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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Good for you for not succumbing to EasyMac and pizza! When I was in college, we were allowed to have mini-fridges and there were microwaves in the dorms. I also was a big fan of the electric kettle (get the cheap kind without the auto-shutoff and you have a way to boil pasta, etc). I didn't have a rice cooker but now can't live without mine, so I advocate that, too. If your dorm doesn't allow such devices, I advise keeping them unplugged in plastic bags and tucked inside an unlikely place (as I recall, my well-wrapped off-duty electric kettle lived in a rolling suitcase under my bed). Another option, if you are willing to risk plastic in the microwave, are those steamer bags. They will let you cook veggies, tofu, fish (if you eat it) and chicken (sliced very thin, toss with soy sauce and a little ginger and garlic - delish). I've also had luck with Trader Joe's shelf-stable rice and lentil pouches - 90 seconds in the microwave for fully cooked beluga lentils - well, it's hard to beat that. Soba noodles and rice noodles are also microwave friendly. If you're on a required meal plan, think of the dining hall as your grocery store. If they have plain pasta or whole wheat pita or salad greens or veggies in the salad bar, then those can be your ingredients. Where I went to school, there was always a selection of items outside the hot food line - and, as a result, I hardly ever ate the "entree" they had each day. Finally, talk to the dining hall staff - they may have additional tips or be able to point you in the right direction. Good luck!


I just graduated, my biggest piece of advice is simply to move off campus ASAP, if your school has a required meal plan thing. While I lived on campus, we were not allowed any appliances in our dorm rooms, but there was a communal kitchen with stove top, microwave, an oven if you were lucky, and a fridge. A COMMUNAL FRIDGE. Basically if you put food in you were donating it to your hallmates. Ugh. I did have a single large pot and one cookie sheet for the oven, and that sufficed for the food I made in the kitchen. I really have to support group cooking when that's a possibility--potluck style, or meeting friends in the kitchen to cook...for me, it functioned as catch-up time, and i was BUSY so that was helpful for my calendar, and also it was cheaper because other people would help out with the food and kitchen utensils and objects and such. Also, definitely talk to the school if you have an allergy. It was really rough at my university to get off the mealplan, but it was possible...but then you really needed to be prepared to deal with the horrible dorm kitchens. The school did nothing to accommodate severe food allergies or vegan diets. I think (or deeply hope anyway) most schools are better than that, but just a heads up that some schools are definitely pretty...close-minded? cheap? careless? about nutrition and food.


Easy microwave meal: Baked sweet potato, topped with black beans, hot sauce, and cheese. Just nuke the sweet potato til tender, top with some canned black beans and cheese, heat another 30 seconds or so. Sprinkle on hot sauce! This is one of my favorite lunches at work (where we have only a microwave). If you want to be fancy you could add chopped tomatoes and cilantro.


In college I survived with: 1 small cutting board & decent knife 1 large bowl & small strainer 1 "hot pot" hot plate Electric skillet & Microwave Even if the electric skillet is not allowed in a dorm room, odds are you can find a common area or electric outlet somewhere where people won't mind its use. I would cook up large batches of plainly seasoned chicken that could then be frozen in the tiny freezer of my small fridge and pulled out to enhance any other basic pasta or soup later on. Cheese and crackers were a mainstay and along with an apple this made a decent lunch many days. Pasta, soup, rice, sandwiches, and stuffing were other items that I found simple and easy to make with limited space and utensils.


I bring a lot of food with me on road trips and manage to eat well. My two important pieces of equipment are a hot pot (with no exposed coils, so it might be acceptable in a dorm) and a French press. I can not only make good coffee, I also can make MTR Indian dinners with boil-in-a-bag rice, Thai kitchen instant rice noodles, instant mashed potatoes, and oatmeal. None of those things needs refrigeration, so they won't take up precious dorm fridge space. The hot pot I have is designed to heat up canned soups and such, so you could even choose to do that. These aren't as good as homemade meals, but could help out during the times when you are too busy to cook.


