30 Essential Kitchen Items To Bring With You To College
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When anyone is accepted into college, it's time for excitement. It's a thrilling chapter filled with new experiences, friends, and intellectual pursuits. But before walking confidently across that campus quad on the first day of classes, there's an important design phase to consider.
Deciding what to bring to college can be challenging. Dorm rooms are notoriously small, leaving little space for items that won't be regularly used. It's also a thrifty chapter of life for many students, so a budget is key in outfitting that dorm with all the essentials.
Below, a list of the must-have items to pack for college — assuming students have signed up for a meal plan that will supply them with steady access to cardboard pizza and mystery meat burgers. Before the shopping spree begins, students should remember to coordinate with their roommate(s) to avoid double-packing many of these staple tools and appliances. Prices listed may vary.
An essential tool to pack for college — whether you're a freshman living in a cramped dorm room or living in an off-campus apartment — a microwave not only allows you to heat up leftovers in a jiffy, but also to make college student staples like instant ramen, mug cakes, and microwave popcorn.
A microwave is great for pasta because it reaches al dente texture in almost the same time as boiling noodles on a stovetop. Plus, you won't have to worry about making five servings of noodles when you only wanted one.
Our pick: Farberware Countertop Microwave 1000 Watts ($129.99)
Every student has to have somewhere to put the leftover food after returning from Sunday night dinners with the parents. Food storage containers come in many different shapes, materials, and sizes — meaning there are a ton of options to choose from when college shopping.
There are more extensive options if planning to cook and store food long term, but those living in a dorm room can typically get by with a set of two or three.
Our pick: KAGUYA 36-Piece Storage Set with Lids ($23.99)
Reusable kitchen items aren't just trendy and eco-chic, but also practical to have around. You can purchase reusable snack bags made from materials like PEVA and other types of plastic, but the more expensive silicon ones are less prone to ripping and tearing.
The great thing about silicon is that it won't break down into micro-plastics, which really helps follow through with the environmental sustainability of a purchase.
Our pick: Stasher Reusable Silicone Food Storage Bags, 4-Pack ($45.96)
For college students on a budget, chips going stale is a nightmare. So, invest in a couple of chip clips to put in under-bed storage, or buy those that can be stuck to the refrigerator so they aren't as likely to be misplaced.
Inevitably, students will end up losing them anyway. That's when it's time to pick up some large binder clips from the school bookstore.
Our pick: COOK WITH COLOR 10-piece magnetic bag clips ($14.99)
Tea lover? You'll need an electric kettle for hot water on demand. It's also a great tool for warming up a mug before coffee in the morning.
With kettles, it's important to keep up regular maintenance. It is necessary to descale your kettle to maintain efficiency, slow corrosion, and above all — keep things clean. Boil a 1-to-1 ratio of distilled white vinegar and water in the kettle for at least an hour to reduce limescale. Or use a stainless steel wire ball, called a kettle protector, to keep the deposits in check.
Our pick: CORSORI Electric Kettle, 1.7-liters ($27.99)
Even if you have a meal plan, keep a frying pan in your cooking arsenal — on the off chance you need to impress a new college boyfriend with an elaborate chicken piccata. One all-purpose pan — a moderately-sized 10-inch skillet, perhaps — ensures you can make something on the stovetop for dinner.
No need to break the bank; buy one that will last beyond your college years. For durability and cost-effectiveness, go with Blue Diamond. If cooking for yourself off-campus, get a set of various pans to suit your cooking needs.
Our pick: Blue Diamond Infused Ceramic Non-Stick Pan, 10-inch ($19.99)
How else can you make chicken nuggets for dinner? A rimmed baking sheet is an essential tool to pack on that first trip to college.
It also doubles as a tray for serving drinks, or perhaps carrying dishes back to your dorm room from the shared kitchen. Don't forget to also purchase a roll of parchment to make cleanup easier and prolong the life of that pan.
Our pick: Cuisinart Chef's Classic Nonstick bakeware 15-Inch baking sheet ($15.95)
When slicing up an apple, the safest way is on a cutting board. The standard size will suffice for most students. Opt for a board with a lip to prevent spilling juices everywhere.
Considering the same cutting board shouldn't be used for everything, maintain separate produce and meat boards if cooking a ton in a dorm room. Once you notice knife marks or wear-and-tear on the board, it's time to invest in a new one. These cracks can become home to bacteria and foodborne illnesses that might make you sick.
Our pick: Farberware Large Cutting Board 11-inch-by-14-inch ($6.75)
No, you don't have to bring an entire knife set with you to college — although you might be the talk of the floor if you do.
One essential tool every kitchen should have is a sturdy chef's knife. It can be used for everything from chopping onions to slicing through meat. Plus, if you invest in a high-quality chef's knife, you'll likely have it long after your college years.
