Before you leave college there are few basic skills that you will want to have mastered, such as how to effectively handle stress, balancing your finances and learning how to buy and prepare healthy meals.

Cooking is one of those skills that come with practice. All you really need is a good recipe book, some cook ware and a desire for fresh cooked delicious food. Knowing how to cook is not only essential to your own nutritional needs but it may also guarantee popularity and possibly reverence among your friends. Just kidding! Knowing how to cook does have many benefits and can actually be quite enjoyable. I have included some basic cooking tips which will help you get started. Bon Appetite!

Essential Cooking Tools

To get started, you should have a few basic items in the kitchen to cook with. Usually a discount store like Wal-Mart or Target will have a 50 piece cooking set for under $50, especially around August and September when most college students go back to school. Please note that these are mere suggestions at to what to stock your kitchen/dorm room with. As always, students must abide by the campus policies and not bring anything to school or their room that would be consider a hazard or danger. Before bringing anything to campus please check with the campus policies or ask your RA if certain items will be allowed on campus. Other equipment you may want/need includes:

Kitchen Essentials (Source: The College Student’s Guide to Eating Well on Campus, 2nd Edition, by Ann Selkowitz Litt, Tulip Hill Press, 2005)

For the Dorm Room:

  • 2 microwave safe mixing bowls: 1 large and 1 small
  • 9”x9” baking dish
  • 2 sharp knives: 1 paring knife, and 1 larger knife for chopping, dicing, etc.
  • Liquid and dry measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Small cutting board
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • 1 rubber spatula
  • Can opener
  • Bottle opener
  • Small hand grater or electric chopper
  • Aluminum foil
  • Plastic wrap
  • Ziplock bags
  • Sponge
  • Colander
  • Paper towels, paper plates, napkins, plastic utensils
  • Potholder

For the Full-Size Kitchen, add to the above items:

  • 10” non-stick fry pan
  • 2 or 3 quart saucepan
  • Vegetable steamer
  • Toaster oven
  • Dishes, glasses, silverware


Nice to have but not essential:

  • Toaster oven
  • Tea kettle
  • Coffee maker
  • Garlic press
  • Muffin tins, loaf pans, cake pans
  • Blender or food processor
  • George Foreman’s Lean Mean Grilling Machine


Stocking the Pantry


Staples for Dorm Room and Other Non-Kitchen Cooking: (Source: The College Student’s Guide to Eating Well on Campus, 2nd Edition, by Ann Selkowitz Litt, Tulip Hill Press, 2005)

Refrigerator Basics (for small dorm room-size refrigerator)

  • Eggs
  • Light or regular butter
  • Plain and flavored yogurt
  • Skim milk
  • Flour or corn tortillas
  • Pre-shredded cheese
  • Cottage cheese
  • Pre-grated Parmesan cheese
  • Baby carrots
  • Fruit, as space permits

Freezer Staples

  • Broccoli florets
  • Peas
  • Chopped spinach


  • Boxed pasta
  • Brown or white rice
  • Dry cereal
  • Instant cooked cereal packets
  • Bagels/bread/English muffins

Canned and Packaged Food

  • Chicken and vegetable broth
  • Vegetarian refried beans
  • Water packed tuna fish
  • Dehydrated soups (Fantastic Foods, Nile Spice, Knorrs)
  • Canned soup: minestrone, lentil, vegetable, etc.
  • Applesauce
  • Plain microwave popcorn

Bottled or Jarred Food

  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Balsamic or red wine vinegar
  • Salsa
  • Soy sauce
  • Mustard
  • Low-fat mayonnaise
  • Barbecue sauce
  • Spaghetti sauce
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly

Spices and Seasonings

  • Salt and pepper
  • Garlic powder, onion salt, celery salt
  • Sugar

Other Stuff

  • Teabags
  • Coffee
  • Snack foods

(For more ideas about how to stock a full kitchen please check out Ann Selkowitz Litt’s Book “A College Student’s Guide to Eating Well on Campus, a copy of which is located in the Health and Wellness Office, Ames Sports Complex, Room 134A)

Grocery List

Here are a few tips on how to grocery shop.

