Living away from home in a college or university dorm has its challenges – students need to navigate cohabiting with strangers, studying, handling distractions, finding privacy, getting enough sleep, and figuring out where to find good food to eat. Dorm cafeteria options vary, with more schools catering to special diets, yet many students still grab quick convenience items like pop, chips and sugary snacks, or choose microwaveable meals. For students looking for an alternative, these dorm room cooking essentials can help create quick, easy, delicious and healthful foods and drinks.
Dorm rooms are typically quite small, and student budgets vary, so you don’t need to purchase every single item on our dorm room cooking essentials list – but this gives you an idea of what is possible in a room without a kitchen! It’s also worth looking into whether there are any common spaces where you can store items.
Always Check Building Rules
Before buying anything, check with the school first to see what is allowed in individual dorm rooms. You don’t want to get your mini-fridge confiscated!
Dorm Room Cooking Essentials
A mini fridge is optimal for storing fresh ingredients like fruits and vegetables, which may be in short supply in some college meal plans. It’s also wonderful for keeping perishables like nut/seed milk, hummus, guacamole, eggs, salads or condiments. Plus, a mini fridge is great for stashing your leftovers!
A small kettle is useful for making a hot cup of tea , hot chocolate or a dairy-free elixir, as well as for oatmeal. If you don’t have dried tea leaves, you can still make a quick cuppa by steeping fresh slices of ginger or mint leaves, or squeeze a wedge of lemon or lime into hot water – this is great for digestion and detoxification!
Use boiled water for quick-cooking noodles like rice noodles, which you can toss with some soy sauce, nut or seed butter, fresh herbs and sliced veggies for a quick gluten-free noodle dish (no ramen needed!).
Knife and Cutting Board
A solid knife and small cutting board are amazing dorm room cooking essentials – even if you’re not doing a ton of cooking! You can use these kitchen basics to chop fresh fruits and vegetables, slice bread, and cut all kinds of things like sandwiches, avocados, smoked tofu, pre-cooked tempeh or meat, boiled eggs and more.
A cutting board can also double as a platter or plate if you’re short on dishes, or entertaining in your dorm room!
If you love dairy-free smoothies as much as we do, a single-serve or compact blender is perfect for blending up all kinds of goodness. Without a freezer, you won’t be able to use frozen fruit in your smoothies, but fresh fruit will be just as delicious. Many single-serve blenders also have to-go cups with lids so you can blend and drink from the same container.
Blenders aren’t only for smoothies, though – you can also use them to make your own nut/seed milk, hummus, cold or hot elixirs, salsa, salad dressings, and chocolate spreads. You could even try making cauliflower rice!
Hot Plate or Induction Cooktop
If you actually want to cook something, a hot plate is one of those dorm room cooking essentials you won’t be able to live without! Use either a hot plate or induction cooktop to cook all kinds of one-pot meals, make batches of beans and grains, make soup, brew some tea, cook porridge, scramble eggs or tofu, boil pasta – there are a lot of possibilities!
Many induction cooktops are small and sleek, so you can easily store one away and take it out as needed.
If you’ve chosen a hot plate or induction cooktop, you’ll need something to cook with it! You only need one decent pot for making meals – ensure the pot fits onto your hot plate/cooktop and that the material is compatible (for example, an induction cooktop will need something like stainless steel or cast iron).
We prefer a pot over a frying pan because the sides are higher and you’ll be able to make a wider variety of meals. However, if it’s in the budget, you can also purchase a frying pan.
This appliance is basically a mini oven, so you can use it for much more than toast. Use a toaster oven to:
- Make gluten-free mini-pizzas
- Cook vegetables
- Roast a whole sweet potato, white potato, bell pepper or garlic bulb
- Bake portobello mushrooms for burgers
- Bake veggie or meat burgers
- Toast open-faced sandwiches
- Heat up leftovers
- Cook salmon or other fish
- Bake small batches of cookies
Toaster ovens range in size and a smaller one is likely best, but if you have the space you can get something larger – in a bigger toaster oven you can often fit a personal size pizza, small cookie sheet or 6-cup muffin tin.
Measuring Cups and Spoons
These may not be necessary if you’re an intuitive cook who likes to experiment in the kitchen, but for those who like to follow recipes (or have smaller appliances) measuring cups and spoons are helpful dorm room cooking essentials and they are inexpensive.
Serveware: Plates, Bowls, Cups and Cutlery
If you’re cooking, you need something to eat your food with! You don’t need a full set of serving pieces – a single plate, bowl, cup, knife, fork and spoon will do, or maybe two if you want extra on hand. Check out thrift shops for cheap options, where you can buy a one-off and not a whole set.
If you’re mainly cooking quickly to take things with you on the go, consider investing in items such as an insulated mug or thermos, stainless steel water bottle, or storage containers made from stainless steel, glass, or beeswax wraps.
Mason Jars/Glass Jars
Is there anything a glass jar can’t do? Mason jars are optimal for storage – use them for both dried goods (spices, grains, beans) as well as fresh items. They can also do double-duty as drinkware, both in the dorm and when on the go if you seal your glass well with the lid. They’re also nice for meal prep with certain recipes like chia pudding, overnight oats and smoothies.
Dorm Room Pantry Staples
There isn’t a ton of storage space in dorm rooms, but you can still keep a few pantry dorm room cooking essentials on hand. What you add to your pantry is very personal, depending on what you like to eat. We have a complete pantry-stocking guide and shopping list here – pick and choose what strikes your fancy. Some pantry basics that we suggest are:
- Rice noodles
- Coconut milk
- Sea salt
- Nuts or seeds
- Chia seeds
- Canned salmon or sardines
- Canned beans
- Dried fruit
Dorm Room Cooking Essentials: Meal + snack Ideas
Dorm cooking doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. Try:
- Smoothie bowls
- Chia pudding
- Overnight oats
- Cooked oatmeal
- Smashed avocado, smashed beans or smashed sardines on toast
- Greek or Mediterranean salad
- Hummus and veggies
- Egg salad
- Veggie wraps
- Bean salad
- Mason jar salads (layered with grains, veggies and dressings)
- Scrambled eggs and greens, or a veggie omelette
- Banana and almond butter/tahini wrapped in a gluten-free tortilla
- Trail mix (nuts, seeds, dried fruit)
- Fruit and dairy-free yogurt
- Gluten-free cooked pasta with pesto or tomato sauce (can also make a cold pasta salad)
Purchasing dorm room cooking essentials are an investment, but you don’t have to run out and get everything we’ve listed at once. And, anything you buy you can take with you when you move out of the dorm into an apartment or house. Cooking in your own space is fun, can be social if you invite friends, and will help to support your health – all of which will help fuel both studies and success!