My College Kitchen: Cooking Essentials, Baking Basics & Tableware Tips

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  • September 01, 2016

Hello everyone! My name is Keelin and I have been interning for Inspiring Kitchen the past couple months. As an incoming senior in college, I will be living in what my university calls a “Senior House”–this is basically a fancier way to say that I will be living in a small off-campus house with a bunch of girls my age (six others to be exact). Needless to say, I am very excited to move in and start my last year of school.

college ktichen tools


This “Senior House” will be the first full-sized kitchen I have access to in college and really the first time I have to start cooking for myself. So, as I am sure most individuals in my shoes are, I was extremely intimidated. I had all these questions running through my head – Do I really need all those utensils? What the heck is the difference between those pans? Is ceramic better than stainless steel? Luckily, interning for Julie this summer allowed me to pick her brain about different kitchen tools, and ultimately pinpoint the items I needed for my new home.

Since every first-time renter has similar questions about kitchenware, I want to share the insight I gained from Julie with you. I have even included some items that you can find on Amazon to have it arrive at your new home. No packing required.  So let’s get started!

In order to establish what you actually need to purchase for your home, you first need to learn to be realistic with yourself. For example, as a senior in college my life consists of going to class, getting good grades, working a job/internship, and basically figuring out what I will be doing with my life come May – talk about exhausting and stressful. So, realistically I know I am not going to have the time or energy to spend hours at a time preparing a meal when my day has finally wound down; and I am sure a lot of you are in similar boats.

college ktichen tools

With minimal experience in the kitchen and little free time, we novice cooks are not in need of long-lasting appliances or the upscale housewares our parents have in their homes. The time to invest in such pieces is further down the road when we are more settled into the adult world. Right now, we really only need the cooking essentials. But what does that mean? Well, along with the help of Julie, I developed a beginner’s kitchen buy-list that is pragmatic and will leave your kitchen fully stocked without breaking the bank.

As I mentioned earlier, first-time cooks need to be pragmatic with their cooking abilities and needs. And a good rule of thumb is that no beginner needs a plethora of pots and pans. Instead, the focus is on simpler, more universal items that can be used in preparing a variety of dishes. Here are my suggestions:

  • Cookware: The key pieces are a 10” ceramic fry pan, a 2-qt. sauce pot with a lid and a 3 or 4 qt sauce pot – if you think you will cook for more than just yourself, soup (even out of a can or box), chili or pasta will need a slightly bigger pan to cook in. You can easily buy each piece separately, but it is more cost effective to buy them as a set like this one:

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  • Colander

college kitchen cooking tools

  • Turner (or Flipper) – I suggest a wider one. 

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  • Wooden Spoon

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  • Knives – just 3 will do the trick: Chef or Santoku, paring and serrated (for bread, tomatoes). I liked this set because it included the carrot peeler too. 
  • college kitchen knives picmWooden Cutting Board (or Epicurean board if you want to put it in the dishwasher)

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The same theory used for cooking supplies applies for bakeware. The focus should be on the basics. Here are my recommendations for what beginners should start out with:

  •  Large Mixing Bowl – this can also be used as a serving bowl (BONUS!)

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  • Rimmed Baking Pan also called Jelly Roll Pan

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  • A 9” x 13” Rectangular Bake Pan

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  • Kitchen tools 

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  • Silicon Spatula
  • Measuring Cups & Spoons
  • Can Opener – I found that the by-hand ones are cheaper and easy-to-use.
  • Oven Mitts, Potholders

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The third fundamental section of the kitchen is tableware. The tendency here is to buy pre-packaged sets. While this is not necessarily wrong, I have come across some interesting and unique alternatives that I want to share with you.

college kitchen cooking tools

  • Cups/Glassware
    • My Tableware Tip: Keep finished jelly and jam jars for an assorted stylish set of cups. Or, if you want a more uniformed look, head to your local hardware store and purchase a set of 6 or 12 mason jars.

college ktichen tools

  • Spoons, Forks & Knives
    • My Tableware Tip: You do not realize how many utensils you actually use in a given day. So, unless you plan on doing the dishwasher a lot, I would suggest investing in a set of 6 or 8.
  • Plates & Bowls
    • My Tableware Tip: You will not need as many as your parents have, and these dishes are not the ones you will have for the rest of your life. Thus, as starter plates and bowls, look for sets of 4 or at most 6.

My roommates and I found that Goodwill and Salvation Army offered the most competitive prices on dishes and utensils (as in one dinner plate being only $1.50!). Do not be discouraged by the second-hand nature of these items either. All they need is a couple runs through the dishwasher and they are good as new. Also, check out your local dollar stores. As a frugal college student, I suggest checking what they offer and then heading to Walmart for the rest. There are lots of good finds at these stores that are perfect for your college apartment.

The most frequently overlooked areas of the kitchen are the bare necessities– such as dish soap, a sponge, paper towels, etc. Other kitchen requirements I would suggest getting are:

  • Shelf Liner – These are a great way to ensure your dishes are clean.

college kitchen cooking tools

  • A Garbage Can – I highly recommend one with a lid to avoid a stinky kitchen.
  • Storage Containers
    • My Tip: You can save some money by keeping the plastic leftover containers and using the round containers butter and cool whip come in for Tupperware. They are the perfect size for holding food and super inexpensive!
  • 1 Paper Towel Holder ­– a lot of kitchens now come with it, so check your place first
  • Dish Towels
    • My Tip: I suggest purchasing a colored set of dish towels because they are easy to wash and give your kitchen a little more personality.
  • 1 Drying Rack – You do not need anything fancy, but my suggestion is to make sure the bottom piece of the rack is easy to wash or else it will get very dirty!

college kitchen colander picmOne of the many things I have learned from sitting across the table from Julie is that everyone uses their kitchen differently, for it is ultimately a reflection of their personality and lifestyle. Right now, we first-timers have little idea what our kitchen personalities are, and defining them only comes with time and experience, not expensive products.

college ktichen tools

So remember that the key to buying for your first kitchen is to focus on the essentials. Then throughout the year, write down what items you are missing when cooking and baking. This will help you establish what you should purchase next. For some it may be more bakeware such as a muffin or loaf pan. Others may find that a food processor, slow cooker (crockpot) or sauté pan are needed for their cooking patterns. By the way, if you have a muffin (cupcake) pan, you should try this omelet-to-go recipe. They are easy to make and perfect to grab when running to class.

Inspiring Kitchen Omelets to goMy last piece of advice is to not shy away from asking your family and friends for help (and that goes for anything). Who knows, maybe your friend will have an interesting new tip; or maybe your parents have an extra pan to give you or a recipe for your favorite dish. The reality of it is, you never know until you ask!

college ktichen tools

Thanks for stopping by! And have a great school year!



  • Heather S-G says:

    We’re sort of going through this right now since my oldest started college a couple of weeks ago. He’s living with a few other guys in campus housing, but there is a very small kitchen in their dorm room. Second hand shops, discount stores, the Dollar Store, and mom’s (aka my) basement have supplied pretty much all of the basics they need. Great tips!

  • This is a great set of essentials for college dorms. It’s so important to have multi-functional products that serve more than purpose and don’t take up a lot of space. I Like the idea of a toaster oven and microwave in one. Also, a hand blender is good since it doesn’t take up much room!

  • What a great list and these tips are as well. I only have what I absolutely need in my tiny kitchen due to space. Good luck with your studies.

  • christina aliperti says:

    I love those knives, they are so pretty! I think you are right about needing the basics and nothing too expensive when you are just starting out. Later on you can get the really special stuff that will be with you for years and years.

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