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 was in school I used my microwave to make alfredo sauce, steam artichokes, make chocolate pudding, and steam other veggies. I learned to take what I could from the cafeteria (fruit, ice cream, butter packets). I made things out of other things in the cafeteria. Best thing to do, make friends w/ a local so you can go to their house on weekends to make some food or share in their cooking.


Dorm rules vary greatly, so I'd be sure to check and see exactly what is allowed. Some colleges allow toaster ovens and crockpots, while others do not even allow electric coffee pots. Most, however allow microwaves and refrigerators. If you can only have those, I'd go with a convection combination, if they're allowed and you can afford it. If you can squeeze a half size chest or upright freezer, or a smaller full-size refrigerator with a freezer in your room, you can make meals before you go, freeze them, then microwave one for each meal. This worked great for me, when I bought stackable microwaveable containers (I used glass ones, but the plastic ones stack better). You can keep spices,dried peppers and dried veggies to add to pasta or rice that can be cooked in the microwave, and save refrigerator space for eggs if you eat them, and whatever fresh things you can't liberate from the cafeteria salad bar. Refrigerator free soy, goat, or regular milk saves refrigerator space, too, but I wouldn't go without a frig if you can help it. That way you can make more intricate meals less frequently, then zap the leftovers when you have less time.


Among the lessons here: ask, and you get. Lots of great comments: surely there's a book here. Thanks to everyone. In HOME COOKING, easily available in any bookstore, Laurie Colwin wrote lovingly and enthusiastically of cooking in tiny spaces in New York. Muesli-style, all-raw breakfast comes together fast: berries, a chopped quarter-apple, sliced raw almonds, half a banana, a few cherries/strawberries and 1/4 cup of raw steel-cut oats and/or a pack of raw quick-oatmeal (Costco), almond or soy milk. No cooking, fuels me for hours when I'm traveling. Get the screwcap soymilk if you can; it can be frozen and then travels half a day in luggage. Second the tip on buying small. NY is full of little neighborhood grocers and greenmarkets. Get to know them.


When I was an undergrad I was exempt from the meal plan due to my numerous food allergies - however - first year students couldn't get into the apartment dorms with kitchens! I brought a Vitamix blender with me. The thing about the vitamix over an ordinary blender is that you can get it hot enough to make warm soup, or cold enough to freeze sorbet/ice cream and chill smoothies. I had a lot of breakfast smoothies and fresh veggie soups all year long. Worth the investment.


When I was in law school, I lived in an apartment called a bachelor which basically means no kitchen. The one thing that saved me was a george foreman grill! Not sure for a george foreman grills is legal in a dorm room but maybe its worth it to have one hidden away? I would buy asparagus and zucchini and grill it on the foreman. Make some instant rice using the hot pot and a little meal. You can also make a great panini or grilled cheese on the foreman. I would get good cheese like an herbed hard cheese and make grilled cheese out of that. Though it was a little more expensive, it seemed so much tastier than American cheese. I have heard rumors you can also make grilled cheese with an iron and some parchment paper in a pinch. If you have a microwave, you can make baked potatoes or baked yams. Just poke them all over with a fork and cook for 5 minutes, flip over and cook for 5 more (times make vary, just kind of squeeze the potato or yam with a potholder, obviously you want it to be squishy). If you have a meal plan you might consider saving money by making healthier meals out of what is offered in the cafeteria. Like asking for pasta plain without whatever icky sauce they are serving and then adding some fresh veggies if you are lucky enough to have a salad bar at your cafeteria. Or getting instant oatmeal and aiding some fresh fruit and granola to dress it up. Just keep in mind that though you don't have a full gourmet kitchen, you can still do a lot, you just have to get creative. But sometimes that is what brings out the true genius of a cook!


