Dorm Food Ideas Recipe

A letter from a college student inspired this post. He was wondering what advice or recipes we might have for young readers living in dorms with infrequent access to a kitchen. Looking for ideas on simple, fast and easy foods that are manageable and healthy options for college students.

Dorm Food Ideas

I was hoping I could tap into the collective wisdom here to help a fellow reader and cook. I received the following email from a young man who will be returning to college in New York in a few weeks. You can probably sense where this is headed, here's the email:

"...I have a favor to ask of you. As a college student, I have five weeks until my summer food-nirvana is abruptly ended by the horrors of dorm food and required meal plans. This morning, when looking through 101CB for a recipe or two, I began to wonder what advice, recipes and tactics you might have for those of us in such a position. I'm convinced that your younger readers, many of whom, like me, are stuck in dorms with infrequent access to a kitchen, would benefit greatly from a blog write-up on simple, fast and easy foods that are manageable, healthy and tasty options for the otherwise stomach-cringing college student. Whadda ya say? With lots of appreciate and goodness from N.Y..."

It has been some time since I lived in the dorms - what is allowed? For example, are toaster ovens, crock pots, or panini grills fair game? My guess is no. I remember having access to a microwave, and the bagel toaster in the cafeteria, but I suppose it must vary from college to college. Are there any great books on the topic?

If you have any ideas or suggestions for our epicurean scholar please share them in the comments. Anyone who can work some creative magic at a salad or sandwich bar, let's hear your tricks and tips. Let's send him back to school with some ideas and inspiration. -h

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When I moved my cousin into her dorm at university she had a fridge and a microwave in her dorm (rented - not everyone has one). I'm guessing most dorms also have an electric kettle.


This is not related to the current post, although I do live in a tiny two room apartment and my cooking surface consists of the sink drain board and the stove top, so I can relate, but I really just wanted to say that I baked the zucchini bread today and was devastated when I realized that I had completely forgotten an entire cup of sugar. I thought it was a total loss. BUT, I'm happy to say that with just a bit of unfiltered honey spread thinly across a slice of this wonderfully spiced bread, it's heaven!!! I couldn't be happier! Thank you, Heidi.

Mara Mouse

my dear friend and I started a food blog during the past year to celebrate how well we can eat while still living in a dorm. Granted, we have a full kitchen, gas stoves and all, which I'm quite grateful for, even when they can be quite disgusting... We're both not living in a dorm right now because of summer, but come September, and back to school again!


If you can afford it a small home style vaccume food saver is great. Use your dorm kitchen when you can,cook up heaps, then cryovac individual meal portions. You can freeze them or they will last for weeks in the fridge. Offshore sailing in Bass Strait Australia all we do is boil some water,turn the heat off, put the bag of food in and let it rest for ten minutes.(That's a bit safer than trying to cook a meal when the boat is angled at 30 degrees!) Snip off the top put itinto a bowl and enjoy! In Australia you can buy a cryovacc machine for around $100 US, the bags are around $ 25US a roll but you will get heaps of use . Best of all: come home late and tired, there's your meal! Have fun at college! Karen

karen parker

Dear Friend, I understand you dilemma! I am living in a "studio" apartment without a kitchen, and barely a sink (just from the bathroom, where I wash the dishes). So I have learned to improvise quite a bit. A few quick tips, if you are willing and able to break a few rules regarding electronic devices... You can bake in a crock pot. Just find a little glass dish that fits inside the ceramic insert. It doesn't brown things as much, but almost any casserole works, and you can adapt many things to work in a crock pot, sometimes sacrificing some crispy texture here and there. But I have found the result incredible. I just don't recommend leaving it on while you go to class! A toaster oven can do almost anything an oven can do, but you are certainly restricted in size. Also an electric stove, or even an electic skillet, you can fry up so many stir-fried dishes. So with a small investment (I would say around 60 bucks for those 3 devices), and a roommate you keep well fed and silent, you can eat pretty healthily. If you have a trust-worthy gang living in your dorm, I imagine that you could store these things in a common space. Good Luck!