Our pick: Mercer Culinary Ultimate White, 8 Inch Chef's Knife ($14.00)
Keep a large mixing bowl handy for late-night movie nights, complete with microwave popcorn or mixing pancake batter to overcome the hangover hurdle. Feel free to eat salad straight out of the same bowl — it cuts down on dishes.
Lightweight and easy-to-clean, keep a few aluminum prep bowls in your dorm room. They might not be the prettiest, but are so easy to store. If you find yourself entertaining people often, you can invest in a more aesthetic ceramic or glass bowl that doubles for serving.
Our pick: Pyrex Smart Essentials 3-Piece Prepware Mixing Bowl Set ($19.89)
While plastic takeout utensils sometimes might suffice, it's never ideal when a piece of plastic breaks off and ends up in your food. Real silverware ensures you'll have enough for when friends stop by for dinner.
But you don't have to have a silverware set for 12. Having enough forks, knives, and spoons for four people will suffice. Plus, it means you'll always have a few extras for when you don't want to do the dishes or when the roommate thinks what's yours is theirs.
Our pick: VIVANI 20 Piece Silverware Set Service for 4 ($11.89)
Smoothies are an essential college fuel. Add cheap frozen fruit, a favorite protein powder, and a splash of milk for the perfect easy breakfast or snack. But you also need to have a blender handy.
Bring a blender personal blender to college, or coordinate with your roommate to use theirs. It won't take up too much space on your desk or mini-refrigerator/microwave combo. Plus, personal blenders come with a cup, so you won't have to worry about buying a separate container. Besides smoothies, blend sauces for pasta or make a creamy soup.
Our pick: Ninja QB3001SS Ninja Fit Compact Personal Blender ($59.99)
Before you go ahead and buy a hot plate, be sure to check with your ResLife office to ensure that such appliances are permitted in the dorm. If you can have a hot plate, be sure to grab one for stove-top cooking made portable.
You can cook almost anything on a hot plate that you would on a skillet, so it will be your best friend when it comes to easy dorm cooking.
Our pick: Cusimax Hot Plate Electric Burner ($59.99)
A silicon spatula is essential for mixing, stirring, and scraping. Besides conventional uses like baking brownies or cookies, it can also clean every bit out of the inside of a jar (a necessity on a frugal college budget).
Purchase a sturdy silicon spatula, preferably one that is telescopic so you can extend it and make it longer. This will allow you to easily scrape all the edges out of the bowl, and reach into narrow jars.
Our picks: 9.5 Inch Rubber Spatula, Set of Two ($10.92) and Mini Silicone Telescopic Spatula and Scooping Spoon ($6.99)
If you're an avid coffee drinker — or expect to become one after a week of 8 am lectures — you'll need to pack a single-serve coffee maker for college. The exact model will depend on the functionality you need, as features vary.
A cheap Keurig will suffice if you only like 8-ounce servings of hot coffee. But if you want craft lattes or iced beverages, you should consider upgrading to a more comprehensive model.
Our pick: Amazon Basics Dual Brew Single Serve Capsule Coffee Maker ($56.04) and L'OR Barista System Coffee and Espresso Machine Combo by Philips ($189.99)
If your plan includes cooking a lot of meat or frozen foods, be sure to grab a kitchen thermometer to have on hand.
This handy, compact tool will allow you to effectively check the temperature of your foods to ensure they are sufficiently cooked. Not only does this reduce the risk of contracting foodborne illness, but it also reduces your chance of biting into a partially-frozen mozzarella stick.
Our pick: ThermoPro TP03 Digital Meat Thermometer ($18.99)
Dish towels are an indispensable item to have in any dorm room — dry dishes with them, use them to clean up spills, or, in a pinch, take something hot out of the oven.
With the sheer variety of products on the market, you have a ton of options to choose from. When they're in need of some love, simply drop them in the laundry bin and you'll have clean ones in no time at all.
Our pick: LANE LINEN Kitchen Towels Set – Pack of 6 Cotton Dish Towels ($19.99)
There's no kitchen tool that truly replaces a corkscrew. When you have a wine bottle that needs to be opened, you'll want to have one in your drawer.
Of course, you might also consider getting a bottle opener, but this depends on the activities you may (or may not) partake in with your newfound freedom. The best part is that both of these handy items are relatively inexpensive, making them purchase-worthy even if you don't use them frequently.
Our pick: Chef Craft Select Waiters Corkscrew with Foil Cutter and Bottle Opener ($6.99)
You will want brownies one night, and promptly remember you don't have a baking dish. A relatively inexpensive glass or ceramic dish will allow you to easily make such sweet recipes, as well as things like lasagna, baked chicken, or even a birthday cake.
Enameled baking dishes — provided you keep them safe from dings and cracks — heat up quickly and are versatile enough to be ideal for a variety of different recipes. The finish on these dishes is sophisticated, so you can cook and serve with them.
