Back-to-school season is here, and not just for little ones. If you have a kid headed off to college for the fall semester, it’s time to get the laptop, textbooks and twin XL sheets in order. Don’t forget other basics like clothes hangers and a travel mug (for all the in-class coffee drinking). And of course they’ll need to eat — maybe even feed themselves for the first time.
There are mini-fridges and dorm-size microwaves to consider, but college cuisine doesn’t have to be just instant ramen and dining hall grub. If you’re sending a would-be foodie off to school, here’s what to get them so they’ll eat (and drink) well all semester, even if they don’t necessarily know how to cook.
These suggestions run the gamut from helpful tools to food-delivery services, so there’s something to suit every student, but don’t forget to check out our other guides below.
NutriBullet Pro 900 series blender: $79
Smoothies are one of the easiest ways to start the day and equally good for snacks and quick liquid dinners if it comes to that. This blender is compact (a plus for small spaces) and includes two blending cups with to-go lids, making it great for students who always seem to be running late to class.
For college cooks, you might consider a blender with a built-in heating element that’s equally handy for warm soups and sauces, but if smoothies are the top priority, this bullet blender gets the job done. It may or may not also make a mean frozen margarita for post-exam celebrations… for those aged 21 and over only, of course. It’s currently $50 off the normal price.
Ninja hot & cold-brewed system: $180
College students need caffeine, so some kind of coffee maker is highly advisable, whether it’s a simple drip coffee maker, a convenient and compact single-serve K-cup machine, a low-tech French press or even a fancy Nespresso maker for the lucky ones. For variety’s sake, though, this jack-of-all-trades coffee maker is a great contender. It can handle regular coffee as well as cold brew and even tea, with separate settings and baskets for beans and leaves (loose or bagged).
It even has a fold-away frothing arm for latte-style drinks — so not only will it save money on Starbucks runs, it’ll make the dorm the most popular spot to study. It includes size settings too, so you can brew a full carafe or a single cup.
Sudden coffee subscription: $16/month
If a coffee maker isn’t an option but an electric kettle or microwave will be on hand, a Sudden coffee subscription is a great gift for java-loving students. Co-founded by award-winning barista Kalle Freese, Sudden Coffee ships charming little recyclable test tubes of high-quality, single-origin instant coffee that’s a major upgrade from Starbucks Via and Cafe Bustelo.
They’re delivered monthly so there’s no danger of them running out. One thing to note: You choose to always receive either a light roast or medium roast selection, but a brand new coffee is sent each quarter, which keeps things fresh but might throw off those who like a strict routine. Subscriptions start at $16 per month and you can pause or cancel at any time.
Instant Pot DUO mini pressure cooker
If the dorm allows it, an Instant Pot is a no brainer for today’s college students. It truly can do almost anything: Make morning yogurt, boil perfect eggs, make big batches of protein to stretch into meals all week long and even pull off easy desserts.
A larger 6-quart model is great for those who like leftovers or want to feed all their new friends, but a smaller 3-quart mini Instant Pot might be better for dorm-bound students.
Aroma 6-cup non-stick rice cooker: $15
If the Instant Pot seems like too much of a splurge or just too bulky, consider a rice cooker instead. You can find more sophisticated models, but even the most basic one makes perfect rice every time with the touch of a button (and keeps it warm for hours). But did you know they’re also great for cooking other things? They can handle any other grains from quinoa to couscous,
as well as beans and porridge, even soups and steamed entrees. Get one of these for your foodie student, throw in The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook and they’ll be all set to whip up easy breakfasts, lunches, dinners and desserts — like oatmeal, risotto, polenta and rice pudding — mostly all in one pot
Prep Naturals glass meal prep containers: $26
A good set of food-safe containers is a must-have for meal prep, packing snacks and lunches to take along to class and storing leftovers (homemade or otherwise). This set of five compartmentalized meal prep containers is made from heavy-duty borosilicate glass, has lock-on lids to guard against spills and is microwave-, freezer- and oven-safe.
Hello Fresh meal kit delivery service
Even the most enthusiastic cook will be pressed for time once school begins, but a meal kit delivery service is a huge help. Not only does it save time spent grocery shopping and figuring out what you want to eat, it cuts down on food waste with perfectly proportionate amounts of ingredients. Plus, thanks to detailed recipe instructions, even novice cooks can pull off impressive meals.
There are plenty of meal kit delivery companies to choose from and many offer plans for special diets including vegan and gluten-free selections. Every Plate is a good option if you’re on a tighter budget, and Hello Fresh is offering 15% off every box for students (new customers only) plus free shipping on any box when you use code UniDAYS (prices start at $9 per serving).
Freshly prepared meal delivery service
A similar option for those without full dorm kitchens is a ready-made meal delivery service — all they’ll have to do is heat and eat (sometimes not even heat). We reviewed Sakara, a plant-based, superfood-centric meal delivery service that includes breakfast and snack options as well as lunch and dinner, but again, you have your pick of meal delivery services.
Freshly, for instance, promises gluten-free, all-natural, single-serving meals for lunch and dinner with no refined sugars and also offers vegetarian, dairy-free, low-carb and paleo plans. All meals come fully cooked and just require a brief spin in the microwave. Prices start at $9 per meal (with the 12 meals per week plan) and go up to $13 per meal (with the four meals per week plan).
Universal Yums snack box subscription
Like caffeine, snacks are one of a college student’s best friends — and like meal kit and meal delivery services, there are now scores of snack food delivery boxes to keep one well supplied with between-class nibbles. Many of them, including Graze and NatureBox, put a premium on healthy snacks, which could be helpful for anyone concerned about the infamous Freshman 15. There’s even a keto-oriented Keto Krate snack subscription and vegan options like Vegan Cuts. Other snack subscriptions focus on international treats — Bokksu and Japan Crate send Japanese snacks every month; ZenPop sends Japanese ramen and sweets.
Universal Yums switches it up and ships a box of snacks from a specific country like France or South Korea every month, packed full of goodies often hard to come by in the US. Choose from three box sizes, starting at $14 per month. It’s sure to be a bright spot in any stressed student’s routine and might even inspire them to study abroad after all.