New college student? Make living on your own a bit easier with these 52 easy recipes for one college student. You'll find simple, quick single serving recipes that use basic pantry equipment and ingredients.
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College, or the first years on your own are such a fun and challenging time. Full of meeting new people, learning how to live without your family of origin, learning how to do the things adults need to do, and going to school or working.
One big transition from living with your family of origin to living on your own, or with roommates is learning how to cook, or really to feed yourself.
When I was in college and just after, I learned how to live with roommates, share a kitchen, and cook for myself. I wouldn't do many things the same way, but am here to share tips and suggestions so you can avoid the mistakes I made.
The biggest mistake I made was using the cooking methods and recipes I saw my mom use into my first apartments.
I was cooking delicious recipes for 4+ people, while I was living in a small apartment with roommates, limited space, and one mouth to feed.
That approach lead me to use up more than my allocated fridge and freezer space, lead me to waste ingredients and leftovers, because I just couldn't eat it all.
I hated cooking for parts of my college time. I didn't know what I was doing wrong. But I was trying to make cooking more complicated than it needed to be, and was trying to make many serving recipes that I got bored of.
So I'm sharing tips and suggestions to help you make easy recipes for one college student and not hate it or waste food like I did. Hope these tips are helpful!
Oh cooking equipment. There are SO MANY OPTIONS here. I may forget some, but here's a quick list of some essentials to make easy recipes for one college student. Other items can be added to make cooking and storing food easier.
I see so many one use pieces of equipment, specific for new cooks, while some can be helpful-depending on your cooking habits and time constraints. One use items take up space and cost money, while they're not necessary.
Other than knives, baking sheets, and cookware, I recommend getting as many dishwasher safe pieces of equipment. Even if you don't have a dishwasher, it'll make your life easier when you do have one.
- Plates, bowls, silverware, cups, mugs, etc. You might not need a whole set, but definitely get at least 2 of each to use for your easy recipes for one college student.
- Medium and small pots and pans. Lids are great too! one of each is great to start. I prefer not-nonstick, but get what works for you.
- Cast iron skillet
- Easy to wash cutting board(s)
- Paring knife, serrated knife, chef's knife
- Baking sheets (I love having a half sheet and quarter sheet)
- Baking mats (easier clean up, easy to freeze foods on to transfer to a freezer bag to preserve, more sustainable than parchment)
- Baking dish. If you bake, I recommend an aluminum one. Or a glass 9x13" or 8x8" would work for baking casseroles and other items.
- Instant Pot (not necessary, but it's a great rice/been cooker, slow cooker, pressure cooker! so many ways to use it)
- Measuring cups/spoons. 2 cup liquid measuring cup (optional but very helpful!), I like the rectangle measuring spoons to dip into a spice jar.
- Fish turner (it's long, so you can use it for so many foods, more than just fish!). You can use it in so many easy recipes for one college student.
- Silicone spoon and spatula. I like having both be all silicone. Easy to wash and they can't get grimy between two materials (like metal and silicone, etc). I LOVE GIR silicone utensils. They're easy to wash and come in great colors.
- Angled or slotted spatula. Made of silicone or just not metal- if you have non stick pans.
- Can opener
- Colander. Or maybe it'd be a strainer, but if you can find a fine one, get that because it's more versatile than a traditional colander with larger holes.
- Freezer/storage bags. I like Stasher silicone bags, but they are more expensive. But they do last for years (my oldest are probably 7 years old and are in perfect condition). I bought used ones on Amazon, which is cheaper.
- Storage containers. Buy glass ones vs plastic tupperware style for longest lasting. You can also use plastic leftovers containers, jars, or yogurt containers.
- Box grater
- Microplaner Great for grating cheese, garlic, and zest. Essential toppings for easy recipes for one college student.
- Mixing bowls. Get a large one and a couple medium and smaller ones. Depending on how much you cook/bake.
- Hand mixer. Just get one if you bake a good amount. Not necessary if you don't, you won't need one in many easy recipes for one college student.
