Cooking in Dorm Rooms at Colleges and Universities

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

As if it isn’t bad enough that the cafeteria is serving something not quite recognizable, they don’t even have the decency to serve it 24/7! Add the fact that the local fast food places close at 1 a.m. and you have a real problem when you’re studying at 2 a.m. and you’re starving. All's not lost, though — not if you’ve got some essentials, a few spare minutes, a little creativity, and some key college info about dorm cooking.

Obviously, space prevents gourmet cooking, but you don’t need to go that far to get by. All you need is a small microwave and a mini-refrigerator. At most schools, these are the only appliances allowed in the dorms. If you can’t afford them, check with your college's office of student life and see if they’re available for rent.

What to cook at colleges and universities

Dorm cooking relies heavily on convenience foods, and there’s a lot of great stuff out there. Stock up and you'll be able to feast on the following delicious dorm-style meals:

Leave the homemade stuff to mom. In the dorms, it’s about simplicity. Opt for canned soup, which you can get in a zillion different flavors. Remove the lid with a handheld can opener, pour into a bowl, and heat. Better yet, get the type that comes in a microwaveable container and you won’t have to worry about dishes. At college, search for brands with fewer than 400 mg of sodium per serving.

You'll find these in just about any place that calls itself a grocery store. They’re usually in the frozen section, but some places carry brands that are made fresh and kept in the deli. Heat according to the directions. It might taste like junk food, but with all the protein it packs, a burrito is basically a healthy meal.

Veggie burgers
These are tasty and the best brands are hard to tell apart from a real burger. You can find them in the frozen section. Simply heat and place on a bun. Add lettuce, tomato, mayo, or whatever you like, and enjoy! These burgers are full of nutrient-rich foods, including peppers, zucchini, and lentils.

Ragu Express
This pasta-and-tomato-sauce concoction requires only water, a bowl, and a microwave. It takes about three minutes to prepare and there are three flavors. It's an quick and easy meal for those busy days at college. Information about nutrition: each serving only has 200 calories and 2.5 grams of fat!

Frozen dinners
These can be expensive, but there sure are a lot to choose from! You can eat anything from diet cuisine to the super-sized variety and it’s bound to hit the spot when you most need it. Try to choose healthy meals, not the ones with too much sodium and fat.

Teriyaki vegetable stir
Empty your frozen stir-fry veggies into a bowl. Cook on high for about 4 minutes, stirring halfway through (thus “stir”, but no fry). Add teriyaki sauce and cook on high for another 30 seconds. For pizzazz, toss in some roasted peanuts. Feel free to substitute any vegetable.

Tuna sandwich
Drain the water in a sink and then use a bowl to mix the tuna with a dollop of mayonnaise. When you're at college, guide yourself to healthier ingredients: select whole-grain bread, reduced-fat mayo, and water-packed tuna.

Great for a quick breakfast before classes or as a tasty and healthy snack while you're studying. Your college snack shop may even sell smaller boxes that are perfect for a one-person serving. Reach for low-sugar brands and sweeten naturally with fruit. Use skim or one-percent milk.

Common-sense rules for cooking at colleges and universities

  • Buy some crates to store dry goods
  • Be prepared by keeping your refrigerator stocked
  • Put only microwave-safe dishes in the microwave — no metal or tin!
  • Cover food with wax paper or a paper towel before you heat to avoid splattering
  • Use a potholder when removing anything from the microwave
  • Clean dishes immediately after you finish eating
  • Eat at your desk to avoid getting crumbs on the floor or in your bed
  • Be aware of the smell that certain foods might create and be courteous to your roommate or other guests who might stop by



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Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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