How to cook in college

Everything You Need To Know About How To Cook In College

So you want to know how to cook in college? Here is everything you need to know to take you from burning toast to making healthy and delicious meals in college.

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how to cook in college

Moving away to college is a super exciting time, but what happens when you realize you no longer have the luxury of meals being cooked for you? If you are anything like me, you are already tired of the cafeteria food and the same weekly rotation. That’s why it’s extremely necessary to learn how to cook in college.

You are going to learn basic cooking skills for college students, how to prepare your kitchen, how to plan your meals and grocery shop, and how to cook easy recipes for college students whether you live in a dorm or have a whole kitchen.

After learning all of these things, you will know how to cook in college like an absolute pro and will probably have friends asking you to teach them.

This post is all about how to cook in college

How To Cook In College

What Type Of College Cooking Will You Do?

One of the biggest excuses I hear for why college students don’t cook (besides that they don’t know how) is that they don’t have a kitchen. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter if you only have a microwave shoved under your twin bed or a full kitchen – you can cook in college. While you might still rely slightly on a meal plan, you can at least provide some edible and easy meals for yourself once in a while.

The first step in learning how to cook in college is to determine what type of college chef you are. Let’s take a look at your current situation and see which category you best fit.

The Zap Chef

This is the category for the dorm dwellers who have a mini fridge and a microwave. You likely have a full meal plan, but sometimes find yourself dissatisfied with the menu options or wanting snacks at inopportune times. Most of your cooking at this point will be done in the microwave.

Don’t worry though, you can still trade in the EasyMac and Cup Noodles for some real food.

The Communal Cook

You are still mostly a Zap Chef at this point because it’s more convenient but you also might be one of the lucky few who has a communal kitchen in your dorm or a small kitchenette. This one takes some planning since the kitchen is shared. But you have a lot more flexibility to make full meals.

The College Chef

You are ready to be a full on chef here. You have a full kitchen and are ready to really learn how to cook in college. Your fridge is a normal size and you have a stove and oven, even if you have to share it with roommates. This category requires you to do some real grocery shopping (more on this later) and spend some of your time cooking.

Basic College Cooking Skills And Tips

Before we dive into the HOW of how to cook in college, let’s talk about some basic skills that will help you find more success with cooking.

  1. Season with your soul – it’s not always about following the recipe to a T
  2. Use a fat/oil in your pan before cooking to prevent sticking
  3. Sheet pan and one pot meals will make your life easier
  4. Learn how to read a recipe and read the whole thing FIRST
  5. When cutting things, curve your fingers in like a claw to hold whatever you’re chopping
  6. Wash your hands before cooking
  7. Follow food safety
  8. Salt enhances the flavor of any food
  9. Heat determines the texture of your food
  10. If you think you don’t like a veggie, try cooking it a different way
  11. Marinating your meat will add SO MUCH flavor
  12. Have a go to meal with the ingredients in your pantry

How To Prep Your Kitchen

Depending on what category of cooking you identified yourself as will determine how much prep work you have to do.


This will be the bulk of your spending and preparing before you get started cooking in college.

**note that it is assumed you already have at least a microwave and fridge**

As a basic rule of thumb, it would be good to have at least one of each of the following:

  • plate: microwave safe
  • silverware: fork, knife, spoon
  • ceramic mug
  • set of storage containers

For the Zap Chef the only other piece of equipment that I would recommend is a small blender.

 What you need as the Communal Cook will kind of depend on what your kitchen is already stocked with. Assuming it’s nothing but the stove and oven, I would recommend you prepare your kitchen with one pan, one pot, a baking sheet, a knife set, a cutting board, and a set of cooking utensils,


I also found this really cool beginner kitchen essential kit that is really affordable. I have not personally used these products but it seems like the best bang for your buck if you’re less concerned with quality and just want to get the basics and get started.

Ideally, the communal kitchen would have these basics, in which case you would really only need to get the things listed under the Zap Chef category.

The College Chef would need everything listed above and would be all set to start cooking. The only thing I would add is a crock pot which is great for starting meals in the morning and not thinking about cooking the rest of the day. I have had this one for 6 years and still love it

Pantry Prep

I use the word “pantry” lightly because the likelihood of you having an actual pantry in college is slim. However, think of this more as the dry products you will have on hand.

Again, depending on what type of cook you are will determine what you prep your pantry with.

In a dorm room this might look like nut butters, oatmeal, dried fruit and other snacks.

For the Communal Cook and College Chef I would recommend having basics that can be used for multiple meals.

  • canned veggies
  • canned beans
  • chicken, veggie, and beef broth
  • tomato sauce
  • tomato paste
  • pasta and pasta sauce
  • olive oil

Once you have a better idea of what your go to meals are, you will be able to add these ingredients to your pantry staples.

How To Pick Easy Recipes For College Students

Before you start planning, let’s touch on how to cook easy recipes for college students. There are a few things you want to look for that makes a recipe easy to follow as a beginner.

In a recipe you’ll want to look for:

  • all ingredients listed out
  • detailed instructions
  • pictures
  • quantity
  • amount of time it takes to cook

I also find that recipes with minimal ingredients or common pantry ingredients tend to be easier to cook since there is less to keep track of.

Meal Planning & Grocery Shopping

The most important thing you can learn about how to cook in college is that preparation is everything. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. As sucky as meal planning and grocery shopping might feel, you will save soooooo much money if you follow the below guidelines.

Related: Grocery Shopping On A College Budget: How You Can Save Money Now

Meal Planning

When planning your meals, consider doubling up on the same meal for multiple nights. Instead of trying to figure out how to make recipes smaller, I typically prefer to make a whole recipe and get 3-4 meals out of it.  Not only does this save money, but you save a ton of time. Once you make the meal, have a few storage containers that you can split the remaining food up in and you’re set for 3 more meals!

When meal planning, you’ll want to consider your go to favorites. This will make picking meals easier and eventually you’ll spend less time cooking as you get familiarized with them.

My recommendation for planning your meals cooking for one would be:

  • 2-3 breakfast meals
  • 3-4 meals for lunch/dinner
  • snacks

Once you have your list you will need to go through and add all the ingredients to your list. Eventually you will also be able to look through your pantry to compare if you have any of the ingredients on hand (which will save you money).

The final step to getting your list ready is organizing the items by category. My go to categories are:

  • produce
  • meat
  • dairy
  • baked goods/bread products
  • frozen
  • snacks/extras

Grocery Shopping

Once the list has been made, it’s time to go shopping! The key to grocery shopping is to stick to your list. I find that it’s easiest to shop the perimeter of the store first then go through the aisles as needed. This keeps you from having to go down every aisle and saves you money since you’re less likely to grab extra things.

Now you know exactly how to cook in college and you’re ready to get started!

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