- Salad Spinner. It's not just good for greens. You can use it as a colander, you can rinse herbs, and even store salad in it, if you have the fridge space. Add a damp towel for the greens to last longer.
- Oven safe cooling rack. Great if you bake a good amount or like to bake crispy foods.
- Thermometer. It took me some time to get in the habit of using mine, but now that I've started the habit, IT'S SO HELPFUL. I use a Thermapen ONE, it's a bit pricy, but so convenient and long lasting. Plus it's a Utah comapny.
- Kitchen Scale. Not for weighing your prepared food, but to weigh ingredients. Especially if you're cutting a recipe down or baking. It's so useful. Again, not necessary for easy recipes for one college student, but helpful.
- High powered blender. Ok these aren't the cheapest, but blenders can be used to make smoothies, batters, chop nuts, and other things. I love mine.
- Dutch oven. It's great to make homemade bread, stews, soups, braise meat, etc. Not necessary, but mine is versatile and since it's larger than the pots and pans I have, it's helpful for larger recipes.
- Loaf pan
- Kitchen shears
- SWAG bags. I LOVE these cotton bags. My produce lasts much longer, like 2+ weeks for some. Plus you can keep a variety of produce in one. Just grab them every time you cook and add produce that'd be good in your dish.
Is there anything I left out of this list? I'd love to see what was helpful for you to make easy recipes for one college student or what you suggest for cooking for one?
PS: I'm sharing links to a few of my favorite products. None of these are affiliate links, I don't get anything from your purchases. But I should look into that, these shared products are my absolute favorites!
Cooking in a dorm versus an apartment
Another consideration to keep in mind when you're planning on easy recipes for one college student is your kitchen situation.
Cooking in an apartment will look very different from cooking in a dorm. If you're living in a dorm, you likely have a meal card for a cafeteria or food court. Food options are pretty great in colleges these days, but they're also pricy.
If you need recipes for cooking in a dorm, you're probably looking for no cook recipes, microwave or one pan/baking sheet/pan recipes. Ease is the most important. I don't have a ton of options, but will share some ideas.
When I was living in the dorms, I had breakfast in my room half the time or more (hello more sleep!), cereal was my favorite! I also threw together snacks and PB&Js when I needed something quick and satisfying.
If you're cooking easy recipes for one college student in an apartment, you'll have more options probably. Although your apartment might not have lots of prep space, storage space, or a full fridge/stove/oven.
Adapt to meet your needs. I interviewed my dietitian friend, Emily, who shared tips for cooking in a crappy kitchen. You can listen to the episode on the Table for One podcast here (or Spotify, or your favorite app).
Plan out how you'll cook
This is often overlooked, but SO IMPORTANT! How are you going to eat? What meets your needs? Cooking everything from scratch probably won't work, same as eating everything out. So it's time to figure out what works for you.
Here are a few things to consider when deciding how to eat or make easy meals for one college student.
- Will you share cooking responsibilities with roommates, do separately, or a combo. There are many ways to share responsibilities of making easy recipes for one college student (or a few students 🙂 ).
- Will you share ingredients with roommates or equipment? What can you keep in the kitchen or store in your room? Even the best roommates can all treat things differently.
- Do you need a variety of meals or are you ok with eating the same thing for a few days or longer? Would you make a weekly casserole like my aunt did, or cook single serving recipes every night. Or something in between?
- Would you like to eat homecooked, semi homecooked, deli, heat up, or take out food. There's no wrong way, but you need to take into account your time, budget, kitchen, cooking skills, etc.
- How often can you go to the store? How much space do you have to store food (dry foods, foods in the fridge and freezer too). This will help you determine what kinds of easy recipes for one college student to make.
- What does your budget look like? What/how much can you splurge on, or how tight do you need to be with your food? This can determine eating out, premade options, and proteins you'll use.
There's no right or wrong way to address any of this, but please be realistic. It's easy to want to spend lots of time cooking, then not have that time, waste food, and give up.
It doesn't have to be all or nothing to make easy recipes for one college student.
