Cooking in the Dorm

Obey the Rules and Eat Well

Grilled Balsamic Strawberries, Burrata + Mint Pistou Grilled Cheese
Grilled Cheese Social

I've been receiving letters from moms and dads who want to help their college-bound kids eat well.

If your college doesn't offer gourmet food, and if the dorm rules permit it, you can feed yourself healthy and nutritious meals made in your room or in the common kitchen. Please make sure that you are allowed to have a microwave, rice cooker, indoor grill, or electric skillet in your room. Cooking in the dorm is the second leading cause of dorm fires; if you start a fire using illegal equipment, you will be in lots of legal trouble, as will your parents, especially if someone gets hurt.

If everything checks out, there are some essential appliances you need. A microwave, a crockpot, a rice cooker, a dual contact grill, a refrigerator, a toaster oven or toaster, and a hot pot will let you make just about anything.

Basic Safety Rules for Cooking in the Dorm

  • Always unplug an appliance when you're done using it, and let it cool completely before storing.
  • Keep flammable items, like paper and clothing, away from the cooking area.
  • Pay attention while you're cooking; don't leave the room while the grill is operating or when something is in the microwave.
  • Purchase a large marble tile to place the appliance on to create a heat-proof surface.
  • Always clean up immediately. One reason many colleges don't allow cooking in dorm rooms is because food attracts pests. Get in the habit of washing utensils, plates, and appliances as soon as you're done eating. And use dish soap!
  • Purchase some large Tupperware or other resealable containers to store cooking utensils and food that doesn't need refrigeration to keep it fresh and to reduce the risk of attracting pests.
  • Don't use equipment for purposes other than those intended. Don't use a rice cooker to pop popcorn; don't stir-fry on a popcorn popper.
  • Keep a large lid and baking soda handy so you can quickly put out a fire if things get out of control. A small fire extinguisher kept next to the cooking area, not in a drawer, is also a good idea.
  • Be sure that your refrigerator can hold food at the proper temperature: 38 degrees or less. Some of the smaller refrigerators can be less efficient and may not have a tight seal. Keep a thermometer in the fridge to be sure.
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly, or wrap them and discard immediately.
  • And read about Food Safety before you start. To get in shape for taking tests, try my Food Safety Quiz.

Keep it simple! If you aren't an experienced cook, start by heating things up, or combining foods in no cook meals. A bagged salad topped with some precooked chicken, raw veggies, and shredded cheese makes an excellent meal with little work. Buy some good bread and make sandwiches; use your hot pot to heat water for instant oatmeal, or to heat up a purchased rice mix in the microwave and add some chopped ham. Make your own wrap sandwiches with some deli salads and tortillas. Canned soups are super easy and nutritious. Make quesadillas by sprinkling cheese and veggies between two flour tortillas, then grilling on your indoor grill.

And Five Ingredient Recipes are made for cooking in a small space! And remember, if you're feeding yourself for the first time, please think about nutrition and try to eat a balanced diet; take a multivitamin tablet just to be safe.

When I was in college (don't ask when!) the food offered in the cafeteria wasn't fabulous. Some dishes I liked: Side of Clyde, which was a roast beef sandwich served in a crusty roll, and Nordic Munch, another sandwich made of grilled ham and cheese. I have no idea what these names meant, but that's college for you! At any rate, other food, including the traditional casserole served from a steam table, wasn't so wonderful. Our popcorn poppers were well used, and the pizza delivery people did a brisk business.

Today, that college has a new cafeteria with stations where you can choose freshly cooked pasta with different sauces, an omelet bar, freshly made stir-fry and Asian foods, a salad bar, a dessert station, and other gourmet meals. Things have changed!

Before you start cooking, here's some required reading. Our syllabus for this course includes these articles:

Microwave Recipes for the Dorm

  • Microwave Scrambled Eggs
    You can omit the cheese if you don't have any on hand.
  • Microwave Sweet and Sour Meatballs
    Thaw the meatballs according to the package instructions; don't let them stand at room temperature!
  • Microwave Mexican Cube Steaks
    This four ingredient recipe is a real winner; it's super easy to make and delicious.
  • Sweet and Sour Microwave Chicken
    Substitute a bottled sweet and sour sauce for the pineapple juice mixture to make this a four ingredient recipe.
  • Microwave Beef Stroganoff
    A can of condensed soup makes a good sauce for cooking in tight quarters.
  • Spaghetti in the Microwave
    You don't need an extra pot of boiling water to cook the spaghetti in this recipe!
  • Mexican Chicken
    This easy recipe can be served with flour tortillas and a great rice mixes for a complete meal.
  • Special Kay Bars
    Hey, you can't live on healthy food alone! These fabulous bars are perfect for a study break.
  • Easiest Fudge
    Two ingredients + 3 minutes = great fudge!

