30 Pantry Essentials For Your College Dorm Room

Back to school — it's the best time of the year, so long as you're a major retailer and not a stressed college student trying to wrangle all their clothing, textbooks, and appliances into the trunk of your parent's car before shipping out to school. It can be tough to decide what is absolutely essential to take with you and what is just going to take up a ton of excess space in your cramped dorm room.

One of the things you'll need to bring to college, regardless of where you go, are snacks and pantry items. Although some schools require students to go on a meal plan in a dining hall, you'll need to cover the bases for when the dining hall is open at weird hours, you're on the way to class and can't make it to the dining hall, or are just in a snacky mood. We've assembled some of the most crucial pantry staples you need to have on hand to make your transition to (or back into) college easy.

Microwave popcorn

Movie nights or late-night studying are nothing without a bag of microwave popcorn next to you. This pantry-friendly snack is relatively inexpensive to purchase and stores very well compared to other snacks that get stale or mold easily.

Plus, since the popcorn is sold un-popped, it is easy to store tucked into your under-bed container without taking up too much room. If you want to avoid microwave popcorn, you can put regular popcorn kernels in the microwave with a microwave-safe bowl and plate.


Breakfasts in college can be tough — especially those 8 a.m. lectures. Oatmeal is a nutritious, fiber-dense breakfast that you can make in a pinch.

Simply add your whole rolled oats to a microwave-safe bowl with milk or water and microwave per the package directions. You can also use oats to make cold overnight oats topped with your favorite dried fruit or peanut butter. Alternatively, you can purchase flavored oatmeal packets for a single-serve breakfast on the go. Our favorite of the most popular oatmeal brand, Quaker Oats, include the raisin, date, and walnut flavor and the protein apples and cinnamon.


Aren't crackers a little old-fashioned? Yes, but you should always have a box of crackers in your pantry because it is a versatile ingredient for both snacking and cooking.

Not only can you schmear peanut butter or Nutella on crackers for an easy snack, but you can also use the crackers to make dessert s'mores or mini pizzas. You can also use crackers to upgrade your other dorm-room favorites, like microwave mac and cheese, or as a snack paired with hummus or canned tuna.

Beef jerky

Beef jerky is the protein-dense snack that you need to get yourself through hard nights in the library or classes that run back-to-back. One ounce has 9 grams of protein but should be eaten in moderation because it's high in sodium.

If you don't eat red meat or meat altogether, there are some jerky options that you can pick, too. BEYOND Meat makes a plant-based jerky that is packed with a ton of plant-based, gluten-free protein.

Peanut butter

Peanut butter is an inexpensive, nutritious, and delicious pantry staple you must always have on hand when you're in college. You can use it to spruce up your oatmeal, spread it on crackers, add it to popcorn, or make the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich when you're feeling hungry and nostalgic.

You can also buy flavored peanut butter or a variety with extra protein to keep your stomach and tastebuds satisfied. Peanut butter keeps very well in the pantry, but storing it in the refrigerator may extend its shelf life.

Canned tuna

Even though a tuna salad may not be the sandwich at the top of your list, canned tuna is still an ingredient you should always have on hand. You can transform canned tuna into a gourmet meal by mixing it with other pantry ingredients like Dijon mustard, canned olives, cannellini beans, or rice, or just eat it out of the can if you're light on your kitchen staples. If you're looking for a healthy alternative, try to buy tuna in water rather than oil.

Single-serve chips and cookies

Sometimes you're just feeling a salty, savory snack. If you aren't the kind of person to finish a whole bag of chips in a sitting but don't want to do that anymore, we recommend purchasing single-serve bags of chips and keeping a small snack bin of them in your dorm room.

Also, you won't have to worry about your chips going stale, nor will you have to worry about your Cheetos taking up too much space. Grab a bag on the way to class or while you're working on homework in your room.

Protein bars

Protein bars aren't just for athletes and gym rats. These portable, single-serve packs of protein and nutrients are easy to pop in your backpack and eat on your way to class or the gym.

Plus, since protein bars come in so many different flavors and ingredients, you can always find one that fits your lifestyle and flavor preferences. Since protein bars can be expensive, we recommend sampling a couple of different brands before committing to a whole box.


Instant ramen is a quintessential college meal for a reason. It's salty, savory, and a filling meal option — and you won't even have to leave your dorm room.

