College Dorm Cooking 101

By Scaron
Created March 8, 2017

A few of my neighbors have daughters and granddaughters headed off to college this fall (including one headed to my alma mater). It has made me so wistful for my college days.

When I arrived in Manhattan, I was a vegetarian in a school whose cafeteria thought vegetarian food meant cheesy, oily and greasy pasta dishes with a hint of veggies. Oh my. I had cooked at home before, but not to the scale or scope that I needed to learn.

Back then, I didn't even know if it was possible to cook for one person. As a result, I typically made a lot of food and shared with my roommates -- which actually is a great way to make friends, so take note.

College dorm cooking can be challenging -- you may have limited resources (a communal kitchen? A partial kitchen?), limited time, limited skills or limited money. But with a few good tips and some easy recipes, you can eat well while away at school

So, what do you need to know?

1) Have the right tools: Look, when you have a home with a big kitchen, you can have all the toys. But when you are in college, space is of the essence. What you really need (if you have access to a stove) is a good sized nonstick skillet, a medium saucepan, a slotted spoon, a non-slotted spoon and a spatula. Make sure that all of the utensils are coated so that they don't scrape the finish of your nonstick surface. Oh, and a plate, bowl and fork, knife and spoon are good too. Want to go a step further? Get a small cutting board and a santoku knife, which can handle a good amount of chopping tasks.

2) No stove? No problem! Make sure you have a round microwave-safe bowl or two. You can heat soup, make pasta and more.

3) Start small: If you can't make a soufflé, roast a whole chicken or improvise a recipe, don't worry! Start with easy recipes, and build your skills. I started out with a recipe for fresh salsa that scored me some major points with the roomies. Fresh tomato salsa is a great start because it can be eaten so many ways -- with tortilla chips, on omelets, on baked potatoes, with grilled chicken and more.

4) Don't beat yourself up: You will have kitchen disasters. I can't tell you what yours will be (leatherized chicken strips? Plastic burnt to the burner? It could be anything), but be warned that they will happen. Don't beat yourself up too much about them.

5) Go basic: Here are five easy recipes for college students that are both filling and delish:

  • Aglio e Olio - Sure, it sounds fancy, but really it's just pasta with olive oil and garlic. Easy as it comes. Just don't plan on kissing anyone that night.

  • Easy Chicken Noodle Soup -- It's comfort food, and it's so easy to make yourself. Pick up one of those cartons of chicken broth. It's exactly four cups -- perfect for this soup. You'll also need a carrot and celery. Buy one bunch or bag of both, and use the leftovers to eat with a tasty dip like Basil White Bean Dip. Or, go easier and dip them in blue cheese dressing or ranch. Finally, there is the chicken. Shredded cooked chicken, to be exactly. But one of those precooked chickens. Eat it for dinner. And lunch. Then, use two forks and shred enough chicken off for this soup. Easy peasy. You now have a fabulous soup, snacks and a few other meals all set.

  • French Omelet Recipe -- Whether it's for breakfast, lunch or dinner, an omelet is a great option. This recipe uses only eggs, butter, salt and pepper -- and the directions are pretty explicit. Fill your omelet with cheese, veggies or whatever you want and it's a fab meal.

  • Salad - No recipe needed for this one. Get lettuce, 2 or 3 veggies you like (such as cucumbers, tomatoes, broccoli or carrots) and a favorite dressing. Chop the veggies and arrange over the lettuce. Dress with the salad dressing. Easy lunch. Now, want to dress it up for dinner? Add a tablespoon or two of crumbled cheese and diced cooked chicken. If you don't eat meat, try any canned bean (garbanzos, kidneys, etc), drained and rinsed. It's easy as can be.

Sarah W. Caron (aka scaron) is a food writer, editor and blogger who writes about family-friendly foods and raising a healthy family at Sarah's Cucina Bella.