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

101 Cookbooks Membership

Premium Ad-Free membership includes:
-Ad-free content
-Print-friendly recipes
-Spice / Herb / Flower / Zest recipe collection PDF
-Weeknight Express recipe collection PDF
-Surprise bonuses throughout the year

spice herb flower zest
weeknight express

Comments are closed.

Apologies, comments are closed.


_The Garden of Vegan_ by Sarah Kramer and Tanya Barnard has an excellent chapter on dorm food. It has recipes that only require microwaves and hot pots or rice makers, and there's everything from soup to curry to bread and dessert. I wish I'd had it when I was in college...


I say go simple. There are farmers markets in the city that are not only going to provide you with tasty good for you foods, but it will be good for the soul, too. If your mind stays healthy and alert, you'll keep treating your body that way. Eat lots of veggies- i always prechop everything so it is easy to eat and at hand. Also, on the simple note: smoothies. a blender, some yogurt, and a few fresh fruits and you are on your way to a rejuvenating morning start. dinners can be tricky, but really, if you avoid the nastier foods that your college may be providing and stick to the things you enjoy that are also offered, you'll feel great. Lastly, TASTY BITES! They are easy to cook and are so good! If you have access to a range, boil in a bag brown rice with tasty bites cooking in same pot. So so amazing and a quick healthy meal. have a blast!


I wasn't a strict vegetarian in college, but I was scared enough of the poor-quality, poorly-cooked meat to stay away for about 4 years in any dining hall/fast food place. I ended up eating a lot of hard-boiled eggs. I cooked a half-dozen at once and kept them in the fridge. Not haute cuisine at all. I was lazy and had no idea how to cook. Amazing how when I was in college, cooking and food quality was not a priority for us at all. We just ate to survive, I guess. Maybe check if there's a campus food co-op? There's one down here at U of MD. I know there are a lot of health-conscious vegetarians that enjoy it.


Honestly, I wouldn't try cooking in the dorm room unless the options on campus are truly terrible. You have limited storage and can only use certain appliances, and it makes the whole room reek of food. I had a roommate who used to make crockpot chili occasionally, and I thought it was gross to be making it in such a small, bedroom space. Typically you are forced to sign on to a meal plan, so there's no sense in buying a lot of food outside of the dining hall. My college had a fantastic dining hall, with lots of fresh vegetarian options. A lot of universities have improved their food in the last decade or so to accommodate special diets and gourmet palates. If you really enjoy cooking and feel you would miss it, you have two options: 1) Cook at your parents' house when you visit (a great option if they are within driving distance), or 2) Use the communal kitchen that dorms typically have. I found that in college I had way too many other things to do than cook everyday.


E-mail me. I will tell you what I did to survive living in my ASU dorm. I have a gluten allergy so the school food was out of the question. I had a microwave and a frige in my room. I had a pyrex dish with a glass cover, a good quality cerated plastic knife and two soup spoons, two forks and two coffee mugs, one ceral bowl, one plate, a few pieces of tupper ware and four dish towls, small bottle of antibacterial dish soap, dish brush, roll of plastic wrap, salt, pepper, old bay spice, garlic powder, dried basil and rosemarry. I kept everything in a large tupper ware container that fit underneath my bed. I washed dishes in my sink. I had my own sink, but some did not and would wash them in the community bathroom. I know your think gross but you don't have to let the dishes touch the sink when your washing and rinsing. So if you want some recipes and more tips e-mail me directly at [email protected] good luck, Shara


You really can do some decent "real" cooking in microwaves. 1. Chop up onions & fresh mushrooms. Drizzle with oil (olive is best). Nuke gently until onions are translucent. 2. BACON!! The sure sign of a benevolent and loving God, you CAN do bacon in the Nuker. You can buy plastic appliances for it, or I just lay it on a paper plate with paper towel over top to stop the spatter. 3. spraWl-Mart (or other big box stores) have a variety of plastic cooking devices for use in microwaves. My favorite is a rice/pasta/vegetable steamer. I survived 11 years of college and grad school, and now teach outdoor cooking to Boy Scout leaders. Decent dorm food IS attainable. ;.)


The rice cooker and electric kettle are terrifis ideas- I have cooked many a potatoe & veggie in the electric kettle (even at the library!) But the best tool for me wasa small convection toaster o ven - the flatbread/pizza crust/ baked potatoe/roasted veggies that I could cank out with that sustained me for 2 1/2 years - I also made large batches of cashew cheese which can make even shoe leather taste good - but you have to have blender for appliance co-op is helpful...