But you don't have to settle for plain ramen either; you can seriously upgrade your instant ramen by adding a bit of soy sauce, sesame oil, or sriracha to your ramen instead of relying on the good ol' seasoning pack. Switch up the flavors and experiment with flavorful additions that will take your noodles to a new level.

Boxed cake mix

It's unrealistic to expect that you can stock your dorm room kitchen with all of the ingredients to be a professional baker. Instead of stocking your under-bed storage with flour, sugar, eggs, and baking soda, buy a boxed cake mix instead.

Even if you don't have a baking pan and an oven, you can use your cake mix to make a single-serve mug cake. Mix the cake mix with water and oil, pop it in the microwave, and you'll have dessert ready in a matter of minutes.


It's better to have a ton of snacks than not enough. One of our favorite snacks and quick breakfast options is boxed cereal. As long as you correctly seal the bag, this nostalgic treat will last for several weeks or even months in your room.

Cereal alone isn't always a satisfying meal because it lacks protein. But you can combine a snack bag filled with cereal and pack a cheese stick or serving of nuts to go along with it.

Canned chicken

If you don't have a knack for seafood, you can try eating canned chicken instead of tuna. There are tons of ways to use canned chicken to spruce up your dorm room fare.

Try wrapping it in a tortilla with cheese for an on-the-go lunch, or mix it with mayonnaise for a quick chicken salad. Unlike regular chicken, you won't have to worry about keeping it cold or having the meat take up a ton of space in your tiny dorm room.

Nuts or trail mix

Nuts and trail mix are a great source of healthy fats and protein — so long as you eat them in moderation. If you struggle to eat just a handful of these nutritional powerhouses at once, try purchasing the single-serve packs or portioning out a large container into individual snack bags.

You can purchase your favorite type of nuts or a blend of trail mix with candy pieces, dried fruit, and seeds. We recommend leaving a small container or two in your backpack for when you don't have time for a full meal on your way to class or need some quick brain food.


Have you ever left the cafeteria and forgot to get ketchup packets for your chicken tenders and fries? It can be agonizing to have to go back and get your condiments — but imagine doing that in the wintertime across campus.

Having a small container of your most commonly used condiments — like ketchup, barbecue sauce, and soy sauce — is a great way always to be prepared. Plus, condiments last a long time, so you won't have to worry about buying them from the store constantly.

Olive oil

Olive oil is one of those ingredients that is always nice to have around when you need it, and really unfortunate when you don't have any on hand. You can make a simple salad dressing with balsamic vinegar and olive oil or add a swipe to your crusty toast for a satisfying breakfast accompaniment. Olive oil tends to have a long shelf life, so remember to store it in a cool, dry place so you'll always have this liquid gold around.


Honey is the sweetener that you should always have on hand for your midnight cup of chamomile tea or when you're craving a sweet touch on your morning bowl of oatmeal. It's also the ingredient that stays safe to eat indefinitely, as long as you don't refrigerate it.

The cold temperature makes the honey solidify and crystallize — in turn, making it difficult to work with. If you notice your honey starts to look cloudy, you can warm the honey up in its container and bring it back to its liquid goodness.

Canned beans

Instant ramen and macaroni and cheese often get the spotlight, but canned beans are truly the underdog of college food staples. These nutritional powerhouses are filled with protein, fiber, and nutrients that will help you feel healthy and keep your brain going throughout your study sessions.

Canned chickpeas, for example, can be added to a personal blender with some olive oil and tahini to make a perfect snacking hummus. You can mix black beans, kidney beans, and even black-eyed peas together for a nutritious bean salad.

Tortilla wraps

Tortilla wraps are an easy, versatile carb to eat with savory or sweet fillings. For breakfast, add a swipe of peanut butter (or, even better, Nutella) and sliced banana to the tortilla and wrap it up. Or, add a bit of canned chicken salad and veggies for a filling, wholesome snack.

Tortilla wraps can keep anywhere from a week to several weeks. For maximum longevity, keep them in an airtight container to prevent moisture encroachment and premature staleness.


Although salsa technically counts as a condiment, it should be considered an even more versatile ingredient. While you can use it for the obvious chips and salsa combo, you can also use it to amp up the flavor of a chicken dish or add a fresh element to a salad.

An opened jar of salsa will actually last between two weeks and a month. But, if you leave the salsa unopened in your pantry, you can expect it to last a year and a half.


