First-year food: four keys to dorm cooking, everyday staples, and must-have items

| Staff Writer

Ryan Davis | Student Life

College is an exciting time when it comes to food, especially at Washington University. With many top rated restaurants on the Delmar Loop and plenty of options on campus, there’s no shortage of new food to try. 

However, you may find yourself wanting to stay in and eat in your dorm some nights after a long day or with an exam on the horizon. While food probably isn’t your priority right now, as a rising sophomore, I find myself looking back on my first year wishing I knew more about WashU food and dorm cooking last fall.

While I often cook at home, I didn’t expect myself to cook very much in college. Despite my expectations, my roommate and I cooked for ourselves several times a month, including making desserts for friends’ birthdays, pasta when I was sick, and even trying an admittedly-complicated French pastry for my French cooking class. 

I accumulated a collection of different tools and ingredients I used for everything, from spicing up dining hall food to cooking full meals. Whether you are not a cook at all or you are eagerly anticipating baking cookies with your roommate, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the essentials. You never know – you may desire to upgrade your late night bowl of ramen with some new spices or decide to try your hand at making a mug cake. Whatever it is, these tips should have you covered.

#1: Foods to stock up on

Having some food in your dorm is a must for any college student. While having your favorite nonperishable snacks on hand is a given, most would also recommend having some quick meals too. Instant ramen and boxed mac-and-cheese are must-haves, both of which can be found at Paws and Go, the mini-store on the South 40.

Especially if you’re a coffee fan, instant coffee powder is a great buy for late night study sessions or to make your dining hall latte a bit stronger, if that’s your thing. Boxed cake mix, also found in Paws and Go, is unexpectedly versatile. With a few other ingredients, it can be made into a mug cake, waffles, pancakes, cookies, and more, in addition to the classic cake.

#2: Finding ingredients

If you find yourself wandering outside of the territory of instant meals and pre-made mixes, ingredients can be difficult to find on a college campus. Luckily, there are many options for finding what you may need.

Paws and Go is a great place to find staple items, like milk, eggs, and fresh fruit, although stock varies, so certain items may not be available at times. Paws and Go takes both meal points and Bear Bucks as payment, making it a convenient stop for ingredients in a pinch.

For ingredients outside of staples, the two closest grocery stores are United Provisions on the Delmar Loop and Schnucks in Clayton. Both can be accessed through either the WashU shuttle system or walking. Schnucks is more of a general supermarket, with both groceries and home items.

Schnucks also tends to have a generally reasonable price range. United Provisions, on the other hand, is closer to campus and offers an array of more specialized ingredients in addition to some common staples.

#3: Tools you might need

Even if you don’t plan on cooking, most students find it necessary to have some general food tools in their dorm. A microwave-safe bowl and mug are musts for heating up a pre-made meal, making a late night cup of tea, or eating a salad from the salad bar (though please don’t microwave this). I used my bowl so much that it ended up cracking right before winter break. Along with this, it’s important to have a set of reusable utensils. While the dining halls offer single-use plastic utensils, it’s good to have a set for your room, as the single-use utensils can be wasteful.

Venturing more into cooking territory, my two most used items were a cake pan and a small saucepan. A basic cake pan is very versatile and essential for anyone who thinks they might cook every now and then. Outside of actually baking a cake, a cake pan can be used for any kind of dessert that needs to be cooked in the oven.

It can also be used to make brownies, banana or pumpkin bread, pies, cookie bars, or cheesecake. A cake pan is also suitable for heating up other kinds of food in the oven as well. And anything that requires stovetop heat can typically be made in a saucepan. A saucepan can cook any sort of rice or pasta if covered. It also can be used for eggs, soup, and, with enough effort, some post-midterm crepes. Make sure you bring some dish soap and a sponge to do your dishes too!

#4: Actually cooking

If you plan on cooking in the dorms, it’s important to know how to do so. Each kitchen is equipped with a communal refrigerator and freezer, a sink, some counter space, a microwave, and an oven and stove. Kitchens can be found across the South 40, and depending on which dorm you live in, there might be one right down the hall on your floor. If not, each residential college typically has a kitchen available in one of the buildings for their residents.

While the communal fridge and microwave are always available, if you plan on using either frequently, it is worth it to purchase or rent these appliances to keep in your room, as the kitchen may be far from your actual room. Nevertheless, once you’ve gathered all of your ingredients, cooking in the dorm is generally straightforward.

If you forget an ingredient, you can always run to Paws and Go to pick it up. And don’t be afraid to ask the people in your dorm if you can borrow some cooking equipment if you need something you don’t have! Repaying borrowed supplies with freshly baked goodies is a great way to make friends with people on your floor – another essential for freshman year. 


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