By Colleen Fennessy
The amount of cooking any college student on a meal plan does is highly variable, and also depends on one’s definition of “cooking”—making ramen every night doesn’t really count. However, with a gluten-free diet and generally terrible dining hall food, cooking for yourself can become really important.
It doesn’t make sense to get enough dishes for a fully stocked kitchen if you live in a dorm, but there are definitely some essentials you should buy. At least one plate, one bowl, and two sets of silverware are necessary, as well as a pot big enough to cook pasta or rice. Along with that pot, you’ll need a strainer and a bigger spoon for stirring the pasta. I found that the collapsible strainers are really great for saving space, and they’re pretty cheap. An electric tea kettle is essential for many things; but especially for coffee and tea. If you’re like me, and eat a lot of quesadillas and eggs, you’ll want a non-stick frying pan and a spatula. I personally don’t eat a lot of rice, but if you do a rice cooker is a worthwhile purchase. If you think you’ll use it, a cheap knife and cutting board can also be worth investing in, but be honest about what you’ll be cooking. Even the savviest of chefs probably won’t be making gourmet meals every night in a dorm kitchen, and buying too many things will just clutter your room.
One of the most useful things you can buy if your dorm kitchen has a toaster is a toaster bag or two. Obviously it’s impossible for someone with celiac to use a communal toaster, but amazon.com sells these amazing toaster bags that you can put your bread into, and then put that into the toaster to avoid cross-contamination. I also found that a cheap cookie tray was something I used a lot; it was great for cooking frozen pizzas and anything else that you wouldn’t want touching the oven rack and getting contaminated.
A lot of colleges have cabinets in the communal kitchens that the RA will tell you to put your cooking implements in for convenience. While this is very convenient, it also means that anyone can use your pots and pans. Of course, they shouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean they won’t. I personally felt much better storing my dishes in a bin in my dorm room, even if that meant carrying them to the kitchen every time I wanted to cook.
Meal plans are a nice part of the college experience—you get to have the freedom of living on your own without the added responsibility of feeding yourself every day. However, even people whose diets aren’t restricted will invariably get sick of dining hall food, and having a few basic pots and pans at your disposal will be very helpful in spicing up your college diet.