14 Dorm Food Essentials I’m Stocking in My Room This Fall

updated Aug 21, 2023
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closeup shot of desk that has a red lamp, white planter, supplies and a blue bowl of popcorn. next to the desk is a mini fridge with a mug, coffee press, and a pink basket with utensils coffee assortments on it
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

Throughout my very formative year spent in a dorm, living on a meal plan, I spent many evenings hungry for a post-dining-hall snack and mornings craving something other than the so-called “scrambled eggs” offered to us students. To supplement, I had to learn how to grocery shop on a budget (accounting for both money and storage space). 

In general, choosing what you bring into your dorm room is all about efficiency and maximizing your space — that is no different when it comes to shopping for food. When deciding what groceries to stock in my dorm, there were a few things I considered. I thought about what specific meals/snacks I could make with limited access to tools and appliances; how easy it would be to prepare the food in my dorm room, with the only surface space being my desk and top of the microwave; and the number of items I could fit in my mini-fridge. With this in mind, here’s my holy-grail list of dorm grocery essentials. 

Credit: Target

1. Greek Yogurt 

Single-serving yogurt cups are easy to store in your fridge and eat without needing to dirty a dish. My go-to brand is Chobani; I love the creamy texture and am a big fan of the Madagascar Vanilla & Cinnamon Less Sugar Greek Yogurt flavor. 

Buy: Chobani Madagascar Vanilla & Cinnamon Less Sugar Greek Yogurt, $1.49 for 5.3 ounces at Target

Credit: Walmart

2. Granola

Yogurt and granola is one of my favorite quick brekkies I can eat in my dorm. My preferred brand is Purely Elizabeth because it has less sugar in it than some other brands I’ve tried, and doesn’t give me a stomach ache. It comes in a variety of flavors, but I recommend the original because it pairs well with practically any yogurt or fruit. 

Buy: Purely Elizabeth Organic Original Ancient Grain Granola, $5.48 for 10 ounces at Walmart

Credit: Target

3. Baby Carrots

I’ve been a carrot girlie since I could say the word “carrot,” and these are the perfect bite-sized veggies to keep in your fridge for in-between classes and late-night study sessions.

Buy: Good & Gather Baby-Cut Carrots, $1.59 for 16 ounces at Target

Credit: Target

4. Hummus

Could you tell this was coming? Carrots and hummus are a classic combination; the creamy hummus complements the crunch of a carrot in the most satisfying way! I’m partial to Sabra Olive Tapenade Hummus — the olives add the perfect something extra to your snacking experience.

Buy: Sabra Olive Tapenade Hummus, $4.49 for 10 ounces at Target 

Credit: Target

5. Apples

When thinking about which produce items to keep in your dorm, longevity definitely comes into question. As far as fruit goes, apples are some of the sturdiest, and won’t rot faster than you can finish your biology exam. I like Pink Lady apples because they are tart and sweet, but if you’re looking for something with even more crisp, Granny Smith is my go-to. 

Buy: Good & Gather Pink Lady Apples, $5.49 for 3 pounds at Target

Credit: Thrive Market

6. Nut Butter

Not only are nut butters a perfect accompaniment to apples (or your morning granola and yogurt), but they will also stay good all semester long — unless you finish them before then. Peanut butter is my favorite (and contains about seven grams of protein in two tablespoons), but almond, cashew, and even mixed butters are also solid choices.

Buy: Santa Cruz Organic, Creamy Peanut Butter, Dark Roasted, $5.66 for 1 jar at Thrive Market

Credit: Clif Bar & Company

7. Protein Bars

A bar is so easy to throw in your bag, or eat on your way out when you’re in a hurry. I love Luna Bars; they’ve been a staple of mine since high school when I’d have one after school theater practice. LemonZest is a must try — it tastes like a lemon bar!

Buy: LUNA LemonZest Bars, $12.47 for 7 bars at Amazon

Credit: Trader Joe's

8. Ready-Made Salads 

I live for a good salad — especially when it’s pre-packed with all my favorite toppings, and ready to go in my backpack. My absolute favorite is from Trader Joe’s (you really can’t go wrong with any of the pre-made salads at TJ’s). The Waldorf contains romaine lettuce with apples, chicken, walnuts, grapes, and a truly delicious brown sugar maple dressing. 

Find it in stores: Trader Joe’s Waldorf Salad, $5.99 for 11.5 ounces at Trader Joe’s

Credit: Trader Joe's

9. Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

While we are on the topic of Trader Joe’s, I just had to include the chocolate peanut butter cups in this list. They come in milk and dark chocolate, and are a perfect sweet treat for any late-night study session or dorm-room movie night with friends. 

Find it in stores: Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, $4.49 for 16 ounces at Trader Joe’s

Credit: Target

10. Meat & Cheese Snack Packs

This was one of the most helpful grocery items I bought frequently while dorming. You can find these portion-sized packs of meats, cheese, and crackers at the grocery store, and they make for a perfect light lunch/hearty snack. If you have the space, you could also buy the ingredients separately; you’ll need to prep the ingredients, but it’s probably more cost-effective in the long run.

Buy: Creminelli Sliced Genoa & Provolone with Crackers, $4.99 for 2 ounces at Target 

Credit: Conagra Brands

11. Microwave Popcorn

I think it is actually illegal to live in a college dorm and NOT have microwave popcorn on hand. It is a right of passage to use your school-issued microwave for popping popcorn and watching movies on a laptop propped up by random stuff in your room. Nothing beats Orville Movie Theater Popcorn; it tastes like it came right from the movie theater, in my humble opinion. 

Buy: Orville Redenbacher’s Movie Theater Butter Microwave Popcorn, $2.04 for 3 bags at Amazon 

Credit: Target

12. Deli Meat (and Sliced Cheese)

I’ve always been partial to sliced turkey, but any deli meats would make a great protein-filled snack. I made many turkey rolls-ups with munster cheese as a little kid, and found this duo served me just as well in a dorm.

Buy: Applegate Natural Sliced Oven Roasted Turkey Breast, $6.99 for 7 ounces at Target

Credit: Walmart

13. Microwavable Macaroni & Cheese

Microwave mac and cheese proved to be a perfect emergency dinner for those nights I couldn’t make it to the dining hall. I like Annie’s White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese Cups. Their creaminess and cheesy flavor is unmatched. Plus, they’re super easy to make and you can eat them right out of the container.

Buy: Annie’s White Cheddar Macaroni & Cheese, $6.64 for 4 cups at Walmart

Credit: Ben & Jerry's

14. Ice Cream 

What else are you supposed to put in your tiny freezer? Studies show a pint of Ben and Jerry’s can solve 99% of your problems in college. (I am Studies.) I’m also a Phish Food girl for life because, to me, you can’t go wrong with marshmallows and cute little fish-shaped chocolate pieces.

Buy: Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Ice Cream, $4.48 for 16 ounces at Walmart

Did your favorite dorm essentials make this list? Tell us about it in the comments.