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Best Overall: Prep: The Essential College Cookbook at Amazon
"This book has it all and will get anyone new to the kitchen feeling like a pro in no time"
Best Budget: Ultimate Dining Hall Hacks at Amazon
"A steal, offering 75 creative dining hall recipe hacks to ensure you never get bored."
Best Variety: The How-To Cookbook for Teens at Amazon
"Your perfect go-to whether you’re feeding yourself or a crowd of friends."
Best Healthy: Skinnytaste Meal Prep at Amazon
"Meal prep using healthy ingredients to simplify your life."
Best Vegan: Plant-Based on a Budget at Amazon
"A 100-recipe collection that is not only appealing to vegans, but also to those watching their wallets."
Best Basic: How to Feed Yourself at Amazon
"This book’s goal is to help you 'adult,' but in a practical, no-fuss manner."
Best Practical: Cooking for One at Amazon
"Their ruthless recipe testing has scaled down even the trickiest dishes."
Best Advanced: How to Cook Everything at Amazon
"Recipes include tasty dishes like chicken kebabs and roasted shrimp with mint sauce."
Best to Impress (Your Instagram Following): Tasty Every Day at Amazon
"A no-fuss collection that is timely, trendy, and—most importantly—tasty."
It’s never too early to start growing your cookbook collection. College students and people in their 20s often have smaller kitchens and limited budgets, but that doesn't mean mealtime has to equal takeout. Ditch the dining hall and use this curated list of cookbooks to help inspire, motivate, and teach you how to make delicious, satisfying meals that go beyond the microwave.
Best Overall: Prep, The Essential College Cookbook
Organized by 10 basic kitchen lessons, this book has it all and will get anyone new to the kitchen feeling like a pro quickly. The thorough introduction section covers everything from step-by-step knifework instructions and essential equipment to staple ingredients and food safety.
For true beginners, there’s even a section covering terms and techniques, but the tone is less boring-dictionary and more friend-helping-you-out (“Mince: Think of it as the smallest chop you can get without going completely OCD.”) With recipes like Softly Scrambled Eggs, you not only get a perfect egg recipe, but you get a detailed how-to on cracking eggs (an important first step!).
Best Budget: Ultimate Dining Hall Hacks
Price-wise, this book is a steal, and it offers 75 creative dining hall recipe hacks to ensure you never get bored. There’s no need to change your meal plan; the clever author has resourcefully compiled recipes (mains and snacks) using 100 basic dining hall staples, just as she had done as an undergrad herself and published in her college paper to share with peers.
These clever hacks will inspire you to think more creatively about how to transform your mundane dining hall options into ingenious new dishes, and that newfound innovative thought process will stay with you beyond college to help you figure out what to make when you’re too lazy to go grocery shopping and want to make a clear-out-the-fridge dinner.
Best Variety: The How-To Cookbook for Teens
These 100 recipes for beginners are organized by meal type and meal course, with a section on solo meals and family meals, making this book your perfect go-to whether you’re feeding yourself or a crowd of friends. A comprehensive introduction section covers everything from essential kitchen tools to microwave hacks to food safety tips.
Study snacks like Pull-Apart Pizza Bread and Spinach-Artichoke Dip will make you the most popular dorm room in the hall, but you’ll also be prepared to make impressive full meals like Parmesan-Crusted Pork Chops and Linguine with Clam Sauce. You don’t have to be a teen to enjoy this collection; any kitchen novice, college student or not, will benefit from this variety of classic-yet-creative recipes.
Best Healthy: Skinnytaste Meal Prep
This new release, the latest in the best-selling Skinnytaste cookbook series, is sure to be another hit. Although this book is not specifically targeted to college students, the idea—meal prep using healthy ingredients to simplify your life—is a worthwhile skill that could benefit everyone, especially busy students. Not only does meal prepping save you time, but it keeps you on budget and can help you stick to a healthy diet—a win-win.
Some recipes can even be prepared ahead of time and then cooked in a slow cooker or Instant Pot, making them even more hands-off. With recipes like Lemon Blueberry Sheet Pan Pancakes and Roasted Vegetable Lasagna, you’ll thank yourself for taking the time to meal prep earlier in the week, as you reap the time-saving, cost-cutting, healthier-than-take-out benefits in the days to come.
