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.
Related Reports Include Average Cost of College Textbooks | Average Student Loan Payment | Cost of a College Class or Credit Hour | Average Cost of College & Tuition | Average Cost of College by State
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.
|Meal Plan||Monthly Cost|
|Thrifty Meal Plan||$187|
|Low-cost Meal Plan||$239|
|Moderate-cost Meal Plan||$296|
|Liberal Meal Plan||$317|
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.
|State||Cost per Month|
|District of Columbia||$278|
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.
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.
|College||Monthly Meal Plan Cost|
|Florida Atlantic University||$462|
|Texas A&M University||$525|
|University of Alaska Fairbanks||$640|
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.
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.
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.
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.
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service U.S. Department of Agriculture: Cost of Food at Home at Four Levels, U.S. Average, May 2021
- The Hechinger Report: A tough-to-swallow reason college keeps costing more – the price of meal plans
- Healthline – Health News: Going Vegetarian Can Help Your Waistline… and Your Wallet
- Debt.org: Dining Costs Eating up College Students’ Budget
- Admissionsly: College Student Spending Statistics and Facts – 2021
- Party.0: How Much College Students Spend on Alcohol
- University of Kentucky Doctoral Dissertations: Caffeine Consumption Patterns and Beliefs of College Freshmen
- Move.org: The Average Cost of Food in the US