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Cooking in the Dorm

Obey the Rules and Eat Well

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Special Kay Bar Cookies

Special Kay Bar Cookies

Linda Larsen
I've been receiving letters from moms and dads who want to help their college-bound kids eat well.

If your college doesn't offer gourmet food, and if the dorm rules permit it, you can feed yourself healthy and nutritious meals made in your room or in the common kitchen. Please make sure that you are allowed to have a microwave, rice cooker, indoor grill, or electric skillet in your room. Cooking in the dorm is the second leading cause of dorm fires; if you start a fire using illegal equipment, you will be in lots of legal trouble, as will your parents, especially if someone gets hurt.

If everything checks out, there are some essential appliances you need. A microwave, a crockpot, a rice cooker, a dual contact grill, a refrigerator, a toaster oven or toaster, and a hot pot will let you make just about anything.

Basic Safety Rules for Cooking in the Dorm

  • Always unplug an appliance when you're done using it, and let it cool completely before storing.
  • Keep flammable items, like paper and clothing, away from the cooking area.
  • Pay attention while you're cooking; don't leave the room while the grill is operating or when something is in the microwave.
  • Purchase a large marble tile to place the appliance on to create a heat-proof surface.
  • Always clean up immediately. One reason many colleges don't allow cooking in dorm rooms is because food attracts pests. Get in the habit of washing utensils, plates, and appliances as soon as you're done eating. And use dish soap!
  • Purchase some large Tupperware or other resealable containers to store cooking utensils and food that doesn't need refrigeration to keep it fresh and to reduce the risk of attracting pests.
  • Don't use equipment for purposes other than those intended. Don't use a rice cooker to pop popcorn; don't stir-fry on a popcorn popper.
  • Keep a large lid and baking soda handy so you can quickly put out a fire if things get out of control. A small fire extinguisher kept next to the cooking area, not in a drawer, is also a good idea.
  • Be sure that your refrigerator can hold food at the proper temperature: 38 degrees or less. Some of the smaller refrigerators can be less efficient and may not have a tight seal. Keep a thermometer in the fridge to be sure.
  • Refrigerate leftovers promptly, or wrap them and discard immediately.
  • And read about Food Safety before you start. To get in shape for taking tests, try my Food Safety Quiz.

Keep it simple! If you aren't an experienced cook, start by heating things up, or combining foods in no cook meals. A bagged salad topped with some precooked chicken, raw veggies, and shredded cheese makes an excellent meal with little work. Buy some good bread and make sandwiches; use your hot pot to heat water for instant oatmeal, or to heat up a purchased rice mix in the microwave and add some chopped ham. Make your own wrap sandwiches with some deli salads and tortillas. Canned soups are super easy and nutritious. Make quesadillas by sprinkling cheese and veggies between two flour tortillas, then grilling on your indoor grill.

And Five Ingredient Recipes are made for cooking in a small space! And remember, if you're feeding yourself for the first time, please think about nutrition and try to eat a balanced diet; take a multivitamin tablet just to be safe.

When I was in college (don't ask when!) the food offered in the cafeteria wasn't fabulous. Some dishes I liked: Side of Clyde, which was a roast beef sandwich served in a crusty roll, and Nordic Munch, another sandwich made of grilled ham and cheese. I have no idea what these names meant, but that's college for you! At any rate, other food, including the traditional casserole served from a steam table, wasn't so wonderful. Our popcorn poppers were well used, and the pizza delivery people did a brisk business.

Today, that college has a new cafeteria with stations where you can choose freshly cooked pasta with different sauces, an omelet bar, freshly made stir-fry and Asian foods, a salad bar, a dessert station, and other gourmet meals. Things have changed!

Finally, order The Everything College Cookbook, by Rhonda Parkinson, About.com's Guide to Chinese Food for more fabulous ideas and tons of recipes.

Now go to the next page to get some easy recipes!

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