Yes, microwaves are wonderful appliances for the college student...but many people are unaware of how many fires are started by students failing to monitor them. I live in the town with the University of Kansas & was very surprised to learn that close to 90% of local fires are the result of microwave misuse...students not paying attention for one reason or another..."under the influence" being frequently the case. the college student (I have one moving into campus housing...counting down 21 days!) please, please, please stay with your appliance until completely done. (microwave popcorn turns up frequently when examining microwave fire causes...inadvertently add an extra 0 and 3 minutes turns into 30 minutes...walk away, forget & it turns into a fire) That said... An IMMERSION BLENDER could be useful for campus housing residents. My daughter is fond of smoothies/shakes/drinks & uses an immersion blender...cleanup is a snap by just "blending" hot water & a bit of soap in a small container & rinsing/drying. I keep a variety of frozen fruits on hand specifically for this...plain & vanilla yogurt (wish it was sold by the gallon!)...juices for thinning. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, etc are good flavor enhancers. Nutrition can be boosted by first pulverizing add-ins such as nuts, flax meal/seeds, oatmeal/oat bran/wheat germ/quinoa flakes, etc. She recently spent time in Paraguay as an exchange student & found that a favorite drink for her host family was simply canned peaches pureed with some of the juice to thin for preference...she loved it. And what could be simpler?'s canned fruit...which we rarely purchase...but if it helps provide a more rounded diet for a student, then it's a good thing...canned fruit is better than no fruit. She's planning on trying other fruits such as pears. So I am reminded, once again, to think outside the box. I'm thinking that spreads/dips such as Hummus can also be made using the immersion blender...just might not be quite as smooth, but will still taste good. Raw veggies, totillas, breads, pita chips/bread, crackers are options for dipping... or use as a sandwich spread. We've turned frozen edamame, canned beans & lentils, jars of roasted peppers, etc into "hummus" type spreads good for uses limited only by ones creativity. A favorite was a can of a three bean blend mixed with garlic & chipotles in adobo sauce (powdered garlic & chipotle would work) thinned with olive oil...sooo good spread on a dense whole wheat bread (top with thinly sliced cucumbers, tomatoes or zuchinni, leaf lettuce or sprouts?). I use my blender all the time for pureeing soups. I'm thinking that with a microwave to cook veggies such as potato, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, mushrooms, carrots, etc (either solo or a combination), a student could add some milk/broth/water, seasonings, maybe cheese & blend to create an easy soup. So having a small well-stocked spice/herb supply that could be kept in a tupperware type container would be most useful. If you have access to a local health food store, the bulk department will make buying herbs/spices more the ability to buy only the amounts wanted...which makes trying unfamiliar things easier...& fun. We've used leftover pureed soups over a baked potato, as a sauce for pasta or veggies. Serve the sauced veggies over a cooked grain such as couscous, quinoa, bulgar or rice and you have a meal. Nothing fancy... Oh, yes...take a multi-vitamin daily. To all of you heading to college life safe...make good choices... and may you experience an incredibile, amazing adventure!!!


Maybe I'm old-fashioned and out-of-date, but there is a glut of food in a cafeteria, a good deal of which nourishing. At my college there were salad stations, wok stations, etc. I got very tired of listening to ungrateful, spoiled students (mostly the ones who didn't know how to dig potatoes and snap green beans) fuss about how there was nuthin' to eat. Gratefulness does wonders for the spirit. Of course, there's always the option of renting an apartment and buying a share in a local CSA... Or go on a juice diet and give the extra money to help fight hunger...the real kind.

Mama JJ

While I wouldn't break the small appliance rules of the dorm, if there are any, I would check and see if there is a communal kitchen any where. Even if it is gross, it is often possible for you to plug in your own, private (don't leave it there!) small appliance to cook on or even leave on all day if it is a slow cooker without breaking rules. I suggest getting a small 2 quart slow cooker. It is perfect for meals for 2. You could cook one day and have leftovers for the next if you'd like and it works just like a regular slow cooker. If you can't do that, you can make sandwiches, cold salads etc easily using refrigerated ingredients. And your school might surprise you, dorm food isn't as bad as it once was and most schools are trying to accommodate vegetarians, vegans, celiac suffers etc which means a revamping of the tired old menus people remember. Also, you might find that different dorms have better or different food. At my tiny private college there was a main cafeteria that was ok, but there was also a small "cafe" that was open for breakfast and lunch that served food on a smaller scale that was much better and often had interesting dishes and specials. A lot of people would make lunch their main meal and eat it in the cafe and then just have a simple light meal at the Cafeteria (salad, soup etc) for dinner.


