College Student Kitchen: Pantry Organization Tips from Pros

As a college student, kitchen pantry staples are an absolute must. Here's what to stock when you're working with a small space and a limited budget.

With late-night study sessions, stressful exams and—let’s face it—more than your fair share of partying, college doesn’t always include proper nutrition. But there’s no reason to resort to pizza or ramen noodles every night. Having a well-stocked college student kitchen pantry (and a simple meal plan!) while you’re away at school can save money and keep you healthy.

But where to begin? When you move out from under your parents’ roof for the first time, grocery shopping and basic cooking can seem overwhelming. We’re pleased to say it’s easier than you think. Here’s what to do:

By the way, these are the recipes every cook should know by heart.

Assess your pantry space

There are a few secrets for keeping a well-stocked pantry. Before you start shopping, assess what kind of storage you’re working with. Your dorm might only have a cabinet or two. In an apartment or house, you’ll have a little more room. Clever organizing tools like spice racks and shelf risers can help you get the full potential out of whatever storage space is available. As you shop, keep in mind where you’ll be putting things. In other words, this isn’t the time to buy in bulk!

Start with dry goods

Dry, non-perishable items can be the building blocks for some delicious, inexpensive and filling meals. Rice, pasta and oats are all affordable and have endless potential. (Just look at these 30-minute pasta meals!) A few glass jars will keep items organized and visible without taking up too much shelf space. Potatoes can be stored in a cool dark place, and you only need to keep a few on hand.

Always have canned items on hand

When you’re dreaming up delicious dinners, canned food might not be the first thing that comes to mind. But trust me, certain canned items are essential to your college student kitchen. Canned beans can be used in soups and salads, or when making tacos or burritos as a cheap and healthy protein. Diced tomatoes can be used for making stew or casseroles, and are also great for homemade salsa. Oh, and don’t forget the canned tomato soup! A steaming bowl served with a grilled cheese sandwich is a classic meal.

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Keep some spices and cooking essentials

As you embark on your cooking adventures, you really can’t make anything without the right spices. Yes, you’ll need more than just salt! The best way to start your spice collection is to buy a basic set at any home goods store. Most of these kits will include everything you need like dried basil, black pepper, chili powder, cinnamon, garlic powder and rosemary. You’ll also need a good bottle of olive oil for sauteing and making marinades or salad dressings. (Here’s how to find quality olive oil at your local store.)

Split staples with a friend

When you’re cooking for one, it can be hard to finish a big bottle of mayo or a gallon of milk by yourself. But it’s oftentimes cheaper to buy these essentials in large quantities. The solution? Find a roommate or friend to split items with! You’ll save money and reduce waste—it’s a win-win.

When all else fails—peanut butter

I wouldn’t have survived college if it wasn’t for peanut butter. Need a little something to snack on? Grab an apple and slather on some peanut butter. Quick breakfast before class? Toast a bagel and top with peanut butter. Ready for lunch? Nothing better than a peanut butter and honey sandwich. It’s cheap, it’s filling, it’s delicious!

Up next: Try meals you can make in your microwave.

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Erica Young
Erica is a cleaning and home décor expert. She knows exactly how to tidy a filthy kitchen and straighten out a mixed-up pantry! When she's not writing you'll find her organizing a closet, buying more bins she doesn't need or bingeing her latest TV show obsession.