My Oldest Son is in college ! and he loves his ultra Blender he can live without it~ smoothies~ for his morning runs... Good Luck :)


I was lucky enough to never have to live in a dorm (I always had an apartment with a kitchen) but pretty much everyone I know did. The dining hall doesn't have to be bad - our dining halls have sushi and stuff. The salad bar is obviously a great place to go. Stay away from the dessert items! The best suggestion I have is to always bring your backpack with you. Load your tray with fresh fruit and subtly sneak it into your backpack. This way you will have it all day during classes. At our dining halls we aren't allowed to leave with anything (sometimes one piece of fruit, but that's it) so that's why the backpack is key. Also, some of the contraband items are easy to hide in a dorm room, like an electric teapot. As long as you have a cool roommate and can hide it from your RA, you should be fine. They can't really search your room for no reason. (Make sure you know those rules too if you're going to hide a panini grill in there.) If you're lucky enough to have a refrigerator with a decent freezer, try to get some individually wrapped portions of home cooking from your family every once in a while.


I read about these packaged meals in USA Today They are made for camping adventures. They don't even need refrigeration. I'm not sure how natural/healthy they are. I can't vouch for their taste either, but they seem appealing. However, with all packaged foods you have to be wary of the sodium and the preservatives.


I don't know if your reader is vegetarian or not, but I second PETA's Vegan College Cookbook. They sent it to me as a sample, to review, and I thought I would hate it (and at first I did), especially since I'm not in college, but its actually a pretty good book, not only for college, but for times when you're on the road (my husband takes it with him when he goes away), or just don't feel like cooking something elaborate. As for what is in a college kitchen, I have no idea because my college had some of the best dorms in the country, and I always lived in a suite with a full kitchen (not that I used it then....shameful!). But again, the recipes in that book are SO easy, and I don't think you need much more than a microwave for any of them.


At my school rooms came with a microwave and small fridge. We weren't allowed anything with a exposed heating element. I had a hot pot anyway and I know one girl who had an entire kitchens worth of small appliances hidden carefully in her closet (she was also allergic to gluten and eggs which made the dinning hall difficult). I had no budget for much grocery shopping and got a lot of stuff from the dining hall. Some schools are stricter about this than others. So long I wasn't obvious about occasionally packing a tupperware container or I just used the plastic cups by the drink machine I could slowly stock enough for a couple of meals and then keep it stocked. I made a habit of taking whole fruits and vegetables from the salad bar and sometimes soup (the tomato and beans soups were really good) from the dining hall. I'd freeze them to reheat later. I also kept dried lentils, black beans and canned tomatoes around to cook in the hot pot, adding the reserved veggies at the appropriate time. Pasta would also work well. I was friends with someone who kept antiseptically packaged tofu in her room and pretty much lived off pre-prepared and packaged foods from Whole Foods. There was a really good bread store (Great Harvest or something like that) half an hour away and I could occasionally catch a ride with someone who was headed there. It really depends on your budget and how sneaky you're willing to be because some schools are really strict (though some RAs practice don't ask, don't tell).


If you have a microwave in the cafeteria, you can make all sorts of things while taking advantage of meal-plan food. I would often put veggies from the salad bar (which almost always includes chickpeas or tofu or meat of some kind) in a bowl with some water and salt and seasonings, microwave for 2 or 3 minutes and voila -- instant soup! If this fits in with your schedule and general eating habits, eating early in each meal phase (unless your cafeteria just has similar food out all the time) will result in food that's had less time to sit in the warmers and get icky. And if you're going to be starving by 9 if you have dinner at 5:15, smuggle out a bagel and fruit or whatever for snacking later. I'd also recommend asking upperclassfolks if there are any hidden good things. Often even really sad cafeterias will have, say, a particular stir-fry that's actually good, or real pizza.


