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Dorm Cooking: Basics for a Residence Hall Kitchen

Updated on May 7, 2013

Is Dorm Cooking Allowed?

If you have a student heading off to college for the first time, you may be concerned about how your child will fare with the fare. Meal plans are pricey, and it may seem more economical to buy and prepare food outside of the residential life meal plan. However, there are some definite restrictions to food prep in the residence halls, and it's important to realize that the ramifications of not abiding by these rules can range from clogged plumbing to fire hazards. The rules are there for a reason, however inconvenient they might seem.

Some universities have halls that include kitchen facilities. These vary based on building design. My alma mater didn't have such options for residents until I had long since graduated. However, my daughter is now faced with the opportunity to enjoy such a dorm. In her case, the option is restricted to students who have completed at least one year or who have sophomore status or higher. Her dorm is arranged in suites, each suite being outfitted with a kitchen.

This lens addresses the following:

Types of cooking generally allowed in a dorm roomPros and cons of skipping a meal planBeneficial tools for the dorm kitchen

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Microwave Cooking in a Dorm Room - Food prep limitations...

Most dorms aren't designed to handle regular food preparation. Food disposal, drains for dish washing, and fire safety all play a role. Students are generally able to have a microwave oven in their dorm rooms, helpful for a wide variety of meal, snack and beverage needs.

Students can consider television dinners, both frozen and shelf-stable. They can also prepare instant soups and pasta meals. They can heat a variety of canned products. Make sure a small microwave is selected for dorm room cooking needs so that space isn't wasted.

Sunbeam SGS90701W 0.7-Cubic Feet Microwave Oven, White
Sunbeam SGS90701W 0.7-Cubic Feet Microwave Oven, White

Select a small model because of limited storage and counter space in a typical residence hall room.


Coffee Pot Cooking in a Residence Hall

A coffee pot won't do the cooking, of course, but a good coffee pot is very helpful for quick meals and hot beverages. Chilly weather makes this all the better, as it's easy to heat up water for tea, cocoa, or soups.

Breakfast can be tough if your student isn't an early bird. The coffee pot makes it easy to make a quick instant oatmeal breakfast. While the microwave can also accomplish this, I prefer the convenience of pouring hot water rather than creating a gummy mess and sticky dishes with microwave oatmeal.

Mr. Coffee CG13-RB 12-Cup Switch Coffeemaker, Black
Mr. Coffee CG13-RB 12-Cup Switch Coffeemaker, Black

Your student doesn't need an expensive coffee pot for the dorm. Mr. Coffee tends to be my fave for basic needs, and my daughter uses her dorm coffee pot daily.


Not Needed: Kitchen Tools to Skip

Hot pots used to be a big concern, and they are generally not allowed. However, a microwave makes a hot pot unnecessary.

Popcorn poppers aren't necessary because of the easy availability of microwave popcorn packets.

Toaster ovens aren't generally allowed because of fire safety rules.

Pros and Cons of Meal Plans

Freshmen living in a residence hall are generally required to carry a meal plan. After the first year, some students prefer to skip the meal plan.

Advantages of having a plan include the fact that students can be sure that they will have the opportunity to eat, especially if they don't handle money well and are always short of funds.

However, making one's own food can be more economical. Additionally, students can get tired or the same options all the time.

What's Your Opinion About Meal Plans?

As a student, your child may find that eating the same foods gets old. My daughter says that she can't stand pizza and burgers anymore. Imagine! Prices are high compared to preparing food on one's own. My daughter is a great cook, competent in the kitchen. I'm confident that she can manage more economically.

However, some young adults don't know how to cook well. They may rely on prepared foods and the microwave for sustenance. A meal plan isn't a bad thing in that case.

Is a meal plan important?

Dorm Kitchens: The Basics

A residence hall with kitchens for students is a great freedom, but there are some challenges ahead. In my daughter's case, it's a shared kitchen with six suitemates. Refrigerator space and tool usage could present a conflict. In some cases, students coordinate and share responsibility for cooking for each other. In other cases, there could be challenges. Great for communications and cooperation skill development.

Crock Pot Food Prep for the College Student

If your student is a good planner, a crock pot can be a great help. Get a meal started early, and enjoy it at the end of a long day of classes. Soups, stews, roasts? While you might find some of these to be a bit pricey, students working together can split costs so as to keep such hearty meals frugal.

Hamilton Beach 33182 8-Quart Oval Slow Cooker, Black (Discontinued)
Hamilton Beach 33182 8-Quart Oval Slow Cooker, Black (Discontinued)

A simple but large crock pot can provide your young adult with the means to make healthy soups and other all-day meals that can feed one or many.


Quick Meat Prep: My new favorite kitchen tool...

My little George Foreman Grill has earned a larger version a place on my own wishlist. I'll likely send one with my daughter for her suite kitchen because it makes it quick and easy to prepare anything from a chicken breast to a hamburger patty. A few minutes of grilling time is all that's required to have a healthy and delicious main course ready. Whether it's a wrap, a sandwich, or a salad with grilled chicken, this is a great way for your student to add a bit of protein to the mix.

George Foreman 2-Serving Classic Plate Electric Indoor Grill and Panini Press, Black, GR10B
George Foreman 2-Serving Classic Plate Electric Indoor Grill and Panini Press, Black, GR10B

A simple grill can do everything from hamburger prep to grilled cheese pannini style. Look for the bun warmer version for added use, but the basic grill is an excellent choice for a small kitchen and a busy student.


Coordinate with Others

A shared kitchen will require some coordination. Space and use guidelines will affect those sharing living quarters. A few basic tools and accessories are sensible:

Spatulas, serving spoons, tongs, and pasta holders


Cutting board

Basic utensils, dishes, bowls, and cups...don't overdo it as space limitations are likely

Storage containers

Dishwashing brushes, sponges, etc.

Is your student ready for the coming year?

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    • LauraCarExpert profile image

      LauraCarExpert 4 years ago

      When I was an incoming freshman I wish I had this lens to give me a better idea of what to expect!