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Cooking essentials for your college dorm

For the days you simply can't stomach the dining hall.

The time to transition from summer to fall semester has arrived, but cooking in a college dorm is sort of like camping -- only indoors and for 15 weeks straight. Oh, and you have electricity. That's kind of a big deal. Whether it's you who's moving on campus for the first time (wheee!) or your child or grandchild (worry not, they will be just fine), there are several culinary tools to make the transition easier -- tricks beyond microwave s'mores, cocoa and packaged ramen.

Related10 dorm room essentials worth buying early | Back-to-school gift guide  

Future dormer: You can't live on a diet of breakfast bars, chips, cookies and beer every day. (What?! What about pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner? No.) More accurately, you can go this route, but you'll be unrecognizable when you return home for winter break. And every meal isn't going to be at your university's cafeteria or nearby restaurants and bars. Eating out all the time can take a toll on your body and your wallet, too.

To save yourself, a little dorm-room cooking is in order. (It's all about balance, people.) We're not suggesting you whip up a lasagna and three-layer cake as you hole up in your 12-by-12-foot box until the holidays, but you'd be amazed at the culinary feats you can accomplish with just a few simple (and totally brilliant) tools.

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If your dorm room doesn't already include a refrigerator-freezer, then you've got to get a mini version. It's a must. Of course, check with your roommate first because you might not want, or have room for, two fridges. But you gotta put your milk -- whether it's cow, soy, almond or coconut -- in a cool place. And all that other stuff you want cold. You could try this retro-styled 3.2-cubic-foot dry-erase refrigerator with neon markers, that lets you write and erase lists and notes right on the fridge door.


To some of us, a microwave is also already an accepted essential. But many dorm vets wave the hot pot flag. Sunbeam makes a $23 hot pot that boils water in 1 to 2 minutes, and you can make pasta, rice, potatoes and vegetables in there, too, besides coffee and tea. But for others, it's the microwave all the way. Go with a small version, of course, and then make sure all your plates, bowls and mugs are microwave-safe. You'll want a compact microwave with 700 watts of power or less to fall under standard dorm safety regulations, such as this stylish 700-watt model with a retro oval window and chrome look.

Want to avoid the freshman 15 and maintain a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables? Smoothies, smoothies, smoothies. We like personal blenders better than traditional ones because they're more compact, the blending container doubles as a cup and they come with lids to make them to-go cups so you can sip on your way to class. We've enjoyed the Nutri Ninja Pro, which has been discontinued, but this NutriBullet Magic Bullet is a No. 1 bestseller for good reason. It can crush through ice, seeds, skins and stems for a smooth, even consistency. Ice and frozen fruit is no match for this nifty little machine, so it's great for cold, healthy drinks and smoothies. And, ahem, margaritas…

This should've been No. 1, really. You might try to schedule all your classes late in the day, but inevitably, there will be at least one 8 a.m. class (uggghhh) that you have to take. Now regular coffee makers have a 12-cup max capacity, which as ambitious as you are, might just be unnecessary. Plus it's large and takes up a lot of precious space. Enter this top-rated model, which is slim, shiny and uses a mesh scoop filter so you can choose your preferred coffee grounds. The maker brews an 8-ounce cup in 90 seconds, but you're gonna want a 14-ounce travel mug's worth, and that only takes about two-and-a-half minutes to fill up.

Related: Trusty reusable coffee mugs to keep your coffee hot and wallet full

A big wooden spoon, a spatula, a serving spoon, a can opener, measuring spoons, measuring cups, a peeler and a sharp knife are all little things you could forget when you're selecting your silverware, plates, cups and bowls. While this set doesn't have all of those items, it does include a pretty impressive roster of basic tools. You can definitely find more colorful sets if style matters to you, but this basic collection is cheap and includes both a bottle opener and a pizza cutter, which you just might end up using more than the rest.

One of the most frequent questions you'll ask yourself in college is, "Wait, do I even have time to eat?" It's sad, but it's the truth. You'll need appliances that will help you prepare food in no time so that you don't starve if you're running late to class or an internship or wherever you need to be. This quesadilla maker is cheap and perfect for a quick and easy lunch! And there's really no shame in being the person who runs around campus frantically shoving a quesadilla in your face. We've all been there.


I don't know if everyone is still drinking fruit-infused water, but I am, so this is important. While not technically a cooking item, a reusable water bottle is a smart thing to have in your dorm. Why keep buying water bottles when you can run tap water through a filter for free? And with this sturdy and slick-looking HYDY water bottle (which comes in a ton of great colors), you can add tea, lemons, berries or whatever your heart desires to that all-important H2O.

Even more of an essential than coffee (gasp!), is clean, drinkable water. A filtered water pitcher is a great way to have the most necessary sustenance around all the time. Even if you can't fit it in your fridge, you want this. There are many kinds, but a slim design works best for your limited space. The Brita 5-Cup Space Saver BPA-free water pitcher fits this bill, with color options of white, turquoise and red.

If the dorm allows it, an Instant Pot is a no-brainer, and this compact mini version is a great fit for small spaces (and those who might not want to deal with five pounds of pulled pork at a time). This particular model doesn't do yogurt, but it does double as a rice cooker and steamer -- and of course it churns out quick dinners, breakfast and perfect boiled eggs every time. Plus, it's on sale now for 25% off the regular price.

Save your college dollars for dinners and drinks out because you can have a real brunch party in your dorm with this multitasking machine. It's a skillet, a toaster oven and a coffee maker. All that's missing are the mimosas! Not sure if this three-in-one wonder could be considered essential, but the coffee maker is for sure. And why stop at breakfast? You could toast little pita pizzas in there and fry burgers on top too.

Also: Microwave-safe food storage containers with lids, like Tupperware, as well as shatter-proof and microwave-safe dishes, are a great idea. A small cutting board wouldn't hurt either. Oh, and maybe a tea towel, pot holder and trivet, too (sigh). You gotta stop somewhere, though. Bon voyage!

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