8 Cooking Hacks For College Students Who'd Do Anything To Avoid The Dining Hall

by Julia Guerra

Stepping into a university dining hall for the first time as a freshman can have even the most health-conscious 18-year-old backtracking to childhood dreams of all fast food dishes all the time. There are ways to make do without a meal plan, though, and you can refer to a bunch of cooking hacks for college students that teach you how with the basics in your dorm. Foods like pizza, French fries, grilled cheese sandwiches, and endless bowls of ice cream are instant staples in a college kid’s diet because they taste good, they're quick to eat in between classes, and they mop up any leftover remnants of Thirsty Thursday still swashing around in your stomach. It’s great for a while, but our bodies need sustenance, and unless you’re clinging to salad bar offerings and plain grilled chicken on wing night, chances are, dining hall food isn’t doing it for you.

I speak from personal experience when I say cooking in a dorm is not impossible, nor limiting. And, trust me, I was at a serious disadvantage coming from a household where my mom cooked some variation of meat and potatoes or pasta dishes Monday through Friday. Sure, your mashed potatoes may not taste exactly like mom or dad's the first go-around, but with the right tools and a positive attitude, home-cooked meals can definitely be mastered away from home.

Even if you only have a limited skill set and microwave to work with, you can feed yourself, and feed yourself well. Here are a few clever hacks to get you through college without ever needing to step into another dining hall.

Egg In A Mug on Twitter

If you're short on time, or living in a dorm that doesn't have a full communal kitchen, egg in a mug breakfasts are a hungry girl's best friend. I learned this quick breakfast trick late in college, and almost three years post-grad I still whip up this dish (or mug?) on groggy mornings when I just cannot deal with a bunch of pans and plates to wash.

Coat the inside of your mug with olive oil spray (I've recently been loving this one by Chosen Foods) or melted butter, and crack in the egg. From there, you can add spices like garlic powder, Trader Joe's Everything But The Bagel (a serious breakfast game-changer), salt, and pepper, veggies like chopped pepper, and spinach, or cheese.

After you've dressed it how you like, mix it all up with a fork and pop it in the microwave for about one minute and 30 seconds.

Stock Up On Items In The Dining Hall You'd Otherwise Buy At The Store
Erin Reed on Twitter

Utilize the dining hall as you would a grocery store. Genius, right?

Before you head to your next class or back to your room for the night, pop by the cafeteria and snag a few packets of ketchup, mustard, mayo, fill up a water bottle or two with milk if you're running low, and make sure you have enough sugar to last you through a few all-nighters.

I'm kind of annoyed I never thought of this myself when I was in college, but trust me, you're not going to get in trouble for stocking up on supplies in the dining hall. Just remember you're paying thousands of dollars in tuition for this. Milk it (literally)!

Bake Your Oatmeal In Bulk
epicurious on Twitter

Ask a college student what they ate for breakfast, and I'm willing to bet nine out of 10 times the answer is coffee.

Especially if you take morning classes, or if you're juggling work in the a.m and classes at night, eating a wholesome breakfast is probably the least of your worries. But the rumors are true: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so it's important to squeeze it in any way you can.

Rather than cook oatmeal bowl for bowl, make a huge batch on Sunday night and seal it in a refrigerator-safe container. Experiment with spices and flavors, or make a real basic pot with cinnamon and almond milk. Spoon it out into an on-the-go container, and top it with dried fruit or mix in cacao powder and peanut butter at the office or library before eating.

Prep Toaster Pancakes (Or Waffles) For The Week
Maddie Lymburner on YouTube

We already know college kids rarely have time to sit down and enjoy breakfast, let alone cook a smorgasbord of food for one before an 8 a.m. seminar. The easiest way to fit in a meal is to have the goods prepped and ready to go when you need them — which is where YouTube vlogger Maddie Lymburner's toaster delicacies come into play.

Healthy for you and super delicious, Lymburner suggests whipping up these vegan pancakes (or you can try a pre-made batch like Birch Benders) on a Sunday night and storing them in a freezer-safe baggie for the week. Pop them in the toaster when you're ready to eat, and you've got yourself a yummy stack you can fork through while you get ready for the day.

Mug Cookie
PureWow on Twitter

A downside to dining halls is that you can lose all perception of proper portion control. Of course, there's nothing wrong with filling up your plate and going back for seconds (thirds, even) if that's what your body craves, but oftentimes, you'll end up mindlessly eating just because endless amounts of food are right there at your disposal.

Individual mug cakes and cookies are perfect for dessert or mid-study snacking because they're decadent enough to curb your craving, and (usually) the perfect serving size. You simply need a few key ingredients and a microwave for baking, and you're good to go!

Use A Waffle Maker To Cook Hash Browns
Andrew Clark on Twitter

Toto, we're not in Mommy's kitchen anymore, which means getting crafty with the tools you already have on-hand.

Waffle irons aren't just for waffles, you know. You can make grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, falafel, and everyone's favorite breakfast, brunch, and even dinner staple: hash browns.

You don't even have to go through all the trouble of buying, peeling, and chopping potatoes to master this recipe. Simply buy a bag of shredded hash browns, thaw 'em out, dress them in salt, pepper, and grated cheese, and arrange them along the iron.

Mac 'N Cheese In A Mug
Thrillist on Twitter

Mugs are seriously magical. They can provide us with a little bit of sweetness when we need it, savory breakfast options, and even this creamy, cheesy comfort food you definitely need in the midst of midterms.

Combine pasta and water in a large mug and microwave on high for two minutes. From there, stir in milk, butter, cheese, salt, and a little mustard and cayenne pepper for a delicious kick. Microwave for 30 seconds to coat each noodle with cheesy goodness, and enjoy!

Buy A Rice Cooker

When building our wedding registry, my husband begged me to add a rice cooker to our roster, and I totally didn't get the appeal. Rice is rice, who cares? Well, you should, my friend. You absolutely should.

Rice cookers don't just cook rice; they make meal staples. You can add literally anything you have on-hand to rice to complete your dish, like veggies, beans, chicken fingers, lentils, and eggs.

Plus, not to go all infomercial on you here, but that's not all. You can use rice cookers to boil eggs, cook oatmeal, make one giant pancake, steam veggies, and whip up soups and chili. You can even bake desserts with it.

It's an investment, sure, but the difference between owning and not owning a rice cooker through college could be major in terms of your meals. Think about it.