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Gifts for your favorite foodie college student

Send them back to school (eventually) in proper style.

While the ongoing coronavirus pandemic means increased uncertainty this back-to-school season and necessitates some new essentials for students of all ages (face masks for everyone), a lot of the required gear remains the same. If you have a kid headed off to college for the fall semester, they'll still need laptop, textbooks and twin XL sheets. Ditto other basics like clothes hangers and a travel mug (for all the coffee drinking). And of course they'll still need to eat -- maybe even feed themselves for the first time. 

There are mini fridges and dorm-size microwaves to consider, but college cuisine doesn't have to be just instant ramen and dining-hall grub. If you're sending a would-be foodie off to school, here's what to get them so they'll eat (and drink) well all semester, even if they don't necessarily know how to cook.

These suggestions run the gamut from helpful tools to food-delivery services, so there's something to suit every student -- and help them maintain social distancing, too.

Read more: Best back-to-school gear under $100 for 2020

Walmart

Smoothies are one of the easiest ways to start the day and they're equally good for snacks and quick liquid dinners if it comes to that. This blender is compact (a plus for small spaces) and includes two blending cups with to-go lids, making it great for students who always seem to be running late to class (or Zoom meetings, as the case may be). For college cooks, you might consider a blender with a built-in heating element that's equally handy for warm soups and sauces, but if smoothies are the top priority, this bullet blender gets the job done. It may or may not also make a mean frozen margarita for post-exam celebrations ... for those aged 21 and over only, of course.

Read more: Best blenders of 2020

Ninja

College students need caffeine, so some kind of coffee maker is highly advisable, whether it's a simple drip coffee maker, a convenient and compact single-serve K-cup machine, a low-tech French press or even a fancy Nespresso maker for the lucky ones. For variety's sake, though, this jack-of-all-trades coffee maker is a great contender. It can handle regular coffee as well as cold brew and even tea, with separate settings and baskets for beans and leaves (loose or bagged). It even has a fold-away frothing arm for latte-style drinks, so it'll save money on Starbucks runs as well as limit unnecessary public outings. It includes size settings too, so you can brew a full carafe or a single cup.

Read more: Trusty reusable coffee mugs

Sudden Coffee

If a coffee maker isn't an option but an electric kettle or microwave will be on hand, consider sending them off with some Jot Ultra Coffee concentrate. Each bottle makes 14 cups of coffee and promises an "uncommonly smooth" experience "with unmatched clarity of flavor." The extract is made from organic, Fair Trade, and sustainable coffee beans from Central and South America and certainly beats most instant coffee granules. It can be enjoyed as cold brew or added to hot water or milk for a more traditional cup of joe. You can sign up for a subscription (and save between $4-$12 a month) as well.

Instant Pot

If the dorm allows it, an Instant Pot is a no brainer for today's college students. It truly can do almost anything: Make morning yogurt, boil perfect eggs, make big batches of protein to stretch into meals all week long and even pull off easy desserts. A smaller 3-quart mini Instant Pot is perfect for dorm-bound students without a lot of room to store leftovers.

Walmart

If the Instant Pot seems like too much of a splurge or just too bulky, consider a rice cooker instead. You can find more sophisticated models, but even the most basic one makes perfect rice every time with the touch of a button (and keeps it warm for hours). But did you know they're also great for cooking other things? They can handle any other grains from quinoa to couscous, as well as beans and porridge, even soups and steamed entrees. Get one of these for your foodie student, throw in The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook and they'll be all set to whip up easy breakfasts, lunches, dinners and desserts -- like oatmeal, risotto, polenta and rice pudding -- mostly all in one pot. Who needs takeout?

Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

A good set of food-safe containers is a must-have for meal prep and storing leftovers, homemade or otherwise. Normally, they're also great for packing snacks and lunches to take along to class. But even if that's out of the question for a while, they can go on a socially distant picnic/study sesh as long as the weather's nice. This set of five compartmentalized meal prep containers is made from heavy-duty borosilicate glass, has lock-on lids to guard against spills and is microwave-, freezer- and oven-safe.

Hello Fresh

Even the most enthusiastic cook will be pressed for time once school begins, but a meal kit delivery service is a huge help. Not only does it save time spent on grocery shopping and figuring out what you want to eat, it cuts down on food waste with perfectly proportioned ingredients. And thanks to detailed recipe instructions, even novice cooks can pull off impressive meals.

There are plenty of meal kit delivery companies to choose from and many offer plans for special diets including vegan and gluten-free selections. Every Plate is a good option if you're on a tighter budget, and Hello Fresh is offering 15% off every box for students (new customers only) plus free shipping on any box when you use code UniDAYS (prices start at $9 per serving). You can pause your plan any time in case you're headed off to spring break or just slammed with finals and have no time to cook even these easy meals. But the best part just might be how good they taste while still being good for you. You can't say that about pizza every night.

Freshly

A similar option for those without full dorm kitchens is a ready-made meal delivery service, where it's all heat and eat (and sometimes not even heat). We reviewed Sakara, a plant-based, superfood-centric meal delivery service that includes breakfast and snack options as well as lunch and dinner, but again, you have your pick of meal delivery services.

Freshly, for instance, promises gluten-free, all-natural, single-serving meals for lunch and dinner with no refined sugars and also offers vegetarian, dairy-free, low-carb and paleo plans. All meals come fully cooked and just require a brief spin in the microwave. Prices start at $9 per meal (with the 12 meals per week plan) and go up to $13 per meal (with the four meals per week plan).

Universal Yums

Like caffeine, snacks are one of a college student's best friends -- and like meal kit and meal delivery services, there are now scores of snack food delivery boxes to keep one well supplied with between-class nibbles. Many of them, including Graze and NatureBox, put a premium on healthy snacks, which could be helpful for anyone concerned about the infamous freshman 15. There's even a keto-oriented Keto Krate snack subscription and vegan options like Vegan Cuts. Other snack subscriptions focus on international treats. Bokksu and Japan Crate send Japanese snacks every month; ZenPop sends Japanese ramen and sweets.

Universal Yums switches it up and ships a box of snacks from a specific country like France or South Korea every month, packed full of goodies often hard to come by in the US. Choose from three box sizes, starting at $17 per month. It's sure to be a bright spot in any stressed student's routine and might help assuage the pain of not being able to study abroad right now.

Thrive Market

Somewhere in between meal kit delivery services and snack boxes lie grocery delivery services. A Thrive Market subscription could be the perfect gift for your college-bound food fan, especially now that social distancing is so important. This membership-only online grocery store offers organic and non-GMO snacks, pantry staples, drinks and more -- including meat and fish for those with the means to cook them -- at prices up to 50% off retail. They also sell organic bath and beauty products for when it's time to restock the shower caddy. An annual membership equates to $5 per month and you can try it for a full month risk-free.