Cheap & Healthy Grocery List for College Athletes

grocery store aisle

You’ve probably seen an increase in your weekly grocery bill as inflation has hit our food supply. The rise in food costs is hitting people on a tight budget, like college students, especially hard. There are many ways to save money on essential items like food: grocery shopping instead of eating at restaurants, choosing store-brand instead of name-brand foods, planning out meals and snacks to reduce food waste, and buying on-sale and in-season. Read on for tips, and then scroll down for a specific cheap and healthy grocery list template.

Consider Meal Planning

Meal planning helps guide grocery shopping and saves you money since you won’t waste as much food and won’t need to eat out as often. It allows you to plan for the days when you don’t feel like preparing anything and need something easy or the mornings when you are running late to class and need something quick.

We know you are busy with school, practice, and trying to enjoy college, and planning for eating is the last thing on your mind. Don’t take extra time to think about food; better utilize your time. You don’t have to do full-on meal prep (although that can be very helpful). Instead, have a few easy meals you like and will make and eat. Then use these to plan for the days when you don’t feel like preparing anything and need something easy, or the mornings when you are running late to class and need something quick will save you money at the moment. Spend 5-10 minutes before your grocery trip focusing on what you want to eat that week and save time throughout the week! Meal plans also reduce food waste and save money because you make your own meals and cut down on fast food.

Navigating the Grocery Store

grocery store aisle

The store’s perimeter (think cold stuff!) has the freshest foods, which are the most perishable, which means they won’t last very long. Here, your go-to spots should be the produce, meat, fish counter, dairy, and refrigerator sections. There are also ready-made meals and snacks around here, which can make quick meals but are typically expensive.

The inner aisles have more shelf-stable food items, which are foods that last longer and don’t need to be refrigerated, making them ideal for a dorm room. Since these will stay good for a while, you can buy in bulk if you find a good deal on the food you frequently eat. Just make sure to make a list for these aisles, so you don’t get tempted to pick up BOGO boxes of cookies or other unnecessary items.

  • Write out your grocery list to keep you on track and on budget.
  • Try not to go to the store with a hungry stomach.
  • Check out the weekly ads and coupons.
  • Beans and eggs can be inexpensive sources of quality protein. 
  • Frozen veggies are cheaper and last longer than fresh vegetables….plus you can steam them easily in the microwave. 
  • Have a plan for your shopping trip
  • Buy what you will actually eat, not only what you hope you will eat. 


  • Get a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • In-season fruits/veggies are less expensive or more likely to have deals. Check out which are in-season in your location.
  • Frozen, canned, and fresh produce – they all have a similar nutritional value, so buying a combination of these options saves money and fridge space and prevents waste from food going bad before you eat it.
  • For example, choose fresh vegetables and fresh fruit when they are in season and frozen or canned when they are not.
  • Canned fruits or veggies should come in their own juice or 100% juice, NOT in heavy syrup
  • Some options:
    • Fruit: berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries), cherries, watermelon, pineapple, peaches, grapes, mangos, grapefruit, oranges, bananas
    • Vegetables: mixed salad greens, bell peppers, broccoli, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, squash, cauliflower, spinach, green beans, carrots

Meat & Poultry

  • Eat a variety of meats, poultry, fish, and non-meat sources of protein.
  • For poultry (chicken and turkey), white meat is lower in fat than dark meat.
  • Opt for bone-in, skin-on poultry (bones for minerals/skin for healing fat).
  • Other options include deli meat, sausage, bacon
  • Best Choices (eat often)
    • Chicken: Boneless, skinless chicken breast would be the leanest option, they may be the most expensive. Save money by buying an entire rotisserie chicken and getting a variety of breasts, cutlets, filets, thighs, drumsticks, and legs. Love fried chicken? Buy a frozen breaded chicken and prepare it in the air fryer. It’ll save you money over fast food. 
    • Turkey: lean ground turkey, turkey sausage, beef jerky
    • Pork: Center-cut loin roast, loin chops, tenderloin, 95% fat-free ham, and Canadian bacon
    • Beef: round steak, tenderloin, sirloin, lean ground beef


Like fruits and veggies, a great way to watch costs is to purchase local fish (or as close a possible if you are landlocked) and in-season.