[Quick aside to Cathy - have your niece contact food services and her college's office of student life. I'm sure she isn't the first student with celiacs and generally they're very willing to help students be successful. Also, the office of disability services/whatever it might be called at her school, sometimes it's adaptive services, may be able to give her a dispensation about having her own cooking tools if it's a serious safety issue.) This depends a lot on where he goes to school. I finished up at a college in NYC last year and our dining hall actually wasn't so bad, with some pre-planning. Remember you can bring in your own condiments (hot sauce can help a lot). What I used to do when I spent a summer in a dorm with just one communal kitchen was plan ahead for my meals - I would cook some ground beef and some tomato sauce over the weekend, store in tupperware in my little fridge and make various things all week (spaghetti and sauce, tacos, quesadillas, etc). My current favorite grad school treat is goat cheese on bagel chips - easy to toss in a bag to eat quickly between classes but keeps well in a small fridge. Dress up ramen noodles with a poached egg and some random veggies and soy sauce (just toss the egg in when you put in the noodles and it's perfect).


A few years ago when I was working on my undergrad in Graphic Design I thought there was a void in the cook book market for books that were nice looking but had easy to make recipes. So, I made my own: Most of the recipes had been floating around my family for years, and some do require a basic kitchen, however most dorms do have a kitchen for student use. Perhaps the last two are not so simple, but at least they are delicious.


The good ol' George Forman grill can double as a panini maker - it makes the best grilled cheese sandwiches!


My neice is entering college in the fall and she had celiacs disease, an allergy to wheat. Does anyone have any tips? She isn't allowed to have a microwave or any small appliances in her room. There are some in a common space, but we are afraid of cross contamination.


It does depend what is allowed. At my daughter's college, they couldn't cook in their rooms, but the kitchens were only shared between about 6 students, so bearable (if filthy, as everybody waited for everybody else to clean them!). I would suggest at a bare minimum an electric kettle (always allowed in the UK, don't know about the USA), and ideally a microwave and a crockpot. I doubt electric frying-pans would be welcome. Pasta and grated cheese is good and cheap, although obviously not a balanced meal - you'd need a salad or something to round it out. And, of course, for vegans, beans come in tins.... very useful of them!

Mrs Redboots

PETA recently came out with a vegan cookbook aimed at college students. I was given a complimentary copy to peruse, and though most of the recipes are super simple to prepare, many of them sound better than meal-plan fare.


My son loves his rice cooker. He uses it for rice and veggies. The added bonus is moisture in the room! I perfected a microwave Chocolate Mug Cake, with ingredients that are easy for the dorm or office. It's so much better than the recipe floating around. I even make it at home when I need a chocolate fix! He also makes couscous in the easy and if you add seasonings and fresh veg, it is well balanced. Good luck!

Diane @ 2 Stews

It's been over ten years since I was in my college dorm with communal kitchen, but I also had a freshman year dorm with no kitchen. I had a hot plate, upon which I could set one pan or one pot. Many universities have access now to greenmarkets as well -- in both rural areas, as part of an agricultural program, in suburban areas as part of a food program, and in urban areas as part of a city or university sponsored program. Anyways, I suggest easy things such as soaking rice noodles in hot/boiling water and then cutting up some fresh vegetables and tofu and nuts and various sauces. Or making really great sandwiches. Or quick stir fries, pastas, all of which can be made in one pot or one pot and one pan. Salads, of course, are no-brainers. Mark Bittman has a 101 Simple Salads list in the NYT food section right now, which also happens to be one of the most e-mailed articles, and if you search the NYT archives, he's also written up 101 Summer Express dishes, 101 appetizers and 101 picnic foods, most of which are easy to make in a dorm setting.


I have recently started reading a blog, She is a college student and manages to do some pretty nifty things with her microwave (wraps, sweet potatoes, nice egg white scrambles chock full of veggies, and breakfast oats with fruit and chocolate). Look into the posts she has made when school is in session. I'm sure you'll find some inspiration there. Luckily I have a kitchen to use at school so I don't have to figure out how to cook with the micro.


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