The Best Ideas for Dorm Meals Without a Kitchen

Cooking your own food in college may seem impossible without a full kitchen, but it can be done with a little creativity. Check out the best hacks here!

I shouldn’t have been surprised when my daughter texted me after her first week of college criticizing the dining hall food. She complained not only about the frozen lasagna served but also the logistics of how far the dining hall was from her classes. Breakfast was one meal not happening in the cafeteria; eating it there would mean getting up at least an hour early to walk and stand in line to get food, and sleep is just too precious to college students. For students in the same predicament, the solution is cooking for yourself. Unfortunately, most dorm rooms and buildings don’t have a stove or oven, so a little ingenuity is needed to prepare meals. A few simple tips can make cooking in a dorm room surprisingly easy. With online ordering through companies such as Instacart, students don’t even need to leave their dorm to grocery shop. Here are a few ideas to help you make easy dorm meals without a kitchen.

Eat foods that don’t need heat

The obvious idea that can’t be overlooked is to eat foods that don’t need to be cooked: think peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cold cuts, or a make-your-own cheese and pepperoni tray (charcuterie for lunch!). Cereal is a good way to grab a quick meal that’s packed with vitamins. Think about what you’d pack for lunch or snack on during high school as a starting point. When grocery shopping or in the cafeteria, grab fresh fruit or shelf-stable foods like crackers to enjoy in your room later. 

Related: The Best Study Snacks for Healthy Eating in College

Make blender meals

Buy a blender so you can make quick, on-the-go meals like shakes or smoothies to drink on your way to class. Many students who play sports or work out already have protein drinks they need to make for practices or games, but a blender should be a staple in any student’s dorm. Add some almond milk and fruit and you have an easy meal after class or practice. Just make sure you’re sensitive to your roommate’s schedule and don’t blend if they’re still asleep. Prep smoothies the night before if you get up earlier than them.

Explore Keurig cooking

I have a family friend who loves to tell the story of how she used her popcorn popper to make grilled cheese sandwiches for the girls in her dorm in the ’80s. While I don’t recommend this, college students should get innovative and use one cooking appliance in many different ways. For instance, use your Keurig to cook different meals that require boiling water, such as instant mashed potatoes, a cup of soup, ramen noodles, and Stove Top stuffing. You can also experiment with coffee drinks made in the Keurig by adding syrups, almond/oat milk, and cinnamon to significantly reduce your campus coffee bill

Related: The Best College Meals for Your Taste Buds and Budget

Invest in a microwave

Microwaves are commonly included in dorm rooms or can be rented for a fee through your university. One of the best things to make in the microwave is eggs, as they can be the main ingredient of a protein-packed “grab-and-go” breakfast sandwich. Throw an egg and a tablespoon of water in a mug and microwave for one minute. Add ham, peppers, and cheese to that egg and you have a microwave omelet. Oatmeal is another easy microwave breakfast that can keep you satisfied through a long exam or sports practice. (Remember that breakfast foods make great lunches or dinners as well.) Microwave quesadillas with beans and cheese is another fast and easy microwave meal.

Other small appliances

Check on your college’s housing page to see what small appliances are allowed in the dorms—or, as I like to say, which ones aren’t disallowed. The university my daughter attends allows toasters, which opens up a lot of possibilities. Small slow cookers can have a warm meal waiting for you when you get back from class and can create a whole week’s worth of leftovers. My daughter’s friend has a quesadilla maker, and they lived on cheese quesadillas for lunch for most of freshman year. Compact waffle makers and sandwich presses are helpful to have on hand as well.

Related: Preparing Healthy and Low-Cost Meals in a Dorm

Don’t let the lack of a kitchen prevent you from cooking your own food in college. Delicious dorm meals are within your reach with a little creativity, saving you money and lots of time too. Best of luck on this exciting chapter in your life!

Learn how to make great, easy microwave meals with our College Cooking series over on the CollegeXpress YouTube Channel!

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About Sarah H. Long

Sarah H. Long

Sarah H. Long is the author of the book “College Cooking 101: Fast Food without a Kitchen” available on Amazon or wherever books are sold. For more college cooking and quick meals ideas, follow her on Facebook: @SarahHLongAuthor, Twitter: @SarahHLong1, and Instagram: @collegecooking101book and on. Sarah is a mother of two college students and a fourth-grader, and she lives with her husband Jim in Charleston, West Virginia.



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