A Guide to Food for Finals Week, from a Real College Student

Don’t panic, but it’s here. I know we’ve all been in denial, I know it’s scary and seems like the end of the world, but that’s exactly when we need to band together and brace ourselves. That’s right…finals week is here. Finals are, quite frankly, a hellish time. Too much to do, too little time, and unfortunately that limited time doesn’t always allow for cooking or a meal out. However, as I close out my four years of college with many rocky finals weeks under my belt, I have learned from my food prepping mistakes and compiled my ultimate list of finals week staples in the hopes that future finals participants across the world can be better prepared to tackle this beast. Here’s a real college student’s guide to food for finals week (with prices, because those loans are going to come due in no time).

Jif Creamy Peanut Butter ($3.69)

I’m going to start off by saying that I think this jar of peanutty goodness is the ultimate hero of finals week. The salty-sweet balance in this peanut butter makes it a flavor bomb that can take your food from dorm meal to dorm-et meal. Plus, peanut butter isn’t just for enhancing other foods; it stands on its own as a quick and easy source of delightfully nutty protein. Whether you’re burning out mid-research paper and need a midnight snack, or you’re struggling to get your body moving for your 8 a.m. in-person final, a spoonful of peanut butter is the perfect quick snack to get you going in a pinch.

Read the full ranking of the best peanut butter

Quaker Instant Oatmeal Variety Pack ($3.99, or about 50 cents per meal)

Even on a good week, breakfast is easy to put off. It’s always the same debate: “Would I rather have an extra 30 minutes of sleep, or make breakfast?” To the surprise of absolutely no one, sleep has been an undefeated winner. That is, until I found this box of Quaker instant oatmeal. You get eight packets in three flavors—apple cinnamon, maple and brown sugar, and cinnamon and spice—and that’s just the kind of variety you need to get through the monotony of finals week, all for around four bucks. You can play it simple by making the packets with water from the tap, or spice it up with a milk of your choice and some protein-packed peanut butter (finals week MVP!) to make it a thicker, more filling meal. Ultimately, when finals week fatigue starts to set in, nothing feels better than being able to start the morning with some warm, delicately spiced oats.

Read the full ranking of the best instant oatmeal

Nongshim Tonkotsu Ramen Bowls ($13.99, or about $2.40 per meal)

We all know instant ramen as the quintessential college meal, but that doesn’t mean just any instant ramen will suffice. While I appreciate how filling a big bowl of noodles in broth can be, I often opt for less water with some of my instant ramen because the broth can be either too salty or too spicy without bringing much else to the table. Maybe it’s the appeal of their packaging, but I’ve been loving the broth of Nongshim’s Tonkotsu Ramen Bowl. It’s savory and salty, spicy and meaty, and there are pieces of sliced garlic in the soup that make this microwave meal feel more elevated. Plus, if you want to change it up a little, you can always drain the water, bust out those take-out soy sauce packets you’ve saved up and a spoonful of that Jif peanut butter, and have make low effort peanut noodles.

Read the full ranking of the best instant ramen

Naked 100% Juice Blend Variety Pack ($20, About $1.70 per drink)

This is a Costco favorite! I don’t know about you, but I struggle to get fruits and veggies in at school—and the struggle is especially real during finals week. I definitely don’t have time to wash and cut up fruit, so these juices can help me feel like I consumed something healthy without adding more stress to my life. I also think variety packs in general are the key to finals week. One day you chug a Strawberry Banana Naked juice before your oral exam, the next day you can sip on some Mighty Mango as you create a presentation on utilitarianism. At $20 It’s a little pricier than other items on this list, but you’re getting a dozen effortless smoothies for around $1.70 a drink.

Trader Joe’s Chili & Lime Flavored Rolled Corn Tortilla Chips ($2.99)

If you’re going to get through finals week in one piece, you need a good chip. A chip to reward yourself with after every sentence you write, or to mindlessly munch on as you contemplate the pros and cons of simply dropping out. And I think that good chip, nay, that great chip is Trader Joe’s Chili & Lime Flavored Rolled Corn Tortilla Chips. They’re packed with an array of flavors—they’re salty, citrussy, and have a pleasant pop of heat—all in a pleasantly crunchy corn chip. These are the kind of chips that will keep you perked up instead of bogging you down. And at $2.99 a bag, they’re among the ultimate finals week foods.

Clif Bar Chocolate Chip, White Chocolate Macadamia, and Crunchy Peanut Butter Energy Bars Bundle ($22.99, or about $1.30 per bar)

We’re back with another variety pack, this one filled with protein bars you know and love: the Clif Bars. If making instant oatmeal is still too tall an order amind the finals week hustle and bustle, then a Clif bar is the way to go. No need for any prep, you can just grab and go, put a few in your bag for emergencies, and now you have a flavorful, filling, protein-packed snack to keep you going! I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, the variety just adds to the experience by giving you different choices for different occasions, and, luckily, all three flavors are winners.

Read the full ranking of the best protein bars

Great Value French Vanilla Cold Brew Coffee Concentrate ($4.42) and Chobani Sweet Cream Coffee Creamer ($4.99)

I’m sure you’ve been wondering, “Where’s the caffeine on this damn list?” Fret not! In order to get you through all-nighters on all-nighters without going broke at the coffee shop, I propose a pairing: average, low-cost cold brew concentrate with a very tasty creamer. The Sporked crew tasted a multitude of cold brew concentrates and while Great Value French Vanilla wasn’t our favorite…it’s also not bad. It tastes like vanilla. It gives you a caffeine kick. And best of all, it’s sooo very affordable. And if I’ve learned anything in college it’s that sometimes you have to go with what gets the job done most efficiently rather than what you love. And this is a concentrate, which means you can stretch this bottle a longggg way. Spruce up that budget cold brew with Chobani Sweet Cream coffee creamer, which is creamy, sweet, and delicious enough to make cheap coffee taste like it came from a coffee shop. 

Read the full ranking of the best cold brew concentrate

Trader Joe’s Mini Vegetable Samosas ($3.99)

This is for after you’ve crossed the finish line. You’ve written all the papers. You demolished that group presentation. You might be half the person you once were, but you can rest now. If you want to celebrate and nourish yourself but are also not at full capacity quite yet, Trader Joe’s Mini Vegetable Samosas are already one of our favorite Trader Joe’s appetizers here at Sporked for many reasons. They are filled to the metaphorical brim with delicious vegetables that make you forget they are vegetables with their wonderfully spiced and savory flavors that come in the most delicately crunchy exterior you could imagine. And best of all? All you have to do is pop them in the microwave or oven and they’re ready to enjoy. You did it! Now celebrate with samosas!

About the Author

Madison Ramirez

Madison Ramirez is an LA-based writer who struggles with food getting cold on her while she’s too busy rambling about how its texture compliments its taste. Whether it’s a gourmet meal with the most tender steak known to man, or a pepperoni and cheese Hot Pocket, she has almost too many thoughts and opinions on it all.

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