Average Cost of Food per Month for a College Student

Report Highlights. The average cost of food per month for a college student is $667.

  • College students spend on average $410 a month eating off-campus.
  • Meals cooked at home average $257 a month when the cost of eating off-campus is included.
  • A campus meal plan averages $450 a month.
  • A vegan diet cooked exclusively at home averages $155 a month for a college student.

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Average Grocery Budget for a College Student

The USDA outlines a monthly meal plan at 4 different levels of cost. In order of expense, there is the thrifty meal plan, the low-cost meal plan, the moderate-cost meal plan, and the liberal meal plan.

  • These meal plans do not include the cost of eating off-campus or enrolling in a college meal plan.
  • The average of all 4 meal plans is $328 a month.
  • Since there are 84 meals in a 30-day month, each meal averages out to $3.90.
4 Meal Plan Types
Meal Plan Monthly Cost
Thrifty Meal Plan $270
Low-cost Meal Plan $276
Moderate-cost Meal Plan $342
Liberal Meal Plan $425

Monthly Cost of Groceries for College Students by State;

The cost of an average monthly grocery bill varies by state. The average cost of groceries for an individual is $356. The average cost of groceries for a college student is $250. The difference of $106 was used to calculate the average grocery bill of each state.

  • Hawaii had the most expensive grocery bills for college students.
  • New Hampshire had the cheapest grocery bills for college students.
  • The table below only accounts for the cost of groceries – it does not include the cost of eating off-campus or enrolling in a college meal plan.
Monthly Cost of Groceries for College Students State Table
State Cost per Month
Hawaii $451
Vermont $391
Alaska $377
New York $377
West Virginia $321
Mississippi $317
South Carolina $305
Massachusetts $300
District of Columbia $299
Washington $296
Pennsylvania $295
Georgia $292
Alabama $291
Minnesota $289
Rhode Island $284
Wisconsin $280
Delaware $274
Oregon $269
Maine $266
California $265
Florida $258
Iowa $241
Oklahoma $241
Tennessee $240
Wyoming $240
New Jersey $238
Maryland $238
Connecticut $237
Ohio $235
North Carolina $235
Nebraska $231
Illinois $221
Michigan $221
Colorado $221
North Dakota $221
Louisiana $219
Montana $218
Indiana $212
Kentucky $209
Missouri $207
New Mexico $202
Arizona $197
Virginia $192
Nevada $187
Texas $181
South Dakota $180
Arkansas $176
Utah $176
Idaho $175
Kansas $155
New Hampshire $77

Monthly Cost of Eating Off-Campus for College Students

Eating off-campus is the largest monthly food expense for college students without a campus meal plan. Combining the average cost of eating off-campus with the remaining cost to cook meals at home, a college student with no campus meal plan pays roughly the same amount as a college student with a campus meal plan.

  • College students spend on average $410 a month eating off-campus.
  • This is a stand-alone average that does not take into account the amount of money students spend grocery shopping.
  • The average American eats at a restaurant 4 to 5 times a week.
  • College students average $102 a week eating off-campus.
  • If a student has 84 meals in a month, 18 of those meals are eaten off-campus.
  • 66 meals are left to be cooked at home – which would average $257.

Comparison Cost of Campus Meal Plans

Freshmen living on campus are sometimes required to have a campus meal plan their first year in college. In response to budget cuts and pushback on the cost of tuition, colleges may raise the price of meal plans to offset their loss in revenue.

  • A campus meal plan averages $450 a month.
  • Semester meal plans generally include a set number of meals and an allowance for food purchases outside the dining halls.
  • The allowance may have names such as “Flex bucks” or “Meal plan points”.
  • Colleges generally have comparable meal plans with each other but do not share the same exact number of meals.
  • The example below uses costs from meal plans that averaged 12 to 15 meals per week.
Campus Meal Plan Examples
College Monthly Meal Plan Cost
Florida Atlantic University $408
Texas A&M University $490
Oklahoma University $522
Stanford University $475
University of Alaska Fairbanks $550

Average Cost of Meal Delivery Kits

Meal kits are an alternative food plan for college students besides campus meal plans and grocery shopping. For students unused to cooking for themselves, a meal kit is a viable option because it offers instructions and pre-assembled ingredients.