Crockpot Recipes for the Dorm

  • Crockpot Ham and Lentil Stew
    This easy recipe will have your dorm-mates flocking to your door to see what's cooking!
  • Sweet and Spicy Crockpot Chicken
    A bagged salad and some bread are all you need to complete this easy meal.
  • Crockpot Honey Chicken with Dried Fruit
    Heat up a rice pilaf from a package to serve with this delicious recipe.
  • Crockpot Double Corn Chowder
    You can also make this easy recipe in an electric skillet; just heat it until it bubbles.
  • Crockpot Veggie Chili
    Three kinds of beans add great flavor to this super easy chili.
  • Crockpot Beef and Black Eyed Pea Soup
    Ask the butcher at the grocery store to cut up the meat for you, or buy cubed sirloin tips for less preparation.
  • Peanut Chicken
    This wonderful recipe tastes like Chicken Satay, but takes about 5 minutes to prepare. Serve it over rice.
  • BBQ Pinto Beans
    Serve this hearty dish with some cornbread from the bakery (or a mix) and you've got a delicious and easy vegetarian dinner.

Indoor Grill Recipes for Dorm Room Cooking

  • Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
    This collection of recipes is more than your average grilled cheese sandwich, but they are all very easy to make.
  • Citrus Chicken
    This recipe is a good way to get some vitamin C into your diet; boil the marinade in your hot pot while the chicken is cooking.
  • Grilled Ham and Onion Sandwiches
    Use this basic formula to make any kind of sandwich you like.
  • Mexican Steak Salad
    You don't have to use all of these ingredients; the essentials are the salad greens, beans, salsa, steak, and salad dressing.
  • Glazed Ham Slice
    Use mustard and any kind of fruit preserve to add flavor to a simple slice of ham.
  • Grilled Tuna Melt
    This recipe is a step above the basic tuna sandwich (tuna, mayo, bread).
  • Three Ingredient Bacon Chicken
    Make sure that the chicken and bacon are well done; this easy recipe is fabulous served with some fresh fruit and breadsticks.

Recipe with No Cooking Required

  • Bean and Tuna Salad
    You can leave out the onion and squash if you'd like, and even substitute a bottled oil and vinegar salad dressing for the homemade dressing in this recipe. Canned beans and canned meats make great salads with little work.
  • Pantry Gazpacho
    With just a couple of cans, you can make this flavorful and super easy soup in minutes. Just remember to refrigerate leftovers!
  • Wrap Sandwiches
    Any sandwich spread can be rolled into lettuce or tortillas for a quick and easy sandwich.
  • Disaster Meals
    No, this doesn't mean a meal that turns into a disaster! These recipes can be made with foods that don't require refrigeration (until you open the cans or packages).
  • Cold Sandwich Recipes
    Cold sandwiches are really the easiest way to eat. And they're yummy too!
  • Top 10 No Bake Cookies
    Everybody needs a snack now and then for a study break. These ten recipes don't require an oven (although some need heat) and they're fun to make too.

Skillet Recipes for Cooking in your Dorm Room

  • Mix and Match Skillet Meals
    Using this chart, you can create an endless number of simple and hearty skillet meals.
  • Skillet Spaghetti
    You can omit the meatballs to make this recipe even simpler. Serve with some crusty French bread.
  • Pork Fried Rice
    Get some cooked rice from the cafeteria, and with a few more ingredients you have a delicious fresh Asian dinner on the table!
  • Scrambled Eggs with Spinach
    Spinach adds fiber and nutrition to simple scrambled eggs; you could leave it out if you don't like it.
  • Southwest Mac and Cheese
    The pasta cooking method in this easy recipe will work with other pasta too; just stir occasionally.
  • Veggie Burritos
    A deli side dish is the secret ingredient in these wonderful burritos.
  • Salsa Frittata
    Substitute a chunky salsa for the fresh veggie mixture to keep it simple. Once you learn how to cook a frittata, you'll never go hungry again!
  • Sour Cream Chicken Risotto
    Those fabulous rice and pasta mixes make a wonderful chicken casserole; so easy!

More Ideas for Dorm Room Cooking

  • My Easiest Recipes
    These recipe ideas can be made with very little work.
  • One Pot Pasta
    To satisfy pasta cravings without having to boil a big pot of water.
  • Start With - Eggs
    If you have eggs, you can eat! These easy recipes are all quick and simple.
  • Start With - Ramen Noodles
    Ramen noodles are a college staple; they can also be the basis for lots of other easy meals.
  • Eight Things You Can Cook in a Dorm Room
    From soups to burritos, these basic recipe ideas will let you feed yourself with very little effort.
  • Rice Cooker Recipes
    These recipes are more complicated; you can omit some of the ingredients and use the techniques.
  • More Rice Cooker Recipes
    Scroll down to find some simple recipes that you can cook in your rice cooker.