Average Cost of Food per Month for a College Student

Last Updated: September 8, 2021 by Melanie Hanson

Report Highlights. The average cost of food per month for a college student is $547

  • College students spend on average $341 a month eating off-campus.
  • Meals cooked at home average $206 a month when the cost of eating off-campus is included. 
  • A campus meal plan averages $563 a month. 
  • A vegan diet cooked exclusively at home averages $200 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 $260 a month. 
  • Since there are 84 meals in a 30 day month, each meal averages out to $3.10.
4 Meal Plan Types
Meal Plan Monthly Cost
Thrifty Meal Plan $187
Low-cost Meal Plan $239
Moderate-cost Meal Plan $296
Liberal Meal Plan $317

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 $387. The average cost of groceries for a college student is $260. The difference of $127 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 $430
Vermont $370
Alaska $356
New York $356
West Virginia $300
Mississippi $296
South Carolina $284
Massachusetts $279
District of Columbia $278
Washington $275
Pennsylvania $274
Georgia $271
Alabama $270
Minnesota $268
Rhode Island $263
Wisconsin $259
Delaware $253
Oregon $248
Maine $245
California $244
Florida $237
Iowa $220
Oklahoma $220
Tennessee $219
Wyoming $219
New Jersey $217
Maryland $217
Connecticut $216
Ohio $214
North Carolina $214
Nebraska $210
Illinois $200
Michigan $200
Colorado $200
North Dakota $200
Louisiana $198
Montana $197
Indiana $191
Kentucky $188
Missouri $186
New Mexico $181
Arizona $176
Virginia $171
Nevada $166
Texas $160
South Dakota $159
Arkansas $155
Utah $155
Idaho $154
Kansas $134
New Hampshire $56

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 $342 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 $19 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 $205.   

Comparison Cost of Campus Meal Plans

Freshman 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 $563 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 $462
Texas A&M University $525
Oklahoma University $617
Stanford University $415
University of Alaska Fairbanks $640

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 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 $252
Publix $210
Sunbasket $312
Blue Apron $346
Dinnerly $177
Fresh Market $444
EveryPlate $240
Walmart $138
Amazon $210

Average Cost of a Vegan Meal Plan

Newer studies suggest plant-based diets may be cheaper than meat-based diets. The monthly cost of vegan meal plans fall 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 $200 a month.  
  • The graph below assumes there are 30 days in a month.

Vegan Alternative Diet on EducationData

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 $302.
  • Binge drinkers may spend $75 or more a month on alcohol. 
  • The grocery bill for a binge drinking college student would be upwards of $335 a month.  

Monthly Cost of Coffee

54% of Americans over the age of 18 drink coffee every day. The cheapest way to save on coffee for a college student would be to make it at home.  

  • On average, coffee costs a college student $93 a month.
  • If coffee were made exclusively at home, it would average $6.75 a month instead.   
  • The cost of a cup of coffee from a store averages $3 to $4.
  • Meanwhile, coffee made at home averages $0.25 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