The Essential Student Food Shopping List For Cheap Living

What food can you get cheap as a student? Get inspiration for your next budget grocery list.

As students, sticking to a budget is really important. Food is by far the biggest expenditure, so we’re here to show you the essential food you need as a student. You can make a huge variety of nutritionally complete meals with our recommendations too!

Staple ingredients for students

Below are the essential ingredients you need to make almost all of your meals as a student. We’ve included some prices for each too.

  • Garlic

    • Did you know it keeps for a long time when it’s stored in the fridge?

  • Butter

    • Use it as a spread or replacement for oil. They’re available dairy-free too!

  • Herbs and spices

    • Herbs can be frozen or bought dried, making them last much longer

    • Got green fingers? Take clippings of your favourite herbs to have an endless supply

    • Plus, spices can be used to jazz up your regulars to keep things more interesting

  • Tinned chopped tomatoes

    • Easy to bulk buy and save money. They’re versatile for all kinds of meals like bolognese, curry, chilli and more

  • Tomato paste or passata

    • Another versatile ingredient to add flavour to your favourite dishes or use as a base for housemate pizza nights

  • Rice

    • A staple in many households and it makes a great base for all kinds of dishes from sweet to savoury

  • Spaghetti and/or pasta

    • Mega cheap to buy for pasta bakes, bolognese, or tuna pasta

  • Noodles

    • The Pot-Noodle as a student stereotype still exists, so it’s very much a cupboard staple. We highly recommend getting own-brand versions though, or waiting until the OG is on offer before bulk-buying

  • Stock cubes

    • Can be used to add intense flavour without much effort or as a base for gravy

  • Potatoes

    • Can be frozen (make sure they’re cooked first!) and used for roast dinners, made into chips or as mash on the side

  • Frozen peas

    • As with most frozen veg, they keep for a long time and are an easy way to add greens to your meals if they’re looking a little beige

  • Tomato ketchup

    • It makes a surprisingly good marinade as well as a dip

  • Breakfast cereals

    • These are cheap to buy and easy to make in the morning, or when you’re feeling peckish at night but don’t want to cook a full meal

  • Porridge oats

    • We recommend these over cereals as they’re way better for you (and much cheaper), but we get it if the texture doesn’t sit right…

  • Honey

    • Can be used to sweeten your morning brew or add as a marinade to all kinds of meats and vegan alternatives

  • Pesto

  • A few frozen foods

    • It’s easy to overspend here so be careful. Mini pizzas from major supermarkets like Asda, Morrison’s, Tescos and Sainsburys do these for 50p-60p a pop. Add a few of your own toppings for a different pizza each time!

There are tons of food shopping hacks to save money you should read about too.

If the thought of buying ingredients and cooking makes you eyeroll. Why not get them delivered to you with some really tasty recipes? Get a HelloFresh student discount with us!

Meat, vegan and vegetarian alternatives

The proteins! Here we’ve got a list of the cheapest cuts and/or styles of meats to buy on a budget. We’ve also popped in some vegan and vegetarian options too.

  • Chicken thighs

  • Minced beef

    • A staple in all sorts of recipes like bolognese and chilli. It’s incredibly cheap to buy and comes in various sizes and percentages of fat content

  • Turkey mince

    • A white meat (and sometimes cheaper) alternative to minced beef

  • Eggs

    • Eggs are incredibly versatile and cheap to buy. Boil them for a quick snack, add them to salads, cook them for a fry up or top it on your favourite dish.

  • Tofu

    • A soy-based meat alternative that absorbs the flavour of your cooking sauces. Great if you’re veggie, vegan, or fancy a change

  • Chickpeas

    • Chickpeas are a great protein source for meatless dishes

  • Tinned jackfruit

    • Though strange in texture, its tinned form is quite cheap to buy. It can be made into “pulled pork†too

  • Plant-based sausages

    • Save extra on your food shop if you buy the frozen kind

  • Fish and Fishless Fingers

    • These remind you of home, let’s be honest. And they come in a vegan version too

  • Plant-based mince

    • Frozen is cheaper to buy and they’re a great alternative to regular minced meat

  • Lentils

    • Lentils are a legume packed with protein and are easy on the bank balance. Great for vegetarians and vegans.

Read: 5 Easy Recipes For World Vegan Month.

Diary and non-dairy alternatives

Major supermarkets all do their own brand of dairy and non-dairy products. They’re cheaper than buying the branded stuff and don’t taste that much different. These include:

  • Cows milk (whole, semi-skimmed, skimmed)

  • Soya milk

  • Almond milk

  • Oat milk

  • Cheese

Want to save even more? Invest in UHT (long-life) versions of the various milk available in supermarkets too!

Fruits and vegetables

It’s a misconception that fruits and vegetables are expensive. In fact, buying them in season makes them miles cheaper.

It’s also possible to buy them frozen too! That way they’ll keep far longer and you won’t have to worry about them going off.

If freezer space is an issue or you’d rather have fresh ingredients, here’s a list of essential fruit and vegetables.


When buying fresh fruit and veg, always check if buying an individual piece works out cheaper. It typically does and reduces the likelihood of food waste.


These can be cooked or eaten raw. Chop and add them to bolognese, or cut them into sticks to dip in a tub of hummus for a healthy snack.


These add bulk and flavour to a ton of recipes. They can also be used in salads and sandwiches raw.

Frozen veggies

You can find frozen peas, carrots, broccoli, parsnips, cauliflower, and much more. You’re less likely to waste these if you buy them frozen too.

Beans and pulses

Cans of beans are mega cheap, especially if they’re own-brand. Use them in chilli or add them over toast for a cheap student meal that’s still tasty.



Literally, one of the cheapest fruits to buy as a student. They average about 9p each.


Packed with vitamins, apples are really cheap to get hold of. Especially if you buy them separately.


For your vitamin C fix, packs of oranges are really cheap to buy in most supermarkets.

Frozen fruits

Miss the taste of mangos or pineapples? Buy them frozen. They’ll still taste fantastic when defrosted, added to a fruit salad or blended into a nice chilly smoothie.

Tips to save on food shopping

These tips will help you spend less on your food shop and keep your food for longer.

Compare supermarket prices

As a rule of thumb, Aldi and Lidl are the cheapest places to shop. But they’re not always on your doorstep. However, you could save on your next shop with discounts from Tesco, Morrison’s discount codes, and other supermarkets with Student Beans!

More ways to spend less on your food shop

  • Write a shopping list

  • Never shop hungry

  • Waste nothing

  • Buy frozen

  • Freeze raw ingredients

  • Freeze already prepped food (check the ingredients first)

  • Eat leftovers for lunch

  • Switch up the ingredients

  • Cook with pulses

  • Buy cheaper cuts of meat like chicken thigh instead of breast

  • Research cheap recipes

  • Cook from scratch.

What staples can’t you live without? Let us know! Don’t forget to sign up to Student Beans and get student discounts on food with us.