Rice is an extremely versatile carbohydrate to have in the kitchen. And you won't have to settle for mushy microwave rice packets either. Instead, add a 1-to-2 ratio of rice to water and cook it in the microwave for about 15 minutes. You may need to leave the rice in a weaker microwave to cook for a bit longer.

Once you have your cooked rice, you can season it with soy sauce or add a protein boost from canned chicken, tuna, or beans. Or, pair it with other carbs in a wrap or sprinkle it on a salad for a bit of texture.

Canned soup

While it may not replace your mom's famous chicken noodle soup recipe, having a can or two of soup on hand will make your cold winter day much better. It's also the remedy for when you're feeling a bit under the weather and don't have the energy to leave your room.

There are tons of different soups out there, depending on your taste. Chicken noodle, tomato, and cream of mushroom soups are some of the most popular ones, and you can even find low-sodium options at most grocery stores.

Instant mashed potatoes

Instant mashed potatoes: Don't knock it until you try it. Since you won't have the stovetop or space needed to prepare a whole batch of spuds, you can whip up some easy mashed potatoes in your dorm room with the help of your microwave and a splash of water. You should always have instant mashed potatoes in your pantry to add to other dishes, like shepherd's pie, potato cakes, or as a crunchy topping for fried chicken or pork chops.


Hot girls eat pickles — we don't make the rules, we just follow them. Pickles are the perfect condiment to have in your dorm room pantry for when you need a quick, sour, crunchy snack.

Our favorite grocery store pickle brands include Mt. Olive classic baby dill pickles for their flavor and mild cucumber flavor. You can store an opened jar of pickles in the refrigerator for up to three months — but we highly doubt an open jar of these condiments will last that long.

Tomato sauce

Sometimes, you get bored with eating the same cheesy pasta night after night. If you have a jar of tomato sauce and a box of dry pasta, you can throw a meal together in under 20 minutes.

You can also use pasta sauce as a dip for your frozen mozzarella sticks or make mini chicken parmesans with chicken nuggets and shredded cheese. Once your pasta jar is opened, you should store it in the fridge and eat it within five to six days.

Hot chocolate mix

All of your problems go away when you have a warm cup of hot chocolate by your side. Hot chocolate mix powder is a staple to have in any college student's pantry because you can make a nighttime beverage for yourself in just a few minutes — and you only need water to do it. You can also grab a container of milk from the dining hall and take it back with you to make your beverage even more creamy.


Pasta is a must-have item for any pantry — especially for a college student. Dried pasta lasts a very long time — making it a good option for when you forget to grab dinner on your way home from class.

Not only can you toss it with some butter and seasoning, but you can also use jarred tomato sauce to make a traditional pasta dish. Just don't forget to pick up a container of shelf-stable Parmesan.

Salt and pepper

Salt and pepper are the seasonings that everyone forgets to take to college but should never be one to forget. They're the remedy for when your dining hall breakfast sandwich isn't salty enough, or your grilled chicken wrap comes out too bland.

You don't need to bring any fancy flaked sea salt to college — basic iodized table salt and black pepper in a jar suit you just fine. You also don't need a Costco-sized container since you may not touch the seasoning for the first few months of college.

Coffee and tea

Caffeinated beverages are a college essential for any 8 a.m. classes — or just college in general. An electric kettle, mugs, and single-serve coffee machine are three essential kitchen items to bring with you to college so you can make beverages with your favorite beans or tea bags.

You can purchase reusable and refillable K-cup pods if you're looking for a lower-waste alternative for your dorm room. You might also consider buying a dried coffee creamer, sugar, or honey to make your beverage your own.

Chocolate chips

Your first instinct may just be to add chocolate to your mug cakes, but you should also have this ingredient on hand for an easy, sweet snack or make your own trail mix. You can grab a small handful of chocolate chips when you need a dessert after dinner or sprinkle them on a tortilla or banana smothered with peanut butter. One of our favorite uses for chocolate chips is to melt them down with milk into the creamiest hot chocolate you've ever had.

Boxed mac and cheese

We couldn't forget about boxed macaroni and cheese. It's a college student staple because it's inexpensive, only requires water, and is perfectly savory and cheesy.

And it doesn't have to be a monotone meal, either. For example, pickled jalapeños are an easy addition to give boxed mac and cheese a spicy kick, or you can consider adding a squirt of sriracha to add some dimension to your pasta. Even a sprinkle of black pepper can take the flavors of your pasta up a notch.