Millions of students are packing up for college right now. Don’t forget to stow a culinary care kit along with the futon, the laptop, the shoe racks and the microwave or toaster/oven (if they're allowed).
It’s easy for parents and kids to forget these simple essentials because most of these items have been sitting in kitchen drawers and cabinets seemingly forever, right there when you need them. It takes only one case of unrequited midnight munchies to make a student realize just how important a fork, a can opener or a coffee mug really can be.
I learned that lesson the hard way at school but managed over four years to cook everything from a can of corned beef hash to a 12-course Chinese banquet in dorm kitchens. Here’s my list of the 10 essential piece of culinary equipment for campus. Don’t worry, parents, if your child has flown the coop. Mail a package of goodies or, even easier, send them a gift certificate to the nearest cooking gadgets store.
- Can opener. Essential tool for opening everything from the aforementioned corned beef hash to tomato sauce to tuna fish. Sure, many products - especially single-size portions have pop-up tops these days, but you want to have this base covered. Students will find themselves relying on canned goods because they can be stored at room temperature and keep forever. Dorm room refrigerators are terribly small and space for fresh foods is scarce. Buy the sturdiest can opener you can find – this is something you’ll keep and need forever.
- Kitchen knife. A chef's knife is lovely but a bit too large (and scary) for college. Buy a sharp paring or utility knife for basic chopping and slicing.
- Colander. You’ll be surprised how essential this homely tool is. Use it to drain pasta, hard-cooked eggs, steamed or boiled vegetables, washed salad greens, whatever. Trust me – using a spoon or a pan lid up against the edge of a pot of boiling water as a makeshift strainer ain’t going to cut it.
- Drink glasses. The type often sold as double old-fashioned glasses work best, I think, because they’ll hold everything from the morning orange juice to the evening's Dr. Pepper. These glasses are short and wide, allowing even the clumsiest fingers to work a sponge in at cleaning time. Heavy duty-plastic glasses won't break.
- 1 ½ to 2-quart saucepan, with lid. Big enough to cook up a single serving of pasta but small enough so that using this size pot doesn’t seem silly with even the tiniest portions. If your dorm lacks a kitchen and the rules allow it, consider the old-fashioned hot pot instead.
- A dinner plate, a salad plate and a soup/cereal bowl. Just in case you decided not to eat directly out of the takeout container. Buy sturdy plates that can take rough handling and are, preferably, safe for use in the microwave. Acrylic is a good choice.
- Flatware place setting: a fork, a knife, a tea spoon. Soup spoon optional. For those times when plastic cutlery, or one’s fingers, just won’t do. (Admittedly your child might swipe these items for the dining hall - some day - but why wait?)
- Oven mitt. Even if you never turn the oven on, you need a mitt to grab a hot pan handle on the stove or fish a bowl out of the microwave.
- Kitchen spoon. You need a sturdy, long-handled spoon to cook with. Wooden spoons are pretty but the thickness can sometimes seem clumsy. I prefer thin metal or silicone-tipped spoons.
- Coffee mug. To hold your favorite hot beverages.