Adulting 101: How to Meal Prep in College

When you're busy with classes and socializing, it can be hard to prioritize yourself. Learning how to meal prep in college can save you time and money.
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  • Meal prepping can take time, but that doesn't mean it has to be hard.
  • College meal prep is doable without breaking the bank.
  • By meal prepping, you can still enjoy inexpensive and delicious meals.

College students can get incredibly busy with classes, homework, part-time jobs, and socializing, making it hard to put yourself — and your nutritional needs — first. This is why it's a good idea to get into the habit of meal prepping while in college.

Meal prepping can help you take care of yourself by getting you ready for the next day. By prepping meals ahead of time, you never need to worry about what you're going to eat. It also helps you spend less money on food and going out to eat. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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What Is Meal Prep and Why Is It Beneficial?

Meal prepping involves planning out the meals you'll eat throughout a designated period of time, usually a week or so. Once you plan your meals out, you can create a shopping list and budget to get the ingredients you need at the store. This way, you aren't sitting in your dorm at 5:30 P.M. wondering, "What should I have for dinner tonight?"

College meal prep can also save you time. When you plan your meals in advance, the choice is already made for you — you don't have to make another decision or stare at the fridge until you get frostbite.

You can prepare meals for all three meals a day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) or just one, such as dinner. Make sure you schedule time to eat and make healthy choices.

By taking care of yourself and nourishing your body, you can set yourself up for success.

What Are the Drawbacks of Meal Prep?

While meal prepping in college can be useful, it has a few drawbacks as well:

  • You may not eat everything you bought, leading food to spoil. Get into the habit of saving any uneaten food by freezing it before it goes bad.
  • Your meal prep plan may be too rigid, leaving you with no room for flexibility. For example, you may feel pressure to forgo eating out with friends and family. Starting small with college meal prep is essential. For instance, instead of planning meals for seven nights, you might want to plan for three or four nights so you can have leftovers or eat out with friends.
  • Meal prep can take some getting used to. Many people try meal prep for a week and then stop. Begin slowly and allow yourself time to adjust. Try meal prepping for a month straight to see what works and what doesn't work for you. It's also best to start with prepping just one meal a day, such as lunch or dinner.

How to Start Meal Prepping in College: What to Know

Before you start preparing meals, it's important to know what tools and items you have available to you. For instance, do you have a stove or an oven? A microwave? A fridge (ideally with a freezer)?

Know how much space you have to work with as well. Is it possible to keep dry, nonperishable foods in a shared cupboard or in a dry storage container under your bed? What supplies do you have to cook with (e.g., pots, pans, etc.)? Is there a communal kitchen in your building you can use?

Answering these questions allows you to plan your meals around these limitations. If you only have a mini fridge in your dorm, for example, you probably shouldn't buy a whole gallon of milk. Or, if you only have a microwave and no oven, better to avoid recipes that require baking.

How to Meal Prep: 5 Essential Tips for Students

Did you know it's not always necessary to cook new meals every time you meal prep? Instead, you can cook a new meal using leftovers. The following tips will assist you in your college meal prep.

1. Organize Your Groceries

After you've done your grocery shopping or had your groceries delivered, organize your groceries and put them in the refrigerator. Keep canned goods and nonrefrigerated foods like bread and rice in a pantry or other dry container in your room or kitchen.

2. Plan Ahead

It's important to prepare your food as much as you can ahead of time. For example, wash and cut any produce, then stow it like that in your fridge. You can also divide large bags of items into smaller, snackable portions.

3. Use Clear Containers or Baggies

Chop and peel foods, then store them in clear containers so you can see what you have and how much. If you don't have any containers, you can use plastic freezer-safe baggies and label them with a permanent marker.

It's a good idea to write the date you bought the food so you can keep track of when it expires.

4. Use the Same Meat in Different Recipes

Meat can be used in a variety of dishes. Often, it's better to plan a week's worth of meals with a single type of meat in mind, such as chicken, rather than a combination of two or more meats, like beef and fish. Using too many different kinds of meat can get costly.

For example, if you wanted to eat chicken all week, you could make chicken noodle soup one night, chicken fajitas the next, and chicken stir fry the third.

5. Always Have Staple Foods on Hand

Don't neglect to stock up on staples, such as rice, bread, soup, cereal, fruit, peanut butter, granola bars, eggs, cheese, and milk. Ideally, you'll also have access to plenty of spices, including salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, paprika, and garlic powder.

College Meal Prep: Suggestions and Sample Recipes

Dinner doesn't have to be ramen noodles or instant mac and cheese. Let's spice it up with some healthy meal prep ideas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Breakfast Lunch / Dinner Snacks
  • Oatmeal
  • Granola or breakfast bar
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Overnight oats
  • Fruit and veggie smoothie
  • Yogurt with granola and fruit
  • Mini quiches
  • Breakfast sandwich
  • Salad
  • Hearty vegetable soup
  • Quesadilla
  • Chicken fajita
  • Chili with cornbread
  • Spaghetti and meatballs
  • Stir-fry meat and veggies with rice
  • Ham and cheese sandwich
  • Celery sticks or apple slices with peanut butter
  • Carrots with ranch dressing
  • Cheese and crackers
  • Pretzels
  • Fruit (apples, pears, bananas, etc.)
  • Nuts
  • Pita chips and hummus

Meal prep, especially in college, doesn't have to be difficult or time-consuming. Preparing meals in advance can ultimately save you time and money, and is an essential skill for many working adults. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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