Our pick: Sweejar Ceramic Baking Dish (16.99)
A paring knife is used for occasions when a chef's knife just won't get the perfect precision — or is too sharp to risk using.
For example, you may use a paring knife to slice apples, peel potatoes, or mince garlic. However, this type of knife is not ideal for slicing through meat or crunchy veggies. Stick to a budget with these knives; the more expensive models tend not to outperform the more budget-friendly ones.
Our pick: Victorinox 3.25 Inch Swiss Classic Knife with Straight Edge ($7.20)
A spatula can be used for everything from flipping eggs to pulling cookies off a hot baking sheet. It's important to have one on hand, because few tools can mimic its utility in the kitchen.
You might want to refrain from purchasing a metal spatula. This is because metal-on-metal can cause abrasions and scratch the surface of pans. While this might not be noticeable on a metal pan, it can eventually make non-stick pans less non-stick.
Our pick: OXO Good Grips Silicone Everyday Flexible Turner ($13.99)
Although you can drain pasta without the help of a colander, you might just send the penne flying everywhere. A plastic colander is a cheap investment that allows for the easy draining and washing of foods.
Use a colander for washing salad or berries, draining canned beans, or stripping herbs from the stem in a matter of seconds. When it's time to store it, just tuck it inside a mixing bowl.
Our pick: OXO Good Grips 3-quart Plastic Colander ($11.99)
Canned chicken and tuna have a tendency to become something of a necessity in a college dormitory. A handheld can opener is one tool everyone needs — there's no other option when it's time to pop open a Chicken of the Sea can.
Once again, the good news here is that students won't need to invest much money into this tool. A small, manual one that can be kept in a drawer until needed will do the trick.
Our pick: KitchenAid Classic Multifunction Can Opener ($19.99)
Mugs: We'll drink to that. You can't have too many mugs in college — but you should have at least two.
One should be a travel mug, for taking beverages from the dining hall and morning coffees before classes. The other could be a soup or wide-mouthed mug for mug cakes and, of course, soup. Get them in your favorite prints and colors, or if you're feeling creative, make a trip to the thrift store and locate a funky one.
Our picks: AmorArc Ceramic Soup Mugs with Lid, 24-ounce, Set of 2 ($19.95) and YETI Rambler 20-ounce Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Tumbler ($35.00)
Having a few extra glasses in the dorm room comes in handy, especially when your favorite water bottle has gone missing.
These cups can be filled with all sorts of beverages (which may or may not be alcoholic), and are simply a must-have. Get yourself a set of between four to six, and keep them on hand for when guests stop by, or when all the other dishes are dirty.
Our pick: Volarium Drinking Glasses Set of 6 ($32.45)
Before heading out to buy a mini-fridge, check and see if there are any stores nearby that rent — it will save a ton of money in the long run, and it means you won't have to lug it to the next living situation.
If one must be purchased, keep it simple and small, since the appliance could potentially take up a ton of space in the dorm room. Some even come with a freezer compartment, perfect for storing that half-eaten pint of ice cream.
Our pick: EUHOMY Mini Fridge with Freezer ($289.99)
Every college student needs to have a water bottle at the ready. It's a bad idea to spend a ton of money on disposable water bottles — some colleges, in fact, have even moved towards ban sales of them on campus altogether.
Instead, buy a reusable bottle made from safe, dependable materials that will keep your beverages insulated. Plastic tends to be lightweight and durable, while metal water bottles tend to weigh down a backpack but are better at keeping beverages cold.
Our pick: Nalgene Sustain Tritan BPA-Free Water Bottle, 32-ounce ($16.99) and YETI Rambler, 26-ounce with Chug Cap ($40.00)
This recommended purchase is only applicable for those who plan to bake and cook a lot. Many measuring cups and spoons can be stacked inside one another, diminishing the clutter of an already cramped dorm room. This helps.
Get yourself a standard set of cups and spoons, and a microwave-safe liquid measuring cup, which will also help with heating milk or adding hot water to various recipes.
Our pick: Joyhill Stainless Steel Measuring Cups and Spoons Set ($26.99)
The same rule applies here as bringing a hot plate to college: Check with the ResLife team before purchasing one. Many colleges prohibit toasters and toaster ovens because of potential fire risk.
If you can bring one to college, it's a great help. It might even help you stay out of that shared dorm kitchen. Bake lots of recipes in it, from melty grilled cheese sandwiches to chocolate chip cookies.
Our pick: Black & Decker 4-Slice Toaster Oven with Natural Convection ($60.41)
What else are you going to eat on? Although cheap disposable plates do their job and don't require washing, they tend to disintegrate with moist foods and aren't always safe to microwave (we're looking at you, Styrofoam).
Do yourself a favor, buy a cheap set of four dinner plates, and you'll always have one handy for reheating food or snacking in bed.
Our pick: Strawberry Street Simply White 10.5-inch Round Dinner Plate, Set of 6 ($19.99)