Vending machine use has been associated with low dietary quality among children but there is limited evidence on its role in food habits of University students. We aimed to examine the nutritional value of foods sold in vending machines in a UK University and conduct formative research to investigate differences in food intake and body weight by vending machine use among 137 University students. The nutrient content of snacks and beverages available at nine campus vending machines was assessed by direct observation in May 2014. Participants (mean age 22.5 years; 54% males) subsequently completed a self-administered questionnaire to assess vending machine behaviours and food intake. Self-reported weight and height were collected. Vending machine snacks were generally high in sugar, fat and saturated fat, whereas most beverages were high in sugar. Seventy three participants (53.3%) used vending machines more than once per week and 82.2% (n 60) of vending machine users used them to snack between meals. Vending machine accessibility was positively correlated with vending machine use (r = 0.209, P = 0.015). Vending machine users, compared to non-users, reported a significantly higher weekly consumption of savoury snacks (5.2 vs. 2.8, P = 0.014), fruit juice (6.5 vs. 4.3, P = 0.035), soft drinks (5.1 vs. 1.9, P = 0.006), meat products (8.3 vs. 5.6, P = 0.029) and microwave meals (2.0 vs. 1.3, P = 0.020). No between-group differences were found in body weight. Most foods available from vending machines in this UK University were of low nutritional quality. In this sample of University students, vending machine users displayed several unfavourable dietary behaviours, compared to non-users. Findings can be used to inform the development of an environmental intervention that will focus on vending machines to improve dietary behaviours in University students in the UK.