  • Salmon (fresh, frozen, or canned)
  • Tilapia
  • Sardines (fresh or canned)
  • Tuna (fresh or canned albacore from the U.S. or Canada, yellowfin from the Atlantic)
  • Wild-caught haddock
  • Anchovies
  • Scallops
  • Pacific sole
  • Clams


Dairy can be a great source of protein. Greek yogurt is a budget-friendly and grab-on-the-go option for breakfast. The best thing is that they last about three weeks from the purchase date, making them more shelf-stable than meats.

  • Cheese
  • Cheese sticks
  • Cottage cheese
  • Yogurt, flavored or plain, greek or regular
  • Whole milk (or 2%), chocolate milk
  • Butter


Eggs are a great non-meat protein source, perfect for breakfast!

  • Look for large, grade-A eggs (the blue carton).
  • White and brown eggs have the same nutritional content.
  • Buy the generic brand (Kroger or Walmart brand).
  • Go ahead and buy the big carton to reduce costs. Eggs last for three weeks in the fridge.

Dry Goods

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Nut and seed butter (peanut butter is typically the least expensive, so look for sales on almond, sunflower, and cashew)
  • Dried or canned lentils and beans
  • Brown and white rice
  • Whole-wheat pasta
  • Pancake and waffle mix
  • Dried fruit (no sugar added)
  • Granola bars
    • These, along with Cereal, are pricey right now. The best way to save money is to buy in bulk (either in a large quantity or from a bulk store) or the store-brand to save money.
  • Canned fruit in 100% juice or “their own juice.”


  • Cereal can be a significant money-saving area.
  • Generic cereals (Kroger or Great Value-brand) are just as tasty and nutritious but much cheaper.
  • Cereal can be expensive, like more than $4 a box, and it has a long shelf life, meaning it lasts for a long time. Save money by buying the biggest box of your fav cereal or stocking up whenever your Cereal is on sale. General Mills (Cheerios, Chex) will have a deal for three boxes for five dollars. If you have room in your pantry, stock up!!
  • Oatmeal is full of fiber, and oats are a great grain that offers variety to the diet.


  • English muffins (multigrain), Whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat tortillas.
  • Look for whole-wheat bread that has 100% whole wheat as the FIRST ingredient in the ingredient list…if enriched flour is first, it isn’t whole-wheat!


Look for cold-pressed, unrefined, unfiltered oil (e.g., olive, sesame, avocado, walnut, coconut). Organic is less important here, so save a few dollars and skip this. I love to buy this stuff at Trader Joe’s or Aldi; this is not a place to buy name brands.

Frozen Section

  • Frozen fruits with no sugar added (berries, mango, cherries)
  • Frozen veggies without sauce (corn, peas, green beans)
  • Keep a few frozen items on hand for busy nights or nights you don’t feel like cooking. A frozen meal at home is ALWAYS better than not eating, snacking, or spending more money by ordering out.
  • Love dessert? Some better choices in the freezer section are frozen yogurt, sherbet, fruit popsicles, fudgsicles.


  • Water! You need to drink it throughout the day. There is no need to buy water bottles. Save money and refill your favorite glass or aluminum water bottle.
  • Juice should be 100% fruit or vegetable juice. The store brands are exactly like Mott’s, Juicy Juice, and Welch’s.
  • Crystal light, MiO, propel, and Koolaid help if you aren’t interested in drinking plain water. Again, a store brand is nearly identical and can save you a few dollars or wait for a BOGO sale.

Want this list in a downloadable and printable version? Buy it here.

cover picture of cheap healthy athlete grocery list

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