Wow, what great ideas! I had no idea you could do so much with a rice cooker! I love my slow-cooker, and it's a real blessing this time of year when you don't want to heat up the kitchen. A few days ago, I found this neat site where the author did 365 days of using only her slow cooker. She made bread, cake, granola, yogurt, things you would never think of doing in a crockpot. She even details her failures, which are pretty amusing. Here's the link to her blog, where she details some great ideas to survive well in our recession.


I lived in a tent in Hungary for 8 months when I was in the Army, and found a hot-pot to be most useful. Boullion flavors up almost anything (instant rice, quick-cook noodles, veggies), instant oatmeal, grits, or other grains are nutritious and you can cook them with only hot water, and tea with honey is an excellent treatment for food fatigue. Pick up bread and salad from the cafeteria, along with anything else edible that you are allowed to carry out.


Ditto on the rice cooker. If you do a Google search on "rice cooker dorm" or variations on those key words, you'll come up with lots of recipe suggestions.


get a rice cooker. you can cook rice, stir-fry veggies, make egg omelets, curries, even toast bread or warm up room temperature mince pies (fruit pies) - just use something to hold the "cook" switch down.


they did a variation of htis on top chef-"masters". most college kids have basically weak palate development and there isn't anything to cook on, but a hot plate. overall, not an interesting storyline. i admire you. especially since you are able to make money and do what you love.


I just graduated from college, and I spent my first two years in a dorm. First of all, I definitely had an illegal George Foreman grill - I befriended my RA and she was cool with it and didn't tell, and I hid it in the back of my closet during room inspections. Grilled cheese with tomato slices and spinach are quick and easy on the George Foreman, as is grilled PB & J! What I decided was that since I had a meal plan anyway that was already paid for, I should try to use it as much as possible instead of buying groceries, even when I wasn't just walking into the HUB and buying a meal, so I would get stuff from the salad bar and instead of making one big salad, I would get several whole containers of one ingredient. Then you can take that stuff back to your room to make salads, have veggies and dip, or cook with. All the dorms at my school also have one full kitchen in the basement, so you can always buy veggies and stuff from the salad bar, supplement with a few things from the store, get a pot of soup going, and sit at the table and work on homework as it cooks. I'm not entirely sure if it was allowed or not, but sophomore year my room-mate brought a bread machine she inherited from her grandma, and we made home-made bread in our dorm room all the time until I accidentally threw away the blade! Also, for your information, cookies can be made on a George Foreman grill! They will not look like cookies and they will fall apart, but they will taste like cookies, and people walking down the hall will think they are crazy because they smell cookies baking and know that no one could possibly be baking cookies in a dorm room with no oven! I also recall eating a lot of oatmeal, even for dinner. As you settle in, you may make friends who live in houses or apartments who may let you come use their kitchen if you are willing to share with them the fruits of your labors. Oh! Another thing you can do is use your meal plan to buy bagels, cheese slices from the sandwich bar, and stuff from the salad bar. Just toast the bagel, top it with the other stuff, microwave it, and you have pizza. Good luck!