At my school in Philly, we could have a mini-fridge, and that was IT. I had an electric kettle that I'd cook ramen in, not the best choice but it worked. I eventually scoped out the best places on campus to eat- I got pasta with garlic and sun dried tomatoes, fresh made veggie hummus from the bagel stand, and the most fab beef and brocc from a sidewalk stand, all on my meal plan. It just took some detective work. I also found out where and what not to eat- I walked out of a checkout line and left my tray there when a cloud of fruit flies as big as my head left the balsamic bottle as I was about to dress my salad. A friend did a semester-long project on her school's caf food, and discovered that they were outside of all the FDA's guidlines. Food Services refused to release nutrition info to her, which is illegal, so her prof had to pressure the school for data. Use your common sense when choosing how to eat on campus- you may be horrified, but you may also find a few surprises.


Get a good rice cooker with a "porridge" setting, which is also a crockpot, or slow cooker, and lay your hands on The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann ISBN 978-1-55832-203-5 with recipes for risottos, pilafs, polenta, chilis. soups, porridges puddings and more. There is no exposed coil in a rice cooker, so this should be okay in most dorms. I'd also suggest taking a sea salt grinder, a pepper grinder and half a lemon to food hall with you, along with your favourite sweet chili sauce; these will transform most food you will encounter there!

Curzon Tussaud

If allowed, a small food processor is great for making nutrient dense dips or sandwich spreads, like hummus, pesto, raw veggie dips. Nuts and seeds are wonderful brain foods. Herbs are a great way to add vital minerals to a mineral-lacking dorm food diet. The dips make great late-night snacks with some whole grain crackers or pita. Also great for an impromptu party in your room. Forget the greasy chips and processed stuff! Get a food processor.

Marirose Piciucco

I definitely echo the idea on making a microwaved "stirfry" out of the salad bar. I think this was all I ate during my senior year. My college had great condiments, so I would also make a little peanut sauce for my stirfry: natural peanut butter, soy sauce, rice vinegar, hot pepper flakes, and a bit of hot water from the coffee/tea area.


I am going to be a senior next year and will be living in a real house with a real kitchen for the first time! I feel your pain! My college has pretty good food but it gets old after about a month. My favorite creative things to do: 1. tortilla from Mexican food station, lettuce from salad bar, grilled chicken from grill, caesar dressing, olives, and parmesan cheese make a great wrap! 2. beans from Mexican station, grated cheddar cheese, and tomatoes from salad bar make a nice little bean salad thing. 3. toasted wheat bagel with cream cheese and tomatoes and cucumbers on top with a little salt and pepper is delicious 4. spinach, beans from mexican place, cheese, and microwave it a little bit is good protein 5. almost vomit at the thought of any food from the dining hall and drive to the Met (fancy grocery store) for dinner. Sorry I can't be of more help. Living like this does make you appreciate your family's kitchen way more! Good luck!


Electrical Tea Kettles are a must in the dorm! Add a cafe tier. Ramen Noodles Electric Tea Kettle Egg Cheese Italian peasant dish: heat up water in the kettle. pour over ramen noodles. wait until finished cooking. Drain water in nearby sink. Grab an egg from the mini-fridge and crack over noodles. Sprinkle cheese from mini-fridge over eggy noodles. Blast that thing in the microwave. Steal pepper and salt packages from cafeteria. Badabing Badaboom. If feeling skinny and malnutrition, add a can of green beans, haha.

Anna Proffitt

Having been raised in NYC and gone to school in upstate NY, I feel your pain. However, it's not really pain as it's really rather easy to get great fresh ingredients all across the state, even for vegetarians. First, have a mini-fridge on hand and be sure to hit local markets like Wegmans (if upstate), farmer's markets in the more countryside areas (also upstate), and Trader Joe's and farmer's mkts (if in NYC). Stock up on dried or canned beans and fruits, and have frozen stuff on hand like veg sausages, dumplings and even rice. Second, invest in a George Foreman grill for your dorm room. If your school forbids them, just make sure to clean it, unplug it and hide it under your bed or in your closet after every use. Also good to have a crock pot or rice cooker on hand. Those are available at any ethnic food shop or even Walmart and dollar stores. These are pretty much common items in dorm rooms, particularly among the Asian student populace, so there will be no crack down on these appliances. If your school requires you to have a meal plan as a freshman and sophomore, then research the menus and ingredients offered by their food service provider. Most, if not all, of the main ones, like Sodexho, have built-in vegetarian and healthy food options for years now, in addition to Fair Trade coffee beans, usually from Green Mountain Coffee. They also include sample menus on their website and a rather good salad options in most of their schools. Also, check if your college campus or the town surrounding it has a food co-op, whether run by students or some other group. If in NYC, this shouldn't be a problem considering we're chock full of healthy outlets. If in upstate, there's lots of NYS agriculture and appreciation for it, too, so many environmental student groups will either run their own veg co-op or affiliate with local organizations that have one. Good luck! And have fun this year!

