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So you’re heading to college and living on your own for the first time, or maybe your child is, and you want to make sure that meals and snacks to fuel all those late-night study sessions are at hand because you can’t survive on cereal from the dining hall.
We’ve checked in with our favorite small-space and organizing experts to get the dish on how to create the perfect mini kitchen in your new dorm room or apartment, so read on for their suggestions and tips.
One important note: Check your dorm rules for what appliances are approved, and which you’ll need to leave with the parents. Want to shop for more college essentials? Read our guide on dorm room organization ideas under $20 and picks for the best twin XL bedding too.
The appliances you’ll need
Oster Pro 1200 Blender ($59.99, originally $79.99; amazon.com)
“I think a blender is such an all-purpose tool and does something that you can’t do by hand,” says Elizabeth Van Lierde, The College Housewife. “For soups, smoothies and sauces, a blender is a great jack-of-all-trades appliance.” This highly rated blender also comes with a smoothie cup, which makes those healthy breakfasts so much easier.
Hamilton Beach Glass Electric Tea Kettle ($27.99; amazon.com)
You should consider picking up “an electric tea kettle! Not only can you use it to make coffee and tea, but you can easily whip together packaged ramen or instant oatmeal for breakfast and late-night snacks,” says Van Lierde. Bonus: This little 1-liter appliance is probably well within most dorm regulations.
Instant Pot Duo Mini 7-in-1 Electric Pressure Cooker ($63.94, originally $69.99; amazon.com)
“The No. 1 small kitchen appliance everyone needs when starting out would be an Instant Pot [Duo Plus] — as an organizer, we see kitchens filled with gadgets and small appliances; we try to take a minimalist approach and purchase items that can serve a variety of functions,” says organizing expert Jessica Moynihan, owner of NEAT Method Boston. This mini version can be easily stashed on a shelf when not in use.
Dash Compact Air Fryer Oven Cooker ($47.57, originally $49.99; amazon.com)
“An air fryer is the newest and most versatile appliance we are seeing in kitchens these days,” says professional organizer Molly Heartfield, Owner of Heart & Co. “Finding an appliance that can be used in a variety of ways will save you space and money!” This mini version is perfect for reheating leftovers or making frozen fries so crispy!
Galanz 0.7-Cubic-Foot Retro Countertop Microwave Oven ($49, originally $79.99; amazon.com)
If your dorm won’t allow an air fryer, a small microwave might be the next best thing. While we can’t guarantee crispy fries, this highly rated cute little microwave is available in four colorways and will reheat last night’s takeout or frozen meal quickly.
What to cook with
Caraway Cookware Set ($395, originally $495; carawayhome.com)
“We love the Caraway ceramic set;” says Moynihan. “It comes with a storage solution, which allows you to easily store the pans and lids to stay organized! The set is beautiful and comes in a range of colors, so if you have limited storage, the Dutch oven looks great on the stovetop.”
Room Essentials 30-Piece Kitchen Utensil Set ($20; target.com)
This editor’s favorite utensil set is the perfect gift for anyone moving into their first apartment. It has almost everything they’ll need, it’s cute and if something breaks it’s totally fine.
Anyday The Everyday Set ($120; cookanyday.com)
If you’re cooking in a microwave, this efficient set of four glass bowls with lids promises to help you cook full meals in no time in your microwave oven. Bonus: They’re dishwasher-safe, if you’re lucky enough to have one!
Farberware Classic 30-Piece Spin N Store Rotating Carousel Cutlery and Tool Set ($39.97; walmart.com)
This well-priced set, featuring knives, kitchen utensils, measuring spoons and a rotating caddy, is loved by Amazon reviewers for its versatility and ease of use. Is it a forever set? Probably not, but it will work handily for prep for all your meals while finishing school and getting started at your first place.
Where to put everything
Mind Reader 2-Tier Lazy Susan Granola Bar and Snack Organizer ($28.60, originally $29.99; amazon.com)
Save space while keeping everything you need handy with this fun-to-spin organizer that’s perfect for snack packs, spices or anything else you need to organize.
The Container Store Large 3-Tier Bamboo Expanding Shelf ($34.99; containerstore.com)
“In a small kitchen, we like to maximize vertical space and use shelf risers and can risers so you can easily see everything in the space,” says Moynihan, who recommends this shelf.
Rebrilliant Navi Mini Shelf Supreme With Supreme Shelving ($109, originally $129.99; wayfair.com)
“Use a wire shelving unit for above-the-fridge storage,” says Heartfield. “These are great because you can customize them to your space and specific storage needs. Keep all your food-related and kitchen items on the shelves above the fridge.” This unit comes with adjustable shelves for all your kitchen goodies and snacks.
The Container Store Acrylic Organizer Shelves (starting at $18.99; containerstore.com)
Another recommendation from Moynihan, these shelves give you more room for different sized plates and bowls, and less chance for an uneven stack to come crashing down.
Yak About It Mini Fridge Dorm Station ($119.99; amazon.com)
For another look, this wood-look storage area will hold your fridge and your cooking goodies, or you can turn it into a cute cocktail station.
The Container Store Click Clack Pantry Canisters (starting at $8.99; containerstore.com)
With squeeze-top airtight seals, these sleek containers will keep your snacks and dry foods fresh. You’ll love being able to see exactly what’s in each canister.
‘Everyday Entertaining: 110+ Recipes for Going All Out When You’re Staying In’ by Elizabeth Van Lierde ($30; amazon.com)
When you’re ready to level up your apartment cooking game, Van Lierde’s book has everything you’ll need to prepare, including easy recipes, cocktail inspo and fun lists of what you should stock up on for your perfect first kitchen.