Whether you’re moving from a dorm to a college apartment for the first time, or have been living in one for a while but haven’t stocked your kitchen yet, one of your first questions may be: what do I actually need? Chances are your kitchen isn’t huge, and sharing it with roommates makes space even more limited. Plus, you want to strike the right balance of buying kitchen equipment and tools that will make your life easier without breaking the bank. As you prepare for the school year, read on for 10 college kitchen essentials to consider adding to your back-to-school shopping list, plus a few splurge items that go beyond the essentials but may be worth the investment!
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Where to Buy College Kitchen Essentials
For those who like ordering online, we’ve included Amazon links to most of these products. If you prefer shopping in person, many of these items can also be found in stores like Target, which we’ve linked to so you can order from home and pickup in store. If you don’t mind buying used, you can also check Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for deals on bigger ticket items like slow cookers and air fryers or Goodwill for smaller items like dish sets, cookware, and utensils. Although you may not always find the specific items you’re looking for shopping secondhand, you can get lucky and save a significant amount of money.
As you read through this list, think about which items you would use most and prioritize those. For example, if you’re a smoothie person you’ll definitely want to get a good blender whereas if smoothies aren’t your thing you’ll probably want to spend that money on something else. The price ranges listed throughout provide an estimate of what you should expect to pay so you can make sure you’re getting a good deal no matter where you shop!
10 College Kitchen Essentials
1. Mini Blender
Price range: $20-40
Mini blenders are the perfect size for an individual smoothie, meaning you can cut back on dishes and drink directly out of the blender cup. Many brands include a screwable cap, making it easy to take smoothies on the go. These are also a great size for blending up sauces, dressings, dips, and anything else you need to purée. A Magic Bullet Blender set goes for around $40, but other brands, like this Moss & Stone one, run as low as $20. Once you choose one, check us out on Instagram for smoothie inspiration and more!
2. Lunch Box/Bag
Price Range: $15-30
Packing a lunch to bring on campus is a great way to make sure you get the nutrients your body needs in the middle of a busy day, and having a simple lunch bag or box to bring it in makes it that much easier. There are a wide variety to choose from, but we recommend this PackIt lunch bag ($20) or PackIt bento box ($18) that you can freeze the night before to keep food extra fresh without an ice pack.
3. Cookware Set
Price range: $40-150 (varies depending on quality and number of pieces)
A set of pots and pans is a must-have for everything from eggs to stir fries to pasta. Price and quality vary widely when it comes to cookware, but depending on your budget you might consider this AmazonBasics set ($45), this Ecolution eco friendly set ($62), or this eco friendly, GreenGourmet Cuisinart set for a splurge ($199).
4. Cooking Utensil Set
Price range: $10-30 (varies depending on quality and number of pieces)
There are a variety of cooking utensils you may want such as a spatula, ladle, whisk, tongs, peeler, measuring cups and spoons, can opener, and grater. You can buy these items individually, but getting a set may save you time and money. Depending on how much you plan to cook, you might consider this 14 piece set ($24.99), or stick to the basics with this 5 piece set ($12.99) and supplement with any additional items you need.
5. Tupperware Set
Price range: $25-40 (varies depending on quality and number of pieces)
Storage containers are a commonly overlooked college kitchen essential that can go a long way in making your life easier! Buying a set ensures that you have a variety of tupperware sizes to store meal prep, lunches, and leftovers in. This glass Pyrex set ($26) or plastic Rubbermaid set ($32) are good options online, or if you have a Costco membership, they have a great price on Snapware tupperware sets in either glass or plastic.
6. Dish Set
Price range: $20-40 (varies depending on quality and number of pieces)
When it comes to dishes, you may want to shop around depending on your preferences for color and pattern. However, if you want something simple with 4 place settings you can expect to pay around $30 for durable options, less likely to chip or break, at Amazon or Target.
