Between the twin-XL bed sheets and expensive textbooks, there’s a lot of stuff you’re going to need for your first year at college. And while it might be tempting to solely focus on shopping for items like decorations or linens, it’s just as important to stock up on a few cooking and eating necessities, even if there’s no true kitchen in your dorm.
Most colleges in the U.S. will expect you to mostly eat in an on-campus dining hall (at least in your first year), but you’re going to need a few items for when hunger strikes after hours or if you want a snack without using up your precious meal plan. Many dorms have strict rules about what you can and cannot be bring, so it’s best to check what your school allows before rolling up with a mini fridge and a toaster.
I lived on campus for almost my entire undergraduate careerm(including working as an RA) and during that time I found ways to make delicious, satisfying meals with the limited cooking and eating tools available to me. Here are some of the essentials I would have told my former self to bring, knowing what I know today. From a spacious mini-fridge with tons of freezer space to a tray that makes cooking instant noodles in the microwave a breeze, consider this a list of actually useful college kitchen essentials.
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A Mini Fridge That Actually Has Freezer Space
Most colleges will allow you to bring a mini fridge if your dorm room doesn’t have one already. While it may be tempting to get a high performance or super aesthetic mini option, odds are that you’ll just give it away or throw it out at the end of the year, so don’t spend a ton on this purchase. I like this large 3.1 cubic feet capacity fridge that has a dedicated freezer section because you’ll end up eating a lot more frozen food than you think.
A No Nonsense Cart
Everyone I know between the ages of 17 to 25 loves this cart and it’s easy to see why. You can use it for all your snacks and canned items during your first year, when you may not have a ton of storage space, then for skincare or toiletries when you move into an on-campus apartment with a true kitchen. Just don’t try to use it as a bar cart, since the shelves will be too short for most types of bottles (and you’ll get in trouble with your RA).
Versatile, Microwave Safe Mugs
I don’t think there’s anything I used more often than coffee mugs my first year of college. I used them to drink water or coffee at all hours, my new friends and I made mug cakes to treat ourselves during long study sessions, and I wasn’t above using them as a makeshift bowl when cravings for cereal or ramen would strike. These wide 20-ounce Corningware mugs are a lot nicer than the ones I used, and they even come with venting lids so you can safely microwave foods like soup without it boiling over.
A Proper Gooseneck Kettle
Depending on your school or dorm, you may be allowed to have an electric water kettle to make things like coffee, tea, or instant ramen since the heating element is inside the kettle itself and not an open coil. If you’re a pour over coffee enthusiast, you’ll want a gooseneck kettle that gives a controlled pour. This is an inexpensive one that’s great for dorm life.
Make Your Own Cold Brew
If there’s one thing you can easily make in a dorm room without a kitchen, it’s a large pitcher of cold brew.This cold brew coffee maker only requires water, coffee grounds, and time to produce enough brew to wake you up for 8 a.m. recitations.
If You Have To Have a Keurig
The one item I wish I had skipped on my college wishlist was a Keurig coffee maker. They’re terrible for the environment, the coffee doesn’t even taste that good, and the inventor of the machine has even said he regrets creating it. However, some people absolutely swear by them, and unlike drip coffee makers, they don’t have an open coil or hot plate that could pose a burn or fire risk. This Keurig machine is relatively inexpensive, so you won’t feel bad if you don’t use it throughout college (like I did), and it doesn’t take up a ton of space. Just make sure to also grab reusable pods to reduce single use plastic waste.
Trust Me On This One: A Brita Pitcher
There are plenty of benefits to drink filtered water, but ultimately, it’s just nice to have a big cold pitcher of water in your mini fridge. It can also help give you some peace of mind if you’re anxious about the state of your dorm’s plumbing, if it’s an older building.
Or A Personal-Sized Bottle
If you just want to filter your own personal supply of water, Brita also makes this 36 ounce water bottle that keeps your water tasting great and would also look pretty cute in your backpack or tote bag.
A Microwave That You’ll Use For Just About Everything
One of the few cooking appliances allowed in most dorms are microwaves. Don’t overthink this purchase and buy this sturdy model for less than $100. I also like that you can toggle the sound on and off, so you don’t have to precisely open it just before the timer beeps when you’re making Hot Pockets at 3 in the morning.
The College-Ramen Staple
As an instant-ramen enthusiast, I was initially very skeptical when I first encountered one of these microwave ramen trays in college. However, they work surprisingly well and are a safer alternative to nuking a ceramic bowl in the microwave or dumping hot water in with your noodles and hoping for the best.
Actually Good Instant Ramen
Our resident instant ramen obsessive, Diana Tsui, recommends Shin Ramyun for a safe instant-noodle bet that’s flavorful, but not overwhelming. It’s the perfect pick-me-up that gives you some energy to power through all-nighters, but doesn’t have a papery-bland taste that is all too common among college convenience store brands.
