Getting ready for a first year away from home is an exciting adventure. New digs, new school, new friends—new everything, including the way you eat. Most college campuses provide dining hall options during the day, but what about those late night snacks and missed meals?
If you love home cooked meals and getting creative in the kitchen, dorm room cooking can be challenging. With space limitations, approved appliance lists and minimal storage options, what’s a hungry, healthy college student to do?
Fortunately, many dormitories feature a shared kitchen or basic microwave and mini-fridge setup in your room. Communal kitchens are usually bare bones; stove, sink, refrigerator, some counter space and maybe a larger microwave. If you’re lucky, there may be a few basic pots and bowls but don’t count on it.
Consider what types of foods you like and what you’ll be preparing. Breakfast foods are a great fill in for a missed dinner or a late night meal. Think multi-use for cooking equipment, storage, preparation and serving. You’ll be amazed at what gourmet delights are possible.
Here's a list of must-haves for setting up your dorm room kitchen:
1. Mini-fridge: Try to find one with a built-in freezer. This is an essential for storing leftovers from the dining hall, milk for your morning coffee, chilling overnight oats and other necessities.
2. Electric tea kettle: Choose one with an automatic shut-off switch on top. Besides taking care of your coffee, tea or hot cocoa fix, this is one piece of equipment you can’t do without. Instant oatmeal, ramen noodles, couscous, miso soup, pre-cooked rice pilafs and even hardboiled eggs can all be prepared in an electric kettle.
3. Stackable mixing bowls: A set of mixing bowls works double-duty for mixing up your culinary creations and doubles as a serving bowl too! Look for microwave-safe bowls with snap-on lids for easy storage.
4. Kitchen tool trio: With a high-quality, sharp paring knife, vegetable peeler and manual can opener, you can cover all of the basic prep needs. Add in a larger chef’s knife if you plan on doing lots of cooking.
5. Personal blender: Having one of these in your room takes the pressure off of racing the dining hall for breakfast. Blend up a healthy smoothie with protein powder, banana and non-dairy milk to keep you alert and energized all morning. Craving a sweet snack? Make a creamy dessert pudding with avocado, cacao powder and coconut milk. Top your pudding with some chocolate chips.
6. Cutting board: Choose a durable and easy-to-wash board for chopping and slicing. A medium-size cutting board placed on top of your desk can serve as an extra kitchen counter prep area.
7. Baking sheet: A metal baking sheet with a lip around the pan is perfect for baking big batches of cookies, fries, pizza and brownies in the community kitchen oven. A baking sheet also doubles as extra counter space to make sure dorm room furniture doesn’t get ruined.
8. Sauce pan with lid: Pick a medium-size, four-quart pan that's large enough to make a batch of pasta, soup or chili. Look for a clip-on metal or handheld plastic strainer, great for draining off cooking water.
9. Sauté pan: Use an eight to 10-inch sauté pan for preparing eggs, French toast or a quick stir-fry.
10. Measuring cups & spoons: These come in handy when you’re doing any type of baking and accurate measuring is necessary.
11. Dishes & cutlery: Think durable, versatile and easy to clean. Cover your bases with a dinner plate, cereal/soup bowl, mug and utensils.
12. Kitchen towels: Unless you plan on using your bath towels to dry your cooking gear, invest in a few cotton towels.
13. Beverage containers: An insulated travel mug is handy for keeping hot beverages (and soup) hot and cold beverages cold, especially if you’ll be packing it in your bag to have later in the day. Don’t forget a reusable water bottle to keep hydrated and save money.
14. Iron: Besides its obvious uses, if allowed, you can use an iron as a Panini press or to make a cheesy quesadilla. Wrap up your cheese-filled tortilla tightly in an aluminum foil package and iron for 2-3 minutes on both sides.
Set yourself up for success
Even if you’ll be eating most of your meals in the dining hall, having a stash of healthy pantry essentials can save you money and keep you from relying on the vending machine or take out.
Here is a basic list to get you started. Experiment and add in your own favorites.
- Quality salt
- Seasonings: pepper, herb blends, granulated garlic and onion (when fresh is not available)
- Instant oats
- Quick-cook pastas, macaroni & cheese or gluten-free pasta
- Cold cereal or granola
- Nut butters & jam
- Flour tortillas
- Salsa & hot sauce
- Trail mix, nuts or other snacks
- Beef or turkey jerky for a protein-packed pick me up
- Honey—a shelf-stable natural sweetener
- Cookies and chocolate for sweet cravings and sharing with roommates
- Fresh fruit for a portable and healthy snack and to add to cereal and yogurt
Overall, dorm room cooking is all about improvising, simplifying and convenience. Remember to always keep it simple and have fun!