7. Cutting Board & Chef Knife
Price range: $20 – 30
We recommend getting at least two cutting boards, one for meat and one for produce, to avoid cross contamination – or even if you don’t eat meat, it’s still nice to have extra space for chopping! This Moss & Stone set comes with two dishwasher safe cutting boards plus a chef knife for $20 and this set from Target ($12) has one cutting board and 3 different sized knives.
8. Brita Pitcher
Price range: $15-30
As an athlete I’m sure you know the importance of hydration, and having filtered water in your apartment makes staying hydrated that much easier, so filtered water definitely makes the college kitchen essentials list for a student athlete. A 5 cup Brita pitcher will cost you $15-20 and is a compact option. Keep it on your desk as a reminder to keep drinking while you study! If you’ll be sharing with roommates, consider a larger 10 cup pitcher or the faucet system. You’ll also need to budget for replacement filters, which are around $3-4 each depending on whether you buy name brand Brita filters or off-brand, Brita compatible filters.
9. Toaster Oven
Price range: $30-45
Toaster ovens are an energy efficient alternative to a full-size oven that preheat much faster, making them a convenient way to heat up leftovers and simple meals. There are a wide range of toaster ovens on the market, some of which have deluxe features like an air frying function, but a basic one like this COMFEE toaster oven on Amazon or this Black & Decker one from Target should cost you $40 or less.
10. Slow Cooker
Price range: $30-80
Is there anything better than coming home at the end of a long day and having a hot meal waiting for you? While it requires some prepping and planning, a slow cooker makes it easy to do exactly that. All you need to do is add your ingredients to your slow cooker in the morning and turn it on before you leave the house. Most slow cooker recipes cook in around 8 hours or so on low, which makes it easy to time it around your day’s plans.
One of the most well known slow cooker brands is Crockpot. You can get a basic Crockpot (which you’ll need to turn off manually) for around $30-40 and a programmable Crockpot (which you can set a cook time on) for $70-80. Another brand, Hamilton Beach also makes a programmable slow cooker option closer to $45.
College Kitchen Splurge Items
These items are priced on the higher side and aren’t necessarily considered college kitchen essentials for everyone, but for certain people these splurge items will definitely be worth the investment!
1. Pressure Cooker
Price range: $50-90
Like a slow cooker, you can simply throw your ingredients into a pressure cooker (aka Instant Pot) and turn it on. My favorite things to use it for are soups, mashed potatoes, rice, and shredded chicken. The major difference is that because of the pressure that builds under the sealed lid, food cooks much quicker in a pressure cooker (think ~30 minutes as opposed to 4-8 hours for your typical slow cooker recipe). If you want to get dinner on the table quickly, but don’t want to have to think ahead, you may be better off with a pressure cooker than a slow cooker. However, one downside is that pressure cookers are a bit more difficult to clean since food particles can get trapped in the crevices of the lid. Another thing to note is that most pressure cookers have a slow cook setting, so you may not have to choose between the two after all!
2. Air Fryer
Price range: $60-120
Air fryers are the latest trendy kitchen appliance, and they’re so convenient that it’s easy to see why! They’re great for cooking potatoes, veggies, fish, tofu, meat, and frozen foods quickly and to a desirable texture. The biggest downside is that because there’s limited space in the frying basket of the more economical ones, you won’t have many leftovers.
3. Electric Kettle
Price range: $30-90
If you’re a tea drinker, this one is a must! While electric tea kettles can be found for as low as $30, like this AmazonBasics one, you can splurge on this fancy Cuisinart PerfecTemp for a durable option with more settings.
4. Food Processor
Price range: $100-250
For those who cook often and want to save time on everything from slicing to shredding to mixing to puréeing, a food processor is a pricey but versatile tool you might consider springing for. We love using them weekly for homemade protein bars and dips. An 8 cup Cuisinart food processor goes for around $100 and the larger and more powerful 14 cup Cuisinart food processor will cost around $250. Add it to your holiday gift list!
Looking to put all these college kitchen essentials (and splurges) to use? Check out our post on meal prep for student athletes!