Transitioning from home to campus life is exciting. While you’re about to meet new people and acquire the knowledge of life, many challenges lie ahead—including learning how to eat well without a real kitchen. We’ve covered how to thrive in tiny space living, and although your campus likely has a number of dining halls where you can get most of your meals, having some cooking basics in your dorm will help it feel more like home.
Before you read on, it’s best to check with your school about what electronics and cooking gadgets you are allowed to bring—in some cases, your school might offer rental options. Nevertheless, this list will give you some insight into how to thrive in a dorm, mini fridge and all.
1. A dorm-friendly and affordable countertop microwave
When the dining hall is closed, you’re watching a movie with friends, or it’s 3 a.m. and you need food to get you through your study session, a microwave will be your best friend. We reviewed the best affordable microwaves on the market and found our top pick, the Toshiba Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor, to be the perfect fit for most people. It’s not too big and overpowered, and not too small and weak. It’s also the least expensive model from Toshiba that still offers a smart sensor, which adjusts cook time and stops automatically based on how much steam the food releases, making it ideal for college life.
If your room is too small to fit a Toshiba, the popular compact AmazonBasics Microwave is also a good choice. The Alexa-compatible feature allows you to voice-activate the device and select from dozens of easy pre-sets.
- Get the Toshiba Microwave Oven with Smart Sensor on Amazon for $98.89
- Get the AmazonBasics Microwave on Amazon for $59.99
2. A mini fridge that won't break the bank
Whether you’re keeping your kombucha chilled or saving the last pieces of leftover pizza you ordered the night before, you need a mini fridge. In our mini-fridge roundup, the Kenmore mini fridge from K-Mart took first place for its high performance scores and affordability. It holds up to 72 canned drinks—enough for a pretty decent party—and it can chill a six-pack in under 30 minutes. It also keeps cool without fluctuating (no freezer burn here).
3. An electric kettle for your tea and coffee craving
For hot beverage lovers, an electric kettle is a practical alternative when you don’t have easy access to the stovetop. We tested the best electric kettles to find out which one is worth buying. Our favorite, the Cuisinart PerfecTemp Stainless Steel Cordless Kettle, doesn’t look like anything special at first, but it does its job exceptionally well, and at a very fair price for what it offers: Six preset heat settings for steeping tea and easily discernible, intuitive buttons.
4. A pod coffee maker that also brews espresso
Getting up for an 8 a.m. lecture is already tough enough, but staying awake throughout the four-hour-long class? It’s almost impossible. As many university campuses have a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts onsite, coffee expenses can add up quickly. Why not bring a pod coffee maker so you’ll have cost-friendly coffee every morning?
After testing ten pod coffee makers including the popular Keurigs, we found the Nespresso VertuoPlus by Breville scored top marks across the chart. It's exactly what we look for in a single-serve pod coffee machine, brewing the best coffee, espresso, and double-espresso. It's also the most space-saving machine in our roundup, making it ideal for dorm life.
5. A popular egg cooker that does hard-boiled eggs right
Cooking eggs in a dorm room is hard—and all the microwave egg hacks can easily get messy. To save time and energy, this trendy egg cooker can hard-boil eggs for salads, poach eggs for weekend brunches, and even cook up an omelette! Additionally, its tiny size makes it easy to store in a shared living space.
6. A set of food storage containers to bring snacks on-the-go
Some schools don’t have the most recently-updated campus buildings, which means critters like cockroaches and mice unfortunately find their way in. To keep food fresh, you should always have a set of storage containers for food handy. Plus, you’ll be able to pack snacks for lectures and picnics.
In our food storage container roundup, we found that our winner, the Rubbermaid Easy Find, is among the very best at keeping potato chips as fresh as from the package, even after four days in sauna-like conditions. They’re designed for microwaving with a vent in the lid, but beware of zapping leftover baked ziti, as tomato sauce leaves stains and pitting.
7. An easy tool for the perfect bowl of buttery, fluffy popcorn
Although nothing beats the taste of popcorn made in a regular cookware, on-campus living simply doesn’t offer the luxury of having access to a stovetop. After popping over 40 batches of popcorn, we found this inexpensive, microwavable Cuisinart Popcorn Pop & Serve to perform almost as nicely as the pot-over-the-stove method. It’s safer, faster, and can be used with or without oil. The Pop and Serve’s silicone bowl is also collapsible for easy storage, which makes it perfect for college dorms.
8. An affordable Instant Pot that replaces multiple kitchen appliances
As many food bloggers and reviews point out, nothing can compare with an Instant Pot when it comes to versatility and convenience. In a college dorm room, convenience is the key—no one wants to cook up a storm and clean up the mess when projects and finals are approaching. You can cook anything from corned beef and cabbage to classic chicken wings for a game-day watch party. You can even bake a cake and make other desserts with it.
9. A mini waffle maker that won’t hog your counter space
Make waffles, brownies, hash browns, and paninis with this Amazon best-seller, the Dash Mini waffle maker. It’s tiny and portable, making it the ideal choice when you live in a small space but don’t want to compromise on the quality of your meals. It offers a range of trendy color options, and the dual non-stick surface provides even cooking for consistent results. What’s more, it comes with a recipe book so you won’t get bored with what you’re making.
10. A coffee mug that cures homesickness
As you spend nine months studying and working, odds are, you'll eventually miss home. For many people, college life means embracing and adapting to new customs and people. This cute, sweet mug serves as a reminder that no matter where you are, or what exciting journey you’re taking, there’s always a place you can call home.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.