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How to make real food in the dorms

Katherine Martinelli is an internationally published food and travel writer and photographer who contributes regularly to publications on three continents. She recently released her first cookbook, Puff Pastry at Brunch: 10 Sweet and Sa...

College food survival guide

College dining halls tend to range from ok to abysmal, and even the best get tiresome quick. Learn how to prepare quick and healthy meals in the dorm using basic appliances like a hot pot, microwave and mini-fridge.
College age girl eating Ramen noodles

Step 1: Assess the situation

First, take stock of what you have available. Do you have a mini fridge and hot pot in your room? Is there a common kitchen on your floor or somewhere in the building? If so, does it have a microwave or even a stove? You can do a lot with a little, but it’s important to know what your limitations are.

Step 2: Get the basics

You don’t need a lot of tools, but a few basics will be helpful. At least one fork, spoon, bowl, and plate will make eating less messy. A paring knife and small cutting board will also make your life easier. Plastic plates and utensils are a great alternative that will make cleanup even easier.

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Step 3: Stock up

Rides to the grocery store can be few and far between, so stock up when you can on shelf-stable pantry essentials. Consider items like ramen noodles, peanut butter, jelly, Nutella, instant oats, canned beans and vegetables, tortilla chips, dried fruits, macaroni and cheese, and nuts. If you have a fridge, you can get fresh ingredients that keep well and don’t need to be cooked, like bread, fruits, vegetables and cheese.

Step 4: Plan your meals

Knowing what you have available, start thinking up what you can cook. If all you have is a hot pot, you can easily make instant ramen, mac and cheese, or oatmeal. Or get more creative and prepare ramen noodles topped with a peanut sauce and crushed peanuts, or oatmeal with dried fruits and nuts. If you have fresh ingredients, then make a salad or a fresh, no-cook bruschetta. A pan or electric grill is all you need to make a grilled cheese sandwich, and potatoes can be cooked in a microwave.

Step 5: Safety first

Once you’ve decided what you are going to make, get cooking! Whether it’s a hot pot plugged into the outlet in the communal bathroom, a stuffed baked potato made in the common kitchen or a salad made in your room, be sure to practice kitchen safety. Don’t allow any electrical items near water, be careful not to cut yourself or others when using a knife and make sure to turn off or unplug everything when you’re done.

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Step 6: Bon appetit!

Enjoy the food that you’ve just made, whether it’s a grilled cheese sandwich, vegetable sticks with dip, or black bean and corn salsa. Be prepared to see curious people from around the dorm who are drawn by the smells of fresh food being made.

Step 7: Clean up

You probably thought you were done after "bon appetit," but since a dorm is a shared space it’s all the more important to clean up after yourself. Chances are you didn’t make a huge mess while preparing your food, so just take a few minutes to clean up immediately. Your roommate will thank you.

More on dorm living

Top 10 must-haves for dorm living
20 college essentials from bag to dorm
College campus food guide

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