Plain bagels & salad were my staples in the college dorm cafeteria. I'd take in my own salad dressing. Good luck! If you exclude the dreadful dorm food, it university life can be so wonderful!


regarding the dorm 'what's allowed' situation: what i remember was nothing with an open coil, which means no hot plates, toasters, george foreman grills, etc. frustrating! BUT a microwave is a beautiful thing!!! as far as the meal plan goes.... after i studied abroad my junior year, i came back and it literally made me ill to eat at the cafeteria...not sure why, the food wasn't terrible! anyway, i was told that i had the option to visit the school nutritionist and 'plead my case'. i went and saw her, explained that i was living in an off-campus dorm with a full kitchen, that i had studied abroad last year, and had been a vegetarian for the last three years. without question, she understood and signed my paperwork, as well as giving me some great nutritional advice about iron and protein and things. after freshman year, i think they were required to give us an option (though every university is different)...they just have to make sure you won't live on easy mac and beer either. have fun at college! it's a blast!


There are some great ideas here already. In addition to cous cous, quinoa is another grain that you can just pour hot water over to cook and it's packed with protein! Also, PETA has a new cookbook perfect for dorm living: PETA's Vegan College Cookbook.


A crock pot is a good way to make tasty stews as well as bean recipes, thus it gives the possibility to keep things healthy.


I used to have couscous and a can of something eg. beans, fish...couscous is the best choice because you don't even have to cook it, just pour hot water!


I'm right there with 'alfe' on the rice cooker, but some schools don't allow any kind of cooking appliances in dorm rooms. I just graduated in May, and this was the case at my school. I, ahem, hid my rice cooker during room inspections. With many food allergies, I have a lot of experience throwing together small meals and snacks in dorm rooms without cooking appliances. A couple of ideas: - Keep salad greens (those pre-washed packages are great if you don't have access to a kitchen sink), cherry tomatoes, and raisins, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, etc., and olive oil, vinegar or a mixed dressing on hand and throw together whenever. - Canned beans. If your dorm has a microwave, heat them up and throw on some salt and olive oil. Microwaving spinach along with the beans is great, too. - Steam veggies in the microwave. - Make your own trail mix by throwing together pretzels, nuts, chocolate chips, whatever. - And it's already been mentioned, but who can overstate the glories of peanut butter? I like it with raisins.


Hey, I'm a 3rd year and I just moved off campus from my dorm. I'd say a rice cooker is your best bet. Before the rice is almost ready, I add in some sprouts/mushrooms.broccoli on top of the rice to steam. Instant anything is good - curry sauce, miso soup mix, canned soup. If you add some chicken flavor (boullion or liquid) to the water in your rice before cooking, it becomes chicken-flavored rice! Then sautee some simple veggies (spinache w/garlic is good), and you have veggies and flavorful rice. You can add spinach and mushrooms to pasta sauce. You can use the same spinach in a salad or sandwich. And... Fried rice. Rice in miso soup. Lentil and onion soup. Baked sweet potato. Frozen dumplings. Frozen anything, really. Hope that helps!


I'd suggest a rice cooker with multiple functions on it. Its surprising how much stuff you can actually cook in a rice cooker. Rice, obviously, but they can also double as a slow cooker, you can also sautee ingredients and then add liquids to create soups from scratch, and you can steam stuff in them. There is a growing repertoire of Japanese recipes for rice cooker cuisine as they take up little space and don't draw a lot of electricity. For a second option, I would add a toaster oven. Fabulous little video series by Eric Ripart on the range of stuff u can do in a toaster oven


Often the best thing to do in New York, in terms of rationing money, time, and precious kitchen space, is to have an open mind to buying food when it saves a buck. I cook a lot, and it can be done cheaply and well. (If you're going to Columbia, shop at Fairway, where 125th hits the Hudson. If you're going to NYU, shop at Trader Joe's.) But don't be too proud to get a $3 falafel for dinner, or to buy a slice of pizza and roast some asparagus at home and call it a meal.


I don't exist without avocados. In college, I always had a mini - fridge and a microwave. I would end up with the strangest foods: Avocados mashed with tofu and mixed up with veggies over rice (rice that I had made in the dorm kitchen, frozen, and kept for weeks). It was interesting. My college had a salad bar and I was always just getting the basics and bringing them back to the dorm to "give some flare" with spices, adding some tofu, or some fancy cheese that was cheap at Costco. Favorite add-ins? Flax oil, ground flax seeds, cajun spices, and brewers yeast. In the cafeteria, sometimes I would get a scrambled egg, microwave some veggies from the salad bar (If I closed my eyes it was a fancy omlette) (there was a microwave in the cafeteria), get a pint of fat free milk and call it good. I always remembered to buy a bag of apples and a jar of peanut butter. I am sure Heidi will have much better ideas! :) Good luck!


