Cheap, easy dorm-room cooking: Essential tools for food that rules

Had your fill of fries? These culinary props will help you get hale
Corey Mintz
Dorm room cooking essentials include a mini-fridge, an 8-inch chef’s knife, a mixing bowl, a can opener and a cutting board. (Photograph by Reena Newman)
Dorm room cooking essentials include a mini-fridge, an 8-inch chef's knife, a mixing bowl, a can opener and a cutting board. (Photograph by Reena Newman)
Mini but mighty: A fridge is key to dorm-room meals, but forget the hot plate

Welcome to university residence and complete independence for the first time in your life. The only catch is, no one is cooking your dinner anymore. Yes, that meal plan takes care of food, but prepaid meals only mean you are putting off learning to feed yourself for a year or two, until you move into your own place.

You don’t need to become Canada’s Next Top Dorm Pop-Up Chef, but while you’re in that room, why not start building the skills of self-reliance you’ll use for your whole life?

Starting with the bare minimum, it’ll be a challenge to get real, nutritious food into your body while taking up the least amount of your limited time, space and budget.

First, you’re going to want to get a microwave. Don’t. That microwave is a crutch. Not only will it take up a chunk of your 80-sq.-foot room, it will heat up the worst dietary choices you can make, from frozen lasagna to burritos, and all that overly salted, overly sugared convenience food from the supermarket’s freezer aisle.

You also don’t need a full arsenal of fancy kitchen gadgets. What you need is resourcefulness and a handful of tools. No one is expected to confit duck legs for cassoulet in their room, but a little salt, lemon juice and olive oil transform most natural ingredients into filling and healthy meals. Learn the basics of tossing a salad, adding quinoa or nuts for protein, and buying hearty vegetables (cabbage lasts two weeks, spinach lasts two days) and your body and your budget will thank me. You’ll have a head start on every other student by being more alert and energetic because you’re not eating ramen noodles with 1,200 milligrams of sodium from a package seven days a week.

Here are five essential tools, the absolute basics you’ll need, to prepare real food for yourself.

Mini Fridge

Access to a communal fridge means writing your name on your yogourt and then hunting down Jeremy across the hall when he eats it. Having your own fridge lets you eat cereal or yogourt and granola in the morning without leaving your room. More importantly, it allows control over your food, and the ability to store perishable ingredients.

8-inch Chef’s Knife

This thing is going to be ruined by your dorm mates when they borrow it to open a can of soup (I’ve seen this happen). A dollar store knife will do. It won’t slice as elegantly as a $300 Japanese carbon steel blade, but it will take a beating without breaking your heart.

Cutting board

If you’re going to prepare any food in your room, a flat, washable surface is essential to good hygiene. Food gets chopped on the board, and the board gets cleaned after use. Cutting tomatoes on your physics textbook is how you get ants.

Can Opener

Much as I’d love to espouse the cost-cutting virtues of dried beans or barley, if we’re limiting this to five items, then forget a hot plate with pots and pans. Stick with foods you can produce without heat. So you’ll need a can opener to get at those beans.

Mixing bowl

Look, salad is 90 per cent of what you’re going to be making. And if you’ve ever tried to mix lettuce, beans or cucumbers in a small serving bowl, you’ve seen bits of food spill on the floor. Now you’ve got to worry about mice.


Olive oil, lemon and salt will be your holy trinity for transforming raw food into nutritious and delicious meals. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  1. Tomato and bocconcini
  2. Chickpea and kale
  3. Smashed cucumber
  4. Quinoa and avocado
  5. Ceviche

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