Best Vegan: Plant-Based on a Budget
The founder of the popular Plant-Based on a Budget website has turned her expertise into a published 100-recipe collection that is not only appealing to vegans but also to those watching their wallets. And, to top that off, the recipes all come together in about 30 minutes or less, so you can rest assured you won’t be spending hours in the kitchen when you should be studying for those midterms.
Mouthwatering recipes like “PB Ramen Stir Fry” and “Real Deal Chocolate Chip Cookies” will impress and satisfy vegans and non-vegans alike. The book also has an impressive foreword by Dr. Michael Greger, New York Times Best Selling Author of How Not to Die. Whether you’re a lifelong vegan or just trying out the plant-based world for the first time, this book will make veganism easier—and tastier—than ever before.
Best Basic: How to Feed Yourself
This book’s goal is to help you “adult,” but in a practical, no-fuss manner that requires “no special equipment or skills or ingredients or magic.” Using ingredients you likely have on hand, these recipes cleverly help solve day-to-day kitchen conundrums like what to do with the trace amounts of peanut butter stuck in the jar (make peanut noodles, of course) or how to use that leftover vodka when you’re not in the mood for shots (make “penne alla leftover vodka”). With sections specifically for date nights, group dinners, make-ahead, big-batch drinks, and much more, Spoon University has thought of it all, so you’re prepared with delicious, easy recipes for any situation that arises.
Best Practical: Cooking for One
America’s Test Kitchen’s expertise is showcased once again in this brand-new, 160-recipe collection specifically designed for one-person—perfect for a student who does not have the space for tons of large equipment, the need for multiple servings, or the desire for days of leftovers. Their ruthless recipe testing has scaled down even the trickiest dishes (like meatloaf and desserts), so there’s no guesswork needed.
A “Kitchen Improv” note with every recipe offers up easy swaps in case you’re missing an ingredient. They’ve also specifically designated certain recipes as “Pantry Recipes,” for those weeks when there isn’t enough time to go grocery shopping (finals, anyone?) and you need to rely on what you have on hand. In an effort to minimize waste, recipes suggest creative ways to use leftover ingredients, and for days when you need to spend less time doing dishes and more time studying, there are plenty of one-pan meals at the ready.
Best Advanced: How to Cook Everything
If you are a college student or 20-something who happens to have access to a fully operational kitchen, you may be in the market for something a little more advanced, and that's where Mark Bittman's revised, award-winning cooking bible, which features 2,000 recipes for delicious food comes in handy. Recipes include tasty dishes like chicken kebabs and roasted shrimp with mint sauce. An introduction section discusses ingredient basics, equipment descriptions, step-by-step knifework illustrations, and much more. This book makes a great housewarming gift or present for newlyweds, too.
Best to Impress (Your Instagram Following): Tasty Every Day
You might know this brand's Instagram for the catchy photos and mesmerizing top-down videos, but even for young eyes, it can be much easier to cook a recipe from a book. Luckily, Tasty has transformed some of its most popular recipes into a no-fuss collection that is timely, trendy, and—most importantly—tasty. With chapters devoted to five ingredients or less, 20 minutes and under, and “better than takeout,” you’ll be able to minimize your time spent in the kitchen and stay within your budget.
Complete with meal prep tips, one-pot meals, and even no-cook recipes, this collection of hands-off recipes will impress you and your friends. Who needs the dining hall when you can make your own Chicken Pot Pie or Margherita French Bread Pizzas?
For the college student or recent graduate who wants a true beginner’s guide that covers all the essentials, Prep: The Essential College Cookbook is the perfect cookbook. For those who are more comfortable in the kitchen, we recommend America’s Test Kitchen’s Cooking for One: Scaled Recipes, No-Waste Solutions, and Time-Saving Tips.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
The Spruce Eats writer Alyssa Langer is a cookbook enthusiast herself, collecting dozens over the years and always turning to them for inspiration, whether it’s a time-consuming weekend baking project or just a quick Monday night dinner. Having worked in the cookbook publishing world in the past, she knows what it takes to create a quality book that delivers something new and exciting to readers—particularly in an increasingly online world.