I recommend getting a rice cooker. They're allowed in dorm rooms and can be used for almost any dish. Flavourful rice and chicken dishes, soups, steamed vegetables, buns and dumplings and all be made with a rice cooker. it's easy to maintain and healthy.


Oh, the horror. Dorm life! If colleges think that this Sophisticated Gourmet (points at self) if not going to bring a panini grill, hot plate, crock pot, toaster oven, and all of the above. They better think again because I'll end up breaking every rule in the book just to have some good gourmet food. I wouldn't dare eating KFC or something. It sounds snobby, but it's just gross. But, I do have some tips for the college student, even though I'll be in college in about a year. One tip is getting one of those microwaves that also double up as an oven. It's a bit pricy, but if colleges allow you to have any microwave, why not have one that can bake stuff? Also, don't over-buy when you're in your dorm room. Buy what's needed and just keep some healthy snacks in the refrigerator. When you want to cook something, well, go to that trusty microwave that bakes. I happen to like baking most of my foods. And if you have to sauté something, take a microwave safe bowl, and just pop whatever you have to sauté in the microwave for a bit, just be sure to stir every once in a while. Additionally, if you are going to a college that has an actual kitchen for the students to cook (I know a few colleges in NYC do b/c I am a NYer myself), I would suggest utilizing that kitchen whenever you can! Even if it calls for waking up at 6 in the morning. I know as a soon to be in one year college student, I'll be on a pretty tight budget, unless the college that I want to go to is nice enough to give me a full ride. So, I would suggest avoiding Whole Foods and other expensive stores. I know, it may seem horrible that you can't eat everything organic, but there's an upside to my madness. If you know how to use the "great" transportation system that we have in NYC, you are bound to find tons of cheap markets, especially Jackson Heights and Chinatown, which are bound to have great quality ingredients for cheap. Also, if your recipes call for expensive nuts, spices, or foreign ingredients, Chinatown & Jackson Heights are the places to go. Because I don't know what college you are going to, I wouldn't know how far you are from Chinatown or Jackson Heights, so I would suggest shopping for produce in those two places if you are near them because that will surely satisfy your pockets. Additionally, I believe that some colleges ban "real people knives" because they consider them weapons. So, I would suggest buying some good butter knives to cut with. Butter Knives that can cut through a tough piece of meat. Also, one thing to keep in mind is to avoid going out to restaurants (and eating out) as much as possible, unless you can afford it. I know, it's tough especially living in NYC, but if you are a "stomach cringing college student" you'll keep those words in mind. Also, I would suggest buying a cookbook for dorm cooking on Amazon. Just type in "Dorm Cookbook" in the search tab and you should see quite a few affordable cookbooks. I guess that's all the input I have on this subject considering that I have one more year 'till college. Good luck!

Kamran Siddiqi

I had access to a stove and oven, but in my dorm room itself, all I could have was a refrigerator (and there was a shared microwave on every floor). If you can keep a supply of fresh vegetables, tofu, and canned beans on hand, you have the basics for some great salads. If there is a shared kitchen, you'll be able to whip up a big batch of cooked grains or beans and those pair nicely with all sorts of condiments (siracha, chipotle peppers, etc) - just keep your refrigerator stocked!


I suggest getting an electric table grill pan, maybe a smaller one than they usual have in japanese restaurants. I used a teflon layered one when I didn't have a kitchen. they aren't very pricey - I got mine for 30 EUR, and I managed to cook almost everything in it. I don't know if that is allowed in American dorms, but it's just something you plug into the socket, so... with an electric table grill pan, you can at least do a lot of stir fry and one-pan dishes.


You have no idea how much I appreciate this post. In exactly one week from today I'm moving from Northern California to New York for college, and it's completely and totally terrifying me. I love to cook, and I'm worried about the dorm kitchens and having absolutely no money. I'm a vegetarian, and I'm worried about maintaining my nutrition. I'm a California native, and I don't know how I'm going to deal without avocados and mangos. THANK YOU.


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