  • First, never grocery shop on an empty stomach! You will end up buying more food and usually unhealthy foods because you are hungry.
  • Second, always go with a list of what you need to buy so that you don’t forget once you get to the store.
  • Third, make a list of the foods that you will need or want to eat throughout the week. I like to plan my grocery list around the meals I’ll have for the week. For example, first I’ll start with breakfast items, I prefer an English muffin with jelly and a cup of coffee or juice. Then I plan what I’ll have for lunch for the week. My favorite thing for lunch is a nice big salad with lots of veggies and usually an exotic cheese with a yummy low fat dressing. Next I’ll plan what I’ll have for dinner for the week and weekend. Usually I make 1-2 meals a week and have the rest as leftovers, which carry me through to the weekend. On the weekend I like to have either a frozen pizza or a veggie burger with homemade baked fries. Then finally I plan what I’ll have for snacks during the week, like fruit, granola bars, yogurt, pretzels, etc. as well as my drinks, usually 100% and water, and also my discretionary items like coffee filters, paper towels, etc.

Here is a sample grocery list to help get you started: (Source: The College Student’s Guide to Eating Well on Campus, 2nd Edition, by Ann Selkowitz Litt, Tulip Hill Press, 2005)

Grocery List

  • Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
  • Dairy (milk, yogurt, cheese)
  • Frozen Foods (vegetables, pizza, etc)
  • Grains (bread, bagels, english muffins, pasta, cereal)
  • Canned and Packaged Food (soup, tuna fish)
  • Bottled and Jarred Food (juice, olive oil, peanut butter)
  • Other Stuff (snacks, paper towels, etc.)

Cooking Basics

Most pre-packaged foods contain instructions on how to cook them which are self-explanatory. However fresh foods are also very easy and convenient to make once you get the hang of it. Here are a few basic techniques that you can use to cook a variety of foods.


  • This is great for chicken, beef or vegetables. It consists of heating up oil or butter in a pan and cooking it on both sides until the inside of the meat is no longer pink or until the vegetables mostly cooked with a slight crunch to them.
  • Turn the oven on med-low and let it heat up for about 2-3 minutes before putting anything in it.
  • ·Next, when the pan is hot, carefully add your butter or oil (usually 2 tablespoon) (Caution: Please not that oil splatters, especially olive oil, and can cause 3rd degree burns, so please be very careful if cooking with this type of oil).
  • ·If cooking with chicken or beef, add your meat and cook for 3-5 minutes on both sides until the inside is no longer pink.
  • If the meat is browning too quickly and the inside is still pink, add 1/3c of water to the pan and let it simmer until fully cooked. This prevents the meat from burning while allowing it to still cook.
  • If cooking with vegetables, add the vegetables that will take the longest to cook first, (ex. Onions, broccoli, etc.) then a few minutes later add the softer vegetables, (peppers, tomatoes etc.).


  • Steaming is a healthy way to cook vegetables because it doesn’t remove as many nutrients from the vegetables as boiling or frying them would.
  • Purchasing a vegetable steamer (a small, metal, collapsible device that goes inside a medium sauce pan) is an easy way to ensure that your vegetables get steamed not boiled.
  • If you have a vegetable steamer, put it inside the sauce pan and add enough water to just reach the surface level of the bottom of the steamer, about 2 cups. You don’t want water coming over the bottom of the steamer because then you’ll essentially be boiling your veggies. (Caution: if you leave the pan on the stove for too long, the water will eventually evaporate, so always keep an eye on the pots on the stove and make sure there is enough water in your pot while you’re cooking, otherwise a fire could occur.)

Sports Nutrition

There is an excellent resource for student athletes to use to help them learn how eating, nutrition and hydration can affect their athletic performance. The book “Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guide Book” by Nancy Clark, is an easy to read, helpful guide to some of the most common questions among college athletes. For example: How much protein do I need? How many calories do I need? Should I carb load before a track meet? What important nutrients do I need for optimal atheletic performance? Should I take supplements? And many, many more questions, answered in this useful guidebook. There is a copy of this book in the Health Education library located at the Health and Wellness Office in the Ames Sports Complex, Room 134A.

Nutrition Websites: