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Dorm Kitchens

My son will be moving into a college dorm room that has a very small kitchen. He is eager to cook for himself. What would you all recommend are the essentials that any tiny dorm kitchen should have? I figure a toaster oven is the most obvious, but I'm sure there are other must haves that either fill multiple uses, or don't take up a lot of space.

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  1. When I was in college... a MILLION years ago... there was a kitchen in the basement, along with vending machines. There was a sink, stove, fridge/freezer and some very BASIC cooking tools. It was always DISGUSTING!! This was back in the day BEFORE everybody had a microwave oven.

    Thinking just about every dorm room has a microwave & small fridge?!? If not, I'd be shopping yard sales and thrift stores right away. If the microwave works for tea/coffee water, soup/ramen, and popcorn... a used one will be fine. Same with mini-fridge. I'd also look for a smallish coffee maker and toaster oven. How about a single electric burner and inexpensive non-stick skillet and sauce pan. If you live in an area where there are good yard sales and thrift stores, bet you onldn't spend much more than $100 for ALL the things I mentioned.

    Are there restrictions on what is ALLOWED in dorm room? In my day, EVERYBODY had a "stinger"... metal oil thing that went tin mug to boil water. They were a NO NO, so everyone made sure they didn't leave it just sitting out.

    Does your son WANT to cook or can he actually COOK the basics? If he's a total novice, I might start looking for a cookbook. Bet there's one out there just on DORM cooking!?!

    4 Replies
    1. re: kseiverd

      They do have some restrictions - no exposed heating elements (but they do have a two burner stove provided). He really wants to cook, and can actually do a good job with eggs, but that's about it. I was thinking there must be a cook book aimed at his "demographic".

      1. re: crabtree

        teach him ramen. get him a rice cooker (30 minute meal, 1 minute prep time. remind him to put butter on it)

        1. re: crabtree

          I'd be careful about the toaster oven. Make sure not to get one with the "twist" dial timer/on function. It is really easy to quickly "twist" it off before the bell rings, and *yikes* you've set it to "stay on".
          In my dorm toaster ovens were not allowed due that risk and, if not cleaned out regularly, they can start to smolder on the nasties lurking on the bottom.
          You've got to be really honest with yourself: your kid might be clean and responsible, but if he has 3 other roommates, that's a 75% chance for disaster.
          He's likely to be microwaving stuff, boiling water for pasta, nuking sauce.
          Sounds cliche, but a george foreman grill is handy. Grilled cheese, burgers...it is quite versatile.
          Hit up garage sales. Lots of plastic cups and dishes, big bowls for popcorn, cheap utensils and gadgets which will get lost eventually.
          Oh and a 100 pack of cheap sponges. Someone has to clean all the dishes.

          1. re: crabtree

            There are actually quite a few college and dorm room cookbooks. Check amazon, but also check used book stores or thrift stores near his school.

        2. Besides the toaster over (I'd recommend a Brevelle or Krupps with the quarts elements), maybe a crock pot and an electric skillet without a non-stick coating. Also one or two sauce pots and a 10 or 12 inch skillet without the non stick coatings. I suggested the electric skillet because its temp control may be better than that on a stove that has been used and abused. Mostly, the selection should be geared to what your son likes to eat and cook. The crock port could be used on the weekend to make chili, stew, roasts on the weekends for good leftovers during the week.

          1. A fry pan, and a saucepan. :) Saucepan for making instant ramen noodle, and fry pan for .... well, almost everything else.

            1. What does your son want to cook?

              Personally, I had no use for a toaster oven but, used the heck out of a crock pot for beans. Pinto's and some diced ham were a staple. Add a small stainless steel pot for noodles and pasta and most college students are set. I really didn't use a skillet much until my junior year because I didn't want to deal with the mess or clean up from frying something.

              Get the biggest dorm room fridge the rules allow. Milk for cereal, yogurt, eggs,cheese, and beer are an easy choice for almost any college student.

              1. without a doubt -- if it's allowed for electric load -- an electric teakettle with an automatic turnoff. if he eats like we did, it'll be lots and lots of ramen, and some version of instant coffee and tea for upset tummies! (there's some pretty decent ramen available these days!)

                1. Thank you all for the suggestions!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: crabtree

                    Main reason I mentioned looking for used items is they could possibly travel "one-way"?!? As the end of a school year approaches in spring, student start thinking about hauling stuff home. If very little $$ was spent on items, anything they found not used very often could be donated, rather than hauled home.

                  2. Get a Sharp microwave/convection oven! They are totally awesome, good for roasts (30 minutes!), microwaving, pizzas, homemade pies. Everything except the turkey.

                    1. Here are some things I would suggest:

                      • Not ramen, as it’s important to still be healthy at the end of semester.
                      • Small & large saucepans, with the smaller one suitable for rice. Both can be used to boil water on the stove instead of a tea kettle.
                      • Large cup with lid for tea.
                      • French press if he drinks coffee.
                      • Pasta drainer-colander
                      • Small & large non-stick frying pans with cheap universal lid.
                      • Measuring cup & spoons
                      • Plastic cutting board.
                      • Couple of cheapest, plastic yellow-handle Henckels knives or equivalent.
                      • $20 3-pack of disposable Henckels paring knives with one serrated edge knife.
                      • Knife block.
                      • Good vegetable peeler, can-opener, etc.
                      • Metal mixing bowl set
                      • Perhaps a book like Marcela Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” and run him through a couple of easy pasta-risotto recipes, etc.

                      1 Reply
                      1. Someone suggested a foreman grill. I'd get that, a microwave, and a small fridge for starters. A fridge in your room make sure you food doesn't disappear. I used to make a lot of food on my foreman grill, grilled eggplant, burgers, hot dogs, and so many others. Some bowls, spoons, coffee mugs, and forks and knives also come in handy.

                        People usually buy a lot of food when the semester starts. Depending on how far the campus is away from the grocery store, I might say get your son a gift card for the store. Eating on campus usually falls into routine and it might take him a little while to figure out what will work for his situation, like he never makes it to breakfast so having breakfast food around is great. Also, if he is up late studying, he might to fix himself a snack.

                        1. I graduate from college in 2004, but still work for my alma mater, and the dorms haven't changed much. We had a kitchen on each floor, but they were generally gross, and a frequent source of late night fire alarms for burnt popcorn/pizza. It was somewhat common to have the kitchen locked because neighbors trashed it, or we lost kitchen privileges due to excessive fire alarms. Do not rely on using a common kitchen in the dorm. Be prepared to cook/prepare as much food as possible in the room with microwave and toaster oven.

                          As others have suggested, a mini fridge and microwave for the dorm room are essential. Check with the housing dept at the school - they may offer a fridge/microwave combination for rent that is worthwhile if you do not want to deal with moving in/out every year. Some schools require these combos as a means for regulating the electric load - the fridge cycles off whenever the microwave is running.

                          For cookware - a paring knife and cutting board, colander, sauce pan, small frying pan, and a half sized cookie sheet (or 9x13 inch baking pan). Buy durable stuff, and he will have a good start for when he gets his first apartment. Get a good can opener that also has a built in bottle opener. A wooden spoon of silicon spatula is nice, but he can probably get away with using a fork or spoon for most dorm cooking.

                          Microwave safe plates/bowls/mugs are also a must have, along with real silverware. Get enough for two settings, so he can entertain :) If he is going to attend sporting events, especially football, he will accumulate plenty of stadium cups from games. Otherwise he will need cups for drinking cold beverages.

                          1. There's another thread on this subject just now. You might find some useful suggestions there.

                            I'll repeat some of what I posted in it:

                            Try out the food in the dining hall. If it's good, or even if it's just edible, consider eating there regularly, and cook only for special occasions if at all. The time spent cooking, and getting the food to cook, is time lost to studying, getting to know fellow students and teachers, and extracurricular and social activities, which after all is what most people go to college for. It's a high price to pay for eating better than your classmates.