College Cooking: How to Make Amazing Meals in a Dorm

The Spruce

For many college students, the dorm is where they meet lifelong friends, learn to conduct marathon-like study sessions, and for many, learn to cook for themselves. Dorm life creates a few unique obstacles on the culinary front, but the reward is well worth the effort. Let this article be your compass, so you can easily make delicious, healthy meals right in the comfort of your room.

Safety First

Before you jump into making crème brûlée in an Instant Pot, learn the fundamentals on how to cook safely in your dorm. First, ask your dorm supervisor if you can cook and about any other rules that may apply. Next, avoid burning your food (or starting fires) and be present from start to finish while you cook. Recall the adage, “a watched pot never boils?" Well, don’t listen to it because it will boil and you will be better off for watching it. Also, as difficult as it can be, clean up your mess right after you make it. This strategy both prevents drama with your floormates and pests from finding their way into your food stash. Lastly, food safety is another big topic that you absolutely can’t skip out on. After all, this isn’t an 8 a.m. lecture—it’s what stands between you and food poisoning.

Choose Your Tools Wisely

Wouldn’t it be nice if we each received a “before school” shopping list that also included cookware on it? While you can pack the family car with heaps of specialty items—does mom really need her cast-iron crêpe maker—you don’t have to. Instead, here’s your shortlist: a microwave, a crockpot, a rice cooker, a blender, a mini-fridge if your dorm doesn’t provide it, and a toaster oven. 

Decide What's Right for You

While perusing for recipes or inspiration to make your next meal, ask yourself what you’re honestly up for. This means considering how much time you can spend, what cooking skills you already possess (or are willing to learn), and the size of your budget. So, if you’re maxed out on credits and perpetually on the coffee carousel, make scalloped potatoes in the microwave.

Shopping and Meal Planning Matter, Too

Between club meetings and open office hours, set your weekly food shopping and meal planning agenda ahead of time. Successful food shopping means balancing the quality, quantity, and cost of the food you buy. If this sounds daunting, you’ll be happy to know that many grocery stores send out weekly emails on their latest sales. Also, get acquainted with the virtues of bulk bin shopping, which both cuts down on environmental waste and cost. Meal planning details exactly what you’ll eat during the upcoming week, so you can avoid putting pizza by the slice on repeat. This article provides excellent food for thought on the topic. Study it and you’ll become a meal-prep machine. 

Create Your Personal Recipe Library

You’ve gotten the go from the administration, accrued the right cookware, and stocked up your dorm pantry. Now it’s on to the fun part: cooking! You can make a surprising amount of class-act meals in a microwave, like this spaghetti, this omelet in a cup, and heck, even this fudge. Though if your ears start ringing from the sound of its alarm, it may be time to switch on the toaster oven and make a Croque monsieur instead. Take this “bread and then some” concept and run wild with it! Pop in a Cubano, tomato, Brie, and basil sandwich, or even the leftovers from your halal truck lunch stuffed into a pita. Use a rice cooker to take the guesswork out of making perfect, fluffy rice. Make sticky rice, saffron rice, rice pudding… any grain that sounds nice. A good blender will also steer you through endless smoothies, sauces, and dressings. This way, you can wake up past your alarm and still fuel yourself through the day. Lastly, a crockpot lets you be imprecise while still producing meals that taste like they were made with love. Try a vegetarian chili, an easy vanilla almond granola, or make caramelized onions and spread them on almost anything. 

Be Shameless With Shortcuts

Unless you’re in culinary school, no one’s grading you on your technique, so save some effort and use shortcuts when cooking. Can’t be bothered to chop all those vegetables for a soup? Simmer them whole and blend them to create a delicious purée instead. Or enjoy a meal centered on few ingredients, like avocado and poached egg toast or a hummus wrap with fresh vegetables. You can even skip cooking altogether and assemble a raw kale salad or a bowl of dressed watermelon and feta.