Having dined in the cafeterias at all three of my kids’ colleges in recent years, there’s no doubt that dorm food has come a long way since I was a student. Vibrant smoothie bars, make-your-own stir-fry stations, and menu items that span the culinary globe count among the many offerings. And yet, it’s not always easy to coax college kids from the comfort of their dorm rooms. Getting up 20 minutes early for breakfast or facing an icy walk for dinner is pretty good motivation to cook rather than venture out to the cafeteria.
This begs the question of what cooking gear a college kid might need to pull together a simple meal. The number one essential has to be the ubiquitous mini fridge. Most universities offer them for rent and it’s not hard to find one second-hand at a reasonable price. The microwave is popular, too, since it can do everything from delivering buttery popcorn in minutes to making a cup of hot ramen at any time of day (or middle of the night).
But what about the less obvious choices? Well, we went straight to the source—college students themselves—to find out what they prize the most when it comes to cooking on campus. Here are the top seven picks.
Before we dig in, it’s worth noting that what’s allowed in dorm rooms and on-campus kitchens varies by school. Some have very tight restrictions about cooking equipment, while others have full communal kitchens where anything goes (well, almost anything). Be sure to get the all-clear before you buy.
1. Keurig Single Serve Coffee Maker With Reusable K-Cup Coffee Filter
“Almost every morning I fill my reusable K-Cup and pop it into a single-cup Keurig coffee machine. It’s quick and the machine is super easy to clean.” — Brendan Joyce, junior at Providence College
2. Nutribullet Immersion Blender or Personal Blender
“I would say I use my little handheld immersion blender the most, as it’s sooooo versatile. I love using it for big batches of soups that I can store and eat throughout the week, but I also use it in the mornings for smoothies!” — Ruby Jagel, freshman at Cooper Union
3. Mason Jars
“Maybe this isn’t an obvious kitchen tool per se, but having lots of mason jars with lids on hand has been super helpful because they can be used as water glasses as well as for storing leftovers, making overnight oats, and packing a lunch or iced coffee to take to campus.” — Clementine Daniels, sophomore at UCLA
4. Air Fryer
“I did not see the hype around these (or understand how they really work!) until one of my roommates brought one into our apartment, and ever since then, it’s been invaluable. From salmon or tofu to pita pizzas and sweet potatoes, it cooks everything, and so quickly, which is ideal for quick meals!” — Clementine
“It’s a college student staple that makes literally everything. It’s perfect for when I’m in a rush and need to flash some roasted broccoli and cauliflower or when I want to crisp up some fries on a Saturday night. It’s a must-have for any cooking need and makes life so much easier when you can make dinner in less than 20 minutes.” — Jackie Carlson, junior at Boston College
5. Knife Set
“This is the best set and it works for everything from cutting chicken with the chef’s knife, to cutting fruits and veggies with the paring knife, to slicing bread with the large serrated knife. They stay sharp and make meal prep super easy.” — Jackie
6. Cast Iron Skillet
“The item I most frequently use is a medium cast iron pan. It’s perfect for fried eggs, veggies, and meats like chicken and steak. I love using cast iron for one-pan meals. You can start things on the stove and then move them to the oven. Easily my favorite item.” — Wyatt Jebef, senior at UC Berkeley
7. Stainless Steel Bowls
“A large stainless steel bowl, most commonly used for baking. I love making large salads in these. Super multipurpose; a great kitchen tool.” — Wyatt
Katie Morford, MS, RD, has been a long-time writer for Simply Recipes—we turn to her for delicious, healthy recipes and expert tips. She’s a mom of three kids that have gone off to college and beyond. Looking for the perfect gift for your recent grad? We recommend Katie’s cookbook, Prep: The Essential College Cookbook. — Simply Recipes Editors