Cooking in a college dorm is sort of like camping — but indoors and for an entire semester. Oh, and you have electricity. That's kind of a big deal. Whether it's you who's moving on campus for the first time (Wheee!) or your child or grandchild (he/she will be just fine), there are a several culinary tools to make the transition easier — tricks beyond s'mores, cocoa, and packaged ramen.
Future dormer: You can't live on a diet of breakfast bars, chips, cookies, and beer every day. (What?! What about pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? No.) Or you can go this route, but you'll be unrecognizable when you return home for winter break. And every meal isn't going to be at your university's cafeteria or nearby restaurants and bars. Eating out all the time can take a toll on your body and wallet too.
To save yourself, a little dorm-room cooking is in order. It's all about balance, people. We're not suggesting you whip up a lasagna and three-layer cake as you hole up in your 12-foot-by-12-foot box until the holidays, but you'd be amazed at the culinary feats you can accomplish with just a few simple (and totally amazeball) tools.
1. Mini fridge
If your dorm room doesn't already include a refrigerator-freezer, then you've got to get a mini version. It's a must. Of course, check with your roommate because you might not want, or have room for, two fridges. But you gotta put your milk — whether it's cow, soy, almond, or coconut — in a cool place. And all that other stuff you want cold. You could try this 3.2-cubic-foot Igloo Black Erase Board Refrigerator with neon markers, that lets you write and erase lists and notes right on the fridge.
To some of us, a microwave is also already an understood essential. But many dorm vets wave the hot pot flag. Sunbeam makes a $14 hot pot that boils water in 1 to 2 minutes, and you can make pasta, rice, potatoes and vegetables in there too, besides coffee and tea. But for others, it's the microwave all the way. Go with a small version, of course, and then make sure all your plates, bowls, and mugs are microwave-safe. You'll want a compact microwave with 700 watts of power or less to fall under standard dorm safety regulations, such as this stylish 700-watt Oster Microwave Oven, which has a retro oval window and chrome look. Or this highly rated black Westinghouse Counter Microwave, with 600 watts of power and only .6-cubic feet in size. Both microwaves are in the $50-$60 range.
3. Personal blender
Want to avoid the Freshman 15 and maintain a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables? Smoothies, smoothies, smoothies. We like personal blenders better than traditional blenders because they're more compact, the blending container doubles as a cup, and it comes with lids to make them to-go cups so you can sip on your way to class. We've enjoyed the Magic Bullet but especially the Nutri Ninja Pro, which can crush through ice, seeds, skins, and stems for a smooth, even consistency. Ice and frozen fruit is no match for this Ninja, so it's great for cold, healthy drinks and smoothies. And ahem, margaritas…
4. Coffee Maker
This should've been No. 1, really. You might try to schedule all your classes late in the day, but inevitably, there will be at least one 8 a.m. class (uggghhh) that you have to take. Now regular coffee makers have a 12-cup max capacity, which as ambitious as you are, might just be unnecessary. Plus it's large and takes up a lot of precious space. Enter the top-rated KitchenAid Personal Coffee Maker. It's slim, comes in red, white or black, and it includes a travel mug so you can sip as you race to your class. The maker brews up to 18 ounces of coffee, which is supposedly three cups, but we know what a cup of coffee means to you in real life.
5. Cooking Utensils
A big wooden spoon, a spatula, a serving spoon, a can opener, measuring spoons, measuring cups, a peeler, and a sharp knife, are all little things you could forget when you're selecting your silverware, plates, cups, and bowls. You might as well find some colorful or especially cool-looking cooking utensils, if style matters to you. Why not make it more fun?
6. Filtered Water Pitcher
Even more of an essential than coffee (gasp!), is clean, drinkable water. A filtered water pitcher is a great way to have the most necessary sustenance around all the time. Even if you can't fit it in your fridge, you want this. There are many kinds, but a slim design works best for your limited space. The Brita 6-Cup Space Saver BPA Free Water Pitcher fits this bill, with color options of white, black, and red.
7. Elite Cuisine Multifunction 3-in-1 Breakfast Center
Save your college dollars for dinners and drinks out because you can have a real brunch party in your dorm with this multi-tasking machine. It's a skillet, a toaster oven, and a coffee maker. All that's missing are the mimosas! Not sure if this three-in-one wonder could be considered essential, but the coffee maker is for sure. Why stop at breakfast? You could toast little pita pizzas in there and fry burgers on top.
Also: Microwave-safe food storage containers with lids, like Tupperware, as well as shatter-proof and microwave-safe dishes, are a great idea. A small cutting board wouldn't hurt either. Oh, and maybe a tea towel, pot holder, and trivet too. (Sigh.) You gotta stop somewhere though. Bon voyage!
— Head Image: HGTV
Amy Sowder is a NYC-based food and fitness freelance writer who's also on Chowhound's editorial staff. She loves gooey things, especially cheesy toasties and puns. Ice cream is a strong motivation for her running habit.