banana or apple.
  • Try different bread types like whole wheat, sourdough, or even bagels.
  • Add a sprinkle of cinnamon or a drizzle of honey for a sweet touch.

6. Microwave Popcorn: The Ultimate Study Snack

When it comes to college food staples, microwave popcorn is a must-have. It’s the perfect snack for late-night study sessions or movie nights with friends. Plus, it’s cheap and takes only minutes to prepare.

Customize your popcorn experience

Tired of plain buttered popcorn? Try these tasty toppings to level up your snack game:

  • Nutritional yeast for a cheesy, vegan-friendly twist.
  • A drizzle of melted dark chocolate for a sweet and salty treat.
  • A sprinkle of garlic powder and parmesan cheese for an Italian-inspired flavor.
  • A dash of chili powder and lime juice for a zesty, spicy kick.

7. Grilled Cheese Sandwiches: The Ultimate Comfort Food

A grilled cheese sandwich is a college food staple for a reason. It’s easy to make, delicious, and customizable. All you need is bread, cheese, and a little butter or oil to make this gooey, satisfying treat.

Take your grilled cheese to the next level

Why settle for a basic grilled cheese when you can create a culinary masterpiece? Try these tasty ideas:

  • Add tomato slices, fresh basil, and mozzarella for a Caprese-inspired twist.
  • Use different cheese varieties like Gouda, Brie, or Pepper Jack for a unique flavor.
  • Layer in avocado, bacon, or ham for added texture and taste.
  • Spread a thin layer of pesto or mustard on the bread before grilling for an extra burst of flavor.

8. Instant Coffee: The Fuel for Late-Night Study Sessions

No list of college food staples would be complete without mentioning instant coffee. It’s the fuel that keeps students going during those late-night cram sessions. It may not be the best-tasting coffee, but it’s quick, cheap, and gets the job done.

Improve your instant coffee experience

Take your instant coffee from mediocre to marvelous with these tips:

  • Add a splash of milk or a dollop of whipped cream for a creamier texture.
  • Mix in a spoonful of cocoa powder for a mocha-inspired twist.
  • Sprinkle cinnamon or nutmeg on top for added warmth and depth of flavor.
  • Use flavored coffee creamers or syrups to enhance the taste.

9. Easy Mac and Cheese: The Quintessential Comfort Food

Mac and cheese is another beloved college food staple that can be easily prepared using store-bought mixes or microwaveable cups. It’s creamy, cheesy, and oh-so-satisfying after a long day of classes.

Upgrade your mac and cheese game

Take your mac and cheese to new heights with these simple and tasty add-ins:

  • Mix in cooked veggies like broccoli, peas, or diced tomatoes for added nutrition.
  • Stir in some cooked bacon, ham, or grilled chicken for a protein boost.
  • Add a dash of hot sauce or a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes for a spicy kick.
  • Experiment with different cheeses like smoked gouda or sharp cheddar for a unique twist.

10. Canned Soups: A Warm and Comforting Classic

Canned soups are a versatile and comforting college food staple. They’re easy to prepare – simply heat and eat – and come in a wide variety of flavors to suit any craving. Plus, they can be easily customized to make a more satisfying meal.

Transform your canned soup experience

Turn your canned soup into a culinary delight with these creative ideas:

  • Add cooked pasta, rice, or quinoa for a more filling meal.
  • Stir in chopped veggies, leftover meat, or beans for added flavor and nutrition.
  • Top with a dollop of sour cream, Greek yogurt, or croutons for added texture and creaminess.
  • Sprinkle some fresh herbs like parsley or basil for a burst of color and flavor.

11. Rice-a-Roni: The San Francisco Treat

Rice-a-Roni is a flavorful and easy-to-make side dish that’s perfect for college students. With a variety of flavors available, it can be enjoyed on its own or used as a base for a more elaborate meal.

Personalize your Rice-a-Roni experience

Enhance your Rice-a-Roni with these delicious and simple ideas:

  • Stir in cooked veggies like bell peppers, peas, or mushrooms for added nutrition.
  • Add cooked protein like chicken, shrimp, or tofu for a well-rounded meal.
  • Mix in a can of drained, diced tomatoes for a zesty and colorful twist.
  • Sprinkle some chopped fresh herbs or green onions on top for a pop of freshness.

And there you have it! Eleven college food staples that are easy to make, affordable, and delicious. With these items in your culinary arsenal, you’ll be able to whip up satisfying meals and snacks that won’t break the bank. So go ahead, unleash your inner chef, and impress your friends with your newfound cooking skills!

One Last Piece of Advice: Be a Savvy Shopper

Before you head out to stock up on these college food staples, don’t forget to do a little homework. Check online and browse through your local flyers for coupons and deals. You can save a bundle not only by opting for generic brands but also by using coupons – it just requires a bit of time and effort!

Over to You!

What are your go-to easy meal staples? Are you a fan of more elaborate recipes? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences. Leave us a comment and let us know! Remember, sharing is caring, and your ideas could inspire someone else to create their next delicious meal. So go on, spill the beans (pun intended), and let’s keep the conversation going!



  1. avatar Caiti says:

    Tuna, oatmeal, greek yogurt, and eggs! Protein and long lasting :)

  2. avatar ChelC says:

    While not necessarily nutritionally sound, sometimes my wallet can only afford this. I’m working two jobs and am enrolled full time. Nevermind that I don’t have the time to COOK healthy, sound meals; but when I literally have $5.00 to my name for the next week, chances are I’ll be getting ramen as opposed to fruits and veggies that go bad in the same amount of time.

  3. avatar Charlotte says:

    As a 26 year old, I feel qualified to tell you girls this: if you think that the above list is “healthy”, WELCOME TO YOUR FRESHMAN TWENTY.

    @Kate “Not so convenient in the end.”

    Well, neither is a heart-attack, sweetie.

  4. avatar Kate says:

    “Staple” doesn’t mean healthy. It just means things that many people seem to have. As a college student, convenience is really important, and I usually have one or two of the things on this list.

    Also, keep in mind, not all schools have kitchens are convenient for students to use. And if you have things like eggs, you’ll need all the other equipment (and ingredients) to cook. Not so convenient in the end.

  5. avatar Becca says:

    These “staples” are disgusting. They’re not environmentally friendly or heart healthy. When I read the headline, I imagined there would be items like black beans, lentils, frozen fruit, fresh bananas, organic peanut butter, eggs, carrots etc. These are all examples of extremely cheap (a.k.a. even cheaper than a banquet “meal”) and are the tickets to sustainable health and a wholesome diet. I’m a 22 year old college female and this idea of food is really disappointing.

  6. avatar Natalie says:

    Why does being in college mean that you have to eat unhealthy?
    These boxed, premade instant foods are covered with preservatives, unhealthy levels of fat, carbs and sodium (there is a reason besides beer that people gain those freshmen 15). These items should be emergency backups, not staples. Although these are simple, cheap meals, there are other time saving and much healthier options out there.

  7. avatar Tara says:

    I love anything microwavable, but sadly, my residence does not allow microwaves anywhere but in the dining hall or lounges…and all the lounges are in the basement, and I’m on the top floor.


  8. avatar Tiffany says:

    What about Ramen??? Ramen became more coveted than Pop Tarts when I was living in the dorms!!!

  9. avatar Irina says:

    banquet sounds amazing! too bad my freezer is uber tiny to keep anything in there :(

  10. avatar Sari says:

    True story: I cannot make Easy Mac properly. Although I do agree with you that mac and cheese is easy to make gourmet with the inclusion of a few select ingredients.

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