Easy Meal Ideas for College Students or Young Adults Who Don't Have a Meal Plan

You’re heading to college, or maybe you have a child leaving the nest for the first time and are wondering if they’re ready for life outside your humble abode. Being out on your own means more independence and that also means learning to cook for the first time. Dining hall meals won’t last forever, and boxed mac and cheese can only get you so far. If you are a young adult or know someone who could use some easy meal ideas to help them get started on their cooking journey, here are easy meal ideas that are perfect for college students or young adults.

college meal planning ideas

Easy Meal Ideas for College Students or Young Adults Who Don't Have a Meal Plan

easy meal ideas college

I've already sent two kids out into this world hoping I prepared them with all the life skills that they needed to do their best to keep themselves alive. Thankfully, sending them away to college gives a little tether that helps them experience a taste of independence with a bit of a safety net.

There are slow easy transitions that can feel jolting to young adults trying to figure adulting out, and making their own meals is one of them. Here are some easy meal ideas that are perfect for college students or young adults as they ease into real-life adulthood.

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As a college student, speed is sometimes a blessing, and with these meals, it’s a great option! Sandwiches allow you to throw together a quick meal whenever you need it, and you can make them as versatile as the ingredients you have on hand! Keep things like dill pickles and mustard as well as veggies and sliced deli meats on hand for easy deli sandwiches from home. Or, grab some cheese and make a grilled cheese. This is an easy meal option anyone can learn to make.


Pasta is a staple of every college kid’s diet. Jarred pasta sauces and boxed noodles are two ingredients that are both cheap and filling and students can have them on hand so that after long breaks away from school, they can still have food to eat at their college home. You can add ground meat or onions and parmesan cheese to round out these meals more, but it’s not a necessity. Using a jarred sauce and noodles as a base, they can learn to make everything from Chicken Alfredo to a simple Spaghetti and Meatball meal.

easy meal ideas college students

Stir Fry

A great way to teach your college student to get creative in the kitchen is by using the traditional stir fry meal option! Heat up some oil in a pan, toss in some ginger and garlic, then add a bottled sauce to any veggies or meats you need to use up! This is a great way to make sure they use up all their leftovers or to help them throw together an easy meal using the fresh produce that was on sale.

Burritos and Quesadillas

These two kinds of dishes go hand in hand. With some storebought canned beans, cheese, rice, and your veggies and meat of choice, you can make a wide variety of different Mexican-inspired dishes. You could even whip up some burritos ahead of time to keep in your freezer for busy days. With a tortilla base, you can top just about anything on these and you have a filling meal ready to go!

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Crockpot or Air Fryer Meals

If your college student has a crockpot, try looking for some delicious dump-and-go meals! This can help them make hearty meals like a pot roast, pulled pork, fajitas, and more just by letting the slow cooker do the work! A simple search, and you’ll find tons of meals you can make from your crockpot.

Air Fryers are the hot kitchen item now and most foods can be cooked in under 10 minutes. Air Fryers are great because a student can cook enough for just one night, or can whip up a meal for their roommates or for meal planning later in the week. If there is ever a question about how to cook something, the magic number seems to be 375 degrees for 7 minutes! Try it!


Here are a few college cookbooks that would make great gifts! 

The 5-Ingredient College Cookbook

Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4 a Day

The Easy College Cookbook

The Quick and Easy College Cookbook

I Love Trader Joe's College Cookbook

Don't miss these free resources for college students! 

Whether you yourself are heading out into the world, or you want to prepare your college student for life outside of their home kitchen, these easy meal ideas are a great jumping-off point.

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