Heather C.

As a safety thing, please, college people, unplug whatever you are not using at the time. Thank you.

Sue M.

Check out Mark Bittman's 101 salad ideas column from the New York Times. It's currently the most e mailed article.


If you're paying for a meal plan in the dining halls like I was, you might as well get your money's worth. The dining halls at the small liberal arts college I graduated from a few years ago had a salad bar, sandwich bar, spice rack, rice at every meal, and microwaves. You can do some amazing things with the salad bar veggies, spices, some melted cheese, etc. I had friends who would make mexican beans and rice in the microwave, which was also great for steaming vegetables. You can bring in a small bag with the stuff you can't get in the dining hall (miso paste, almond butter, pesto, favorite spice or salad dressing, real maple syrup, etc.) and spend a few extra minutes making your own delicious meal. If they make you pay for 2 or 3 meals a day anyway, you might as well take advantage of the already processed veggies they're offering you. I've been out of school for years now, but I really miss having vegetables already chopped and ready for me when it's time for a meal! If your dining halls don't have a good salad bar, at least figure out the best methods for sneaking food out of there so you can have snacks later on. You might have to be furtive about it, but cargo pockets with tupperware in them could get you a "free" bagel or salad every day.


I wish I had known about this website while I was still in college because all of you have fabulous ideas! I was not as fortunate as some in terms of having a kitchen in college. My freshman year was spent in a typical dorm setting, where, if you left the microwave on for a second too long, either it would short the whole dorm or cause the fire alarm to go off. My second year, while I had a kitchen, my roommates and I dare not use it. It smelled horrid and I'm convinced it's from the age of the flood! Once you became a junior/senior, you had options with living but by that time, microwaveable food had become a staple. Of course, once I had a decent kitchen, I used it EVERY chance I got and whipped up the most decadent meals ever! (If I do say so myself!!) Anywho, enough of my ramblings. I totally took advantage of the salad bar at school. They had AMAZING things available and all sorts of fruits/veggies. My favorite thing quickly became a toasted bagel with hummus and tomato with a side salad. They also had a "Mongolian Grill". You were able to pick out what you wanted in your stir fry from the veggies to the meat or tofu. If you caf isn't as adaptable then you must get creative with your microwave! I used to buy cans of lentil soup and then get some veggies from the caf and have one of the workers chop them for me. (It pays to be nice to the cafeteria workers!!) I would drain the lentil soup bc it was kinda salty & gross (I'd allow for a little bit of the liquid to remain) and then put it in a microwaveable bowl with the veggies & cook. It wasn't the greatest mock lentil soup ever but it sure beat the Cream of Hamburger soup that the cafeteria put out! Once you get a handle on how long it takes rice to cook in the microwave, the world opens up! You can essentially make anything in the world in the microwave, it just takes A LOT of trial & error! I also suggest finding a friend with a car so you can get to the store if you need to. Stock up on things like canned stock, but look for the low sodium ones, beans, rice, etc. When needed try to get to the store & get fresh fruits & veggies or just load up at the cafeteria. Depending on the size of your refrigerator/freezer, you can get some frozen fruits/veggies. And as a few people mentioned PEANUT BUTTER!! Good luck, college is a blast & it just takes some getting used to & improvising. I have faith that you'll be fine especially with all the awesome ideas people are giving on here!


I think it is wonderful that so many ideas were given. One caution: When I was at school one room caught fire because of an illegal appliance. As much as cooking is fun and necessary for the soul please be careful. Most dorms house a large number of young lives that I would not want to be wasted. What about getting one of the raw cookbooks? Great food and no cooking needed. Just a thought.


Even if you can handle eating the cafeteria food, I remember that dinner time was so early. I always brought little ziplock bags into the cafeteria with me. I would make myself a bowl to take away - with raw carrots, celery... sometimes I would take watermelon and other cut up fruit. When no one was looking I would transfer the contents of the bowl into the little baggies. The dorms obviously don't condone this and usually limit big backpacks, but I had a small purse that worked perfectly for this purpose. Then I would place the bags in my mini fridge in my dorm room and have access to healthy snacks throughout the day


Comments are closed.

Apologies, comments are closed.

More Recipes

101cookbooks social icon
Join my newsletter!
Weekly recipes and inspirations.

Popular Ingredients

Use of this site constitutes acceptance of its User Agreement and Privacy Policy.

101 Cookbooks is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Any clickable link to on the site is an affiliate link.