  • There is a minimum and a maximum number of meal kits a person can order per week for most delivery services.
  • Most delivery kit plans are for 3 to 4 times a week – students cannot completely rely on meal kits for all their meals in the week.
  • Grocery stores such as Publix and Fresh Market offer meal kits in person.
  • Amazon meal delivery kits require a subscription to Amazon Prime and Amazon Fresh.
  • The table below assumes each meal delivery kit contains 2 servings.
  • The table below assumes the individual receives 3 meal kits per week.
  • Shipping was included in the cost estimation below.
Monthly Cost per Brand
Brand Cost
HelloFresh $284
Publix $168
Sunbasket $276
Blue Apron $280
Dinnerly $217
Fresh Market $216
EveryPlate $172
Amazon $144

Average Cost of a Vegan Meal Plan

Newer studies suggest that plant-based diets may be cheaper than meat-based diets. The monthly cost of vegan meal plans falls into the cheaper brackets of the USDA’s suggested meal budgets.

  • Campus meal plans often come with alternative vegan options served in the dining hall.
  • On average, a vegetarian diet may save a college student $2.00 per day.
  • In a 30-day month, a college student would save $60 off their grocery bill with a plant-based diet.
  • A vegan diet would cost $155 a month.
  • The graph below assumes there are 30 days in a month.

Average cost of food per month for a college student 1 on Education Data Initiative

Monthly Cost of Alcohol

In the fall of 2012, roughly 80% of the 21.6 million students nationwide admitted to drinking alcohol at some point during the school semester. Because of its prevalence in the college lifestyle, students may be interested in evaluating the overall cost of alcohol.

  • On average, students spend $42 a month on alcohol.
  • Including alcohol, the monthly grocery bill for a college student would be $292.
  • Binge drinkers may spend $75 or more a month on alcohol.
  • The grocery bill for a binge-drinking college student would be upwards of $325 a month.

Monthly Cost of Coffee

92% of college students have consumed caffeine over the past year. The cheapest way to save on coffee for a college student would be to make it at home.

  • If a college student bought a cup of coffee daily, they would spend $63 a month on average.
  • If coffee were made exclusively at home, it would average $15 a month instead.
  • The cost of a cup of coffee from a store averages $2 to $4.
  • Meanwhile, coffee made at home costs less than $0.50 a cup.

Sources

  1. USDA Food and Nutrition Service U.S. Department of Agriculture: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, May 2021
  2. The Hechinger Report: A tough-to-swallow reason college keeps costing more – the price of meal plans
  3. Healthline – Health News: Going Vegetarian Can Help Your Waistline… and Your Wallet
  4. Debt.org: Dining Costs Eating up College Students’ Budget
  5. Admissionsly: College Student Spending Statistics and Facts – 2021
  6. Party.0: How Much College Students Spend on Alcohol
  7. University of Kentucky Doctoral Dissertations: Caffeine Consumption Patterns and Beliefs of College Freshmen
  8. Move.org: The Average Cost of Food in the US
  9. Dine On Campus at Florida Atlantic University Jupiter Campus || Resident Dining Memberships
  10. Dine On Campus at Texas A&M University || On-Campus Freshmen
  11. Rates and Requirements
  12. Dining Hall Meal Plans: Stanford
  13. 2022-2023 UAF Resident Meal Plans | Dining Services
  14. HelloFresh Pricing
  15. Publix Pricing
  16. Sunbasket Pricing
  17. Blue Apron Pricing
  18. Dinnerly Pricing
  19. The Fresh Market Pricing
  20. Everyplate Pricing
  21. Amazon Meal Kits Pricing
  22. College Students and Coffee: 13 Statistics to Know in 2022
  23. Cost Of A Cup Of Coffee – TheCommonsCafe.
  24. Economical Healthy Diets (2012): Including Lean Animal Protein Costs More Than Using Extra Virgin Olive Oil