An Opener for Cans of Just About Anything
When I was in college, canned food consisted of an entire food group in my diet, especially once I lived in a dorm with a kitchen. I ate beans, soups, and more because it was easy and saved me money. While I typically would buy the cans with easy-to-open pop tabs, having a proper opener would’ve saved me a lot of trouble for the times I bought the wrong cans or the tab broke off.
A Versatile Storage/Bowl Set
These dishwasher, microwave, freezer, and oven-safe glass bowls are the definition of multifunctional. You can use them for leftovers when your parents come to town and buy you a fancy dinner, or to prep and store any other fresh ingredients. You could even use the smaller bowls as ice cream or cereal vessels in a pinch.
Save Yourself From Microwave Messes
We’ve all been there — you put a bowl of soup in the microwave to heat up and walk away, only to be greeted by what looks like a crime scene when you return. Avoid messes (and subsequent clean ups) with this easy to use microwave cover.
A Better Way To Make Dorm Struggle Meals
Unless your dorm room has a kitchen or allows you to bring a hot plate, most of your meals will have to be cooked in the microwave. Anyday’s bowls are specifically designed for nuking delicious meals and they also double as Tupperware for leftovers.
Because Dorms Can Be Gross Even During The Best Times
Let’s just get this one out of the way: you’re gonna encounter some gross stuff while living on campus. Even if you spend more time cleaning than studying, it’s just going to happen due to living among others, many of whom have never had to clean up after themselves before. Be prepared by grabbing a lot of disinfecting wipes that you can use on everything from the interior of your microwave, to door handles, sinks and any other hard surfaces.
Be Prepared For Just About Any Eating Situation
It’s not quite worth investing in a full flatware set for your first year of college living, as you’ll likely collect errant spoons and forks that “accidentally” fall into your bag in the dining halls. However, it doesn’t hurt to have a portable cutlery set that you can always break out instead of using disposable utensils. This set comes with everything you possibly need — even chopsticks and reusable straws — all in a convenient carrying case.
A Solid Bottle Brush
If there’s one thing college students have an abundance of, it’s water bottles. I don’t know who decided that reusable water bottles would be the go-to swag of every on-campus organization, but all I know is that I had a million of these bottles with no way to clean them properly. Get yourself a durable bottle brush that can get into all of the nooks and crannies — I like this soft one from OXO that suds up easily and easily scrubs off grime.
Send a Not So Discreet Message
Hopefully you and your roommates are able to cohabitate peacefully throughout the year, but there’s also a good chance that you won’t be best friends by the end of it. Keep your most valuable possession (ice cream) safe with this combination lock made by the makers of Ben & Jerry’s. The lock isn’t exactly fool proof (reviews show that ice cream thieves can easily cut through a cardboard pint container), but it’s the idea of setting boundaries between your roommate and your ice cream that counts.
Designate A Place For Dishes
My first-year dorm’s sink was in our bathroom, so there wasn’t exactly a place for us to put our clean dishes. This dish pad can easily be set up on a side table, desk, or even on your bed. There’s also an integrated rack to help you squeeze in extra plates or lids by drying them vertically.
A Practical Cutting Board That’s Easy To Stow Away
While you most likely won’t be cooking regularly in your first-year dorm, it’s still a good idea to invest in a solid cutting board. You can use it to cut up veggies for a healthy study snack, or even slice up butter to make mug cakes. We like this mini-sized board from Material Kitchen, which is made with recycled materials and is durable while still being gentle on knives.
A Better Dorm Room Coffee
There were many times when I simply could not be bothered to make my own iced coffee in college and had to settle for an icky bottled version, but luckily there are way more options for convenient canned coffeesthan when I was in school. Get yourself a pack of these Oat Milk Lattes from Rise Nitro Brewing Co, and save yourself from drinking an overly-sweet vending machine monstrosity (and some money).
Keep Your Snacks Tasting Fresh
Use these bag clips to keep snacks like chips, pretzels, and more from going stale in your dorm room. As an added bonus, they’re magnetic, so you can keep them close by on your fridge and avoid losing them in the voids of your desk drawers.
If You’re Into Smoothies
If you’re the type of person that likes to make a smoothie for breakfast, you'll want to get a Magic Bullet Blender. The set has to-go lids so all you need to do is blend, pop one on, and head off to class.
For Aesthetic Study Drinks
Should you not want energy drinks or coffee aren’t your speed, Clevr’s SuperLattes can give you a much needed boost. This starter kit comes with your choice of any two Super Lattes (Matcha, Chai and Golden are popular picks), and a rechargeable frother.
A More Sophisticated, Good-For-You Soda
Caffeine is often the answer when it comes to staying energized for long days and nights of studying or working on papers, but not always. Sometimes all you need is a refreshing beverage with just a touch of sweetness like these Poppi sparkling beverages. They’re made with real fruit juice and a small amount of apple cider vinegar for a light sweetness and prebiotic benefits.The ACV is surprisingly hard to detect in the soda, and I find that drinking them can even help calm an upset tummy (which will come in handy the morning after you go to a party).