Cooking for College Students – Easy Recipes for a Dorm Room
College students these days have packed schedules. When you’re rushing around campus all day, it can be hard to find the time to eat a meal, let alone cook one. That’s why most students rely on their school’s meal plan. These days, meal plans give you lots of food options to choose from, including off-campus eateries that can serve up meals late into the night.
But this convenience comes at a high cost. According to the Hechinger Report, the average college meal plan costs $4,500 for three meals a day, eight months a year. That works out to about $18.75 per day. By contrast, the average American household spends about $7,200 on food for a whole year, or $7.80 per person, per day, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As a student, you can save a lot of money by doing some or all of your own cooking. If you live in an apartment, it’s just a matter of getting yourself some basic kitchen tools and a good cookbook. But even if you live in a dorm, you can use a few creative tricks to prepare some simple meals at home. You may not be able to replace your entire meal plan, but even downgrading from a full meal plan to a partial one could save you thousands of dollars each year.
Many college residence halls have a communal kitchen that all students can share. Unfortunately, using it isn’t always pleasant or convenient. Other students don’t always clean up after cooking, so it’s not unusual to come into the kitchen and find someone else’s week-old dirty dishes piled in the sink.
The key to avoiding problems like this is communication. Often, students who leave a mess in the kitchen don’t mean to be rude – they just don’t realize that the cleaning staff isn’t going to come in and clean up after them. Putting up a sign in the kitchen gently reminding people to clean up after themselves could be enough to solve the problem.
If that doesn’t do the trick, you can try talking to the other students directly. Call a meeting of all students in your dorm who use the kitchen and work out some ground rules for sharing it. In addition to cleaning, you can address issues like how much storage space each student can use and how to label your food so others know it’s off-limits. Maybe you can even agree to get together and cook a group meal once a month.
Talking through these problems with other students can also help prevent bigger problems down the road. Sometimes, if students don’t take care of the kitchen properly, the school will put a lock on the door and require students to sign out a key to use it. Making a plan with other students can help you avoid this situation and keep the kitchen open to all.
Of course, even if your dorm kitchen isn’t locked, it isn’t necessarily convenient to use for every meal. If you live on the fourth floor, it’s a pain to go down to the first floor in your pajamas every morning just to boil an egg for breakfast. However, you can still use the shared kitchen to cook up a big batch of something every few days – chili or spaghetti, for instance. If you save the leftovers to reheat later, this one dish can provide you with dinner for several days in a row.
Tools for Dorm Cooking
If your dorm doesn’t have a kitchen, “home” cooking is a little more challenging – but not impossible. With the right tools and a little creativity, you can whip up a surprising variety of dishes in the confines of your dorm room.
While you can’t fit a full-sized stove or oven in a dorm room, there are several smaller appliances you can use to do many of the same jobs. The most useful gadgets for dorm cooking are:
Before you rush out and buy all of these gadgets, be aware that colleges don’t always allow you to have them in your dorm. At some schools, a mini grill, toaster oven, or even a coffee maker could be banned as a fire hazard. So, before you show up at school with a toaster oven in tow, check with your school’s housing department to find out the rules.
Along with your appliances, you’ll need a few basic kitchen tools. Since you don’t have a full kitchen, you don’t need the same collection of cookware required to cook a meal on the stove – and you wouldn’t have room to store it, anyway. However, you’ll probably want the following basics:
In addition, if you are using a communal kitchen, you’ll need at least one good-sized pot and one pan. A pot with a strainer lid is best, since it allows you to drain pasta or beans without having to use a separate colander.
There’s no need to spend a lot of money on these basic cooking supplies. You don’t need them to last forever; they just have to get you through your college years. You can find cheap versions of a lot of these items at the dollar store, and if they break, you’re only out a dollar. You can also pick them up secondhand at thrift stores and yard sales, or use hand-me-downs from relatives.
Dorm-room cooking shouldn’t mean a steady diet of ramen noodles. Those little packets are cheap and easy to make, but a steady diet of them won’t give you the energy you need to power through your classes. By choosing the right ingredients, you can eat healthy in college, even without a real kitchen.
Staple foods are the ones you should always keep on hand because you can use them in a wide variety of recipes. Here’s a sample list of staples for campus cooking:
These staple foods are all fairly cheap, and most of them will keep at room temperature, so they don’t take up precious space in your tiny fridge. You can supplement them with a selection of fresh fruits and veggies and even some fresh meats.
Grocery shopping poses three major challenges for students:
Now that you have your dorm “kitchen” stocked, it’s time to start cooking. With these few basic ingredients and tools, you can prepare a surprisingly wide variety of healthy meals – breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks.
Cold cereal makes a quick and easy breakfast, but you don’t have to limit yourself to that. Even with just a microwave, you can prepare lots of tasty breakfast options, such as:
There are plenty of other great hot breakfasts you can prepare with a mug and your microwave. Do a quick search on “microwave mug breakfasts” and you’ll find lots to choose from – microwave coffee cakes, muffins, quiches, breakfast cookies, and more.
For an easy lunch that you can eat on the go, you can always fix yourself a sandwich. Bread and peanut butter are easy to keep on hand, and you can use your mini fridge to store cold cuts, hummus, or cheese.
However, you can get tired of sandwiches after a while. If you’re craving a more elaborate lunch, here are some options you can prepare between classes:
Leftovers from last night’s dinner also make a quick and easy lunch. Store them in a microwave-safe container, and all you have to do is give them a quick zap to heat them up.
When classes are over for the day, you can devote a little more time to cooking something special for dinner. Here are a few easy, healthy dishes for dorm-room cooks:
If you’re using your dorm’s communal kitchen, you have even more dinner options. You can use the stove to whip up a batch of stir-fry, a pot of soup, or a big batch of chili. It’s easy to find recipes for these and other inexpensive dinner dishes online.
Part of college life is staying up late, either studying or partying. When the midnight munchies hit, you can open up a bag of chips, but it’s not the healthiest choice – or the most satisfying. Here are some great noshes – both savory and sweet – that you can make to cure your cravings at any hour of the day or night:
One hazard of dorm cooking is that you have to take care to clean up after yourself. Leaving scraps of food lying around is a good way to attract unwanted roommates, such as mice and cockroaches.
Make sure to sweep up any stray crumbs, and if you don’t have a dorm kitchen to use, wash your dishes in the bathroom sink. A dish wand with a sponge head and a hollow handle that holds soap makes the process quick and easy. Dry the dishes with a cotton dish towel, or lay them out to dry on a towel spread on top of your desk.
Of course, cooking a delicious meal in your dorm is also a good way to attract your human roommates, begging for a share of the food. If you’re planning to save your leftovers for another meal, you may need to label them with your name before storing them in a shared fridge so no one else will scarf them down.
But if you do have enough to spare, have a heart and share the goodies with your friends. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to make a big batch on purpose once in a while so you can offer food around to other hungry students. If you get a reputation as the person who always has tasty food to share, you might just find yourself the most popular person in your dorm.
What are your favorite dorm-room recipes?
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, “And from that you make a living?” She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.
Cooking for College Students – Easy Recipes for a Dorm Room
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