I haven't had time to read all the comments so I apologize in advance for duplicate ideas. Like many others have said there are lots of ways that you can make a good meal out of a single microwave or electric tea kettle, but it takes some planning to figure out logistics. Some specific ideas: - get one of those under-bed (or on-top-of-closet, or behind-door, what have you...) plastic rubbermaid containers to store food & cooking supplies. You really don't want to attract bugs into your living space. - get a decent knife and the largest cutting board you can find that will fit into that plastic box. Besides using it for cutting (!), you can use the cutting board as a general prep & staging area so you're not having to balance tippy bowls of food directly on your bedspread. - keep a stash of your favorite spices, herbs, oils, & bottled sauces on hand. Lots of flavor without taking up lots of precious fridge space. - stock up with convenience food to your tastes. Annie's microwave mac & cheese, single servings packs of shelf-stable milk, soup mixes, couscous mixes, trader joes pre-cooked brown rice, etc. - if you're on a budget, hoard and stash free stuff that you use in your cooking... things like s&p packets, sugar packets, red chili flakes from the pizza delivery, soy sauce packets from the chinese delivery, etc. - two of my favorite college era meals have stayed in my repertoire for the past 20 years. First is an asian noodle thing with thin rice noodles (you only have to soak them in hot tap water to prep), whatever protein you have on hand (those shelf-stable packs of tofu work great), whatever veggies you have (a single carrot & some snap peas from the store, or a salad bar mix of your favorites), and a faux peanut sauce with a spoon of peanut butter from your pantry, along with your stashed packets of soy sauce, chili pepper, and sugar. Mix with water and put that all in the microwave for a couple of minutes and you've got a good meal. The other simple keeper is a drained can of chickpeas, a handful of couscous, a handful of spinach, and a teaspoon of boullion. Mix with water & microwave for a couple of minutes and top with green onions & parmesan. I liked this one kind of soupy... my roommate liked it drier. Good luck - embrace the chance to be creative with what you have!


My college days had years of dorm food and I ended up living out of a "HOT POT". It is a kettle that the whole top comes off and you can make soups and stuff in it. We weren


You have no idea how excited I was when I read this post!! I'm starting my freshmen year of college next month, and to be perfectly honest the biggest anxiety that I've had is getting stuck in a rut with eating... All of the comments have been super helpful! :) I've been trying to figure out ways of cooking with the microwave lately, and so far I've been pretty successful. I've been steaming veggies in a glass container covered with plastic wrap and cooking eggs, but that's about all the success I've had. :P Also, Annie's frozen dinner meals rock! They'll definitely be in my freezer for those lazy days when I don't want to make any thing OR go out!


I failed to have the patience to read half of the comments, but as a college grad about to go on to grad school, I gotta tell you, just pretend like your car camping. One of those two burner Coleman stoves saved my life in undergrad. I would just go outside to the nearest picnic table and do any stovetop cooking I needed to. This wasn't always easy in the winter, considering I did my undergrad in the Adirondack Mtns of NY. But, I bundled up and I survived just fine. Also, with the help of a toaster oven:)


For the dorm year of my life I sauteed portobello mushroom burgers in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper in a toaster oven. But it was always messy and often seemed kind of dangerous cooking in the dorm room. The Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies just opened its new LEED certified Kroon Building which includes a "BYO Cafe" so students can pack and prepare fresh meals. I'm guessing that Yale's is not the only example, but hopefully this sustainability and health trend that will get picked up and replicated on other campuses.


Colleges differ dramatically throughout the country. Talk to yours and find out what is or is not allowed. Also, investigate the set-up of your dinning hall. I recently graduated from an awesome university in (unvegetarian friendly) Texas where we were required to live on campus for 3 years and have a dinning plan. However, each dorm was equipped with a micro-fridge (mini fridge and microwave combination). We only had one dinning hall but it sold everything a la carte, so there were no restrictions to taking food with us. Our dinning hall was set up like a mall food court with stations like BBQ, Mexican, Asian, standard cafeteria food, wraps, salad bar, vegetarian, gourmet salads, pasta, deli sandwiches, and soups. At many of the stations, foods were cooked to order in skillets so I never had problems eating vegetarian. A diet of bean and veggie burritos, black bean wraps, hummus sandwiches, and tofu stir-frys, kept me healthy and able to focus on my studies, instead of my next meal. But even with all these options, I LOVED going home and eating "real" food. College is time consuming. You need to find quick, healthy, and satisfying. Salads become boring very quickly. Take advantage of what is available to you first and learn how to use it to your advantage, then branch out. (And yes, we still had an electric kettle and George Foreman grill. I don't know if they were actually allowed or not, but do mostly to time and the fact that they required cleaning, we never used them.)


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