Money Saving Tips
There are lots of things you can do to save money when making easy recipes for one college student on a budget. Cooking for one requires some specific tactics, which I go into in this article on Cheap Meals for 1.
Meal Planning for One is also very helpful. I highly recommend planning out, at least part of your meals.
While meal planning doesn't always happen, I recommend storing some easy to assemble ingredients. Here's what I recommend keeping in your Pantry, Fridge, and Freezer.
You may need to pare down this list if you're sharing limited space with roommates. But that's fine.
Here are more tips for college students and others sharing a kitchen with roommates. They'll help save money and/or space.
- Buy bulk items with friends or roommates. Costco/warehouse stores or grocery store bulk sections are great for this. You can still split them up, but they can be less expensive than smaller packages.
- Stick to one or a couple pantry basics. Then switch to another when you run out. For example: start with rice and pasta for a week or a couple, then switch to potatoes and tortillas, etc. Same with meat, vegetables, etc.
- Plan on throw together meals near the end of the week, to use up/reduce food waste.
- Incorporate more plant based proteins. They're often less expensive, shelf stable, and versatile. It's a great way to make easy recipes for one college student on a budget.
What would you add to this list?
How to manage limited kitchen space
I have shared a small-ish kitchen with 4 other roommates for a few years. That was a great time to get creative with shopping and storing food. If you've got limited space and want to make easy meals for one college student
Stick to one or a couple items/week. Using just 1-2 vegetables, starch foods, and proteins can save you space and money too. You can get creative with the flavorings to have some variety. Then get new ingredients the next week or two.
Keep larger pieces of equipment out of the kitchen. Especially the items that aren't everyday items. We prioritized food over equipment, and stored some things in closets and bedrooms.
Add storage shelves in your cabinets. Not everything is tall enough to take up all the vertical space, so get some shelves to add to your cabinets. They don't have to be anything fancy, just an upside U shaped shelf works.
Divide ingredient groups into boxes. I stored baking ingredients in cardboard boxes to easily take them out. It was helpful and cost nothing. It's helpful for making easy meals for one college student.
We also bought another low cost, used fridge which was really helpful. I know it's not always an option, but if it's safe, and you have some space, chipping in to buy a used fridge might be less expensive than shopping more frequently.
There are lots of tasty pasta recipes that are easy recipes for one college student on a budget. Here's an extensive list of Easy Pasta Recipes for One.
Chicken parm is great, but takes more effort than I'd like to spend. Instead of breading chicken, toast breadcrumbs and top your fresh pasta and chicken topping with them. It's one of the great easy recipes for one college student.
Set aside your mac & cheese box, this homemade version is so easy, uses pantry ingredients, and really just takes about 15 minutes to make. Oh yes! There are many options for easy recipes for one college student.
Chicken is a great staple for easy recipes for one college student. Easy to find, relatively inexpensive, and so versatile. Here are a few of my favorite chicken recipes that would be great for college students.
I don't make chicken salad sandwiches as much as I'd like. They're so easy, tasty, and versatile. This combo of features makes them perfect easy meals for one college student. Plus there sandwich sides are just as fun!
Enjoy fresh watermelon in the summer with this flavorful and texture filled salad. It's a great way to use up those last bits of fresh summer fruit.
Different cuts of beef and pork also make easy, quick dinners. Perfect for easy recipes for one college student. To save money, look for options on sale and freeze for later.
Ok this probably isn't a recipe you would just throw together. But if you have leftover brisket from a BBQ or meal out, turn it into a grilled cheese. It's especially great if you don't have quite enough for a full serving.
To save money in this recipe, you can swap the ground beef for TVP or just add more beans. Plus, since diced tomatoes are a great pantry item, you definitely can add some to add volume to this soup. It'll go farther.
Make this special meal for leftovers. And when you're nearly out of steak, you can quickly pan fry some shrimp for a more full meal. It's a great way to reuse a recipe to make even more easy recipes for one college student.
This is the only recipe on Nourish Nutrition that is like a batch cooking recipe. Make as much as you'd like and use it through the week, or freeze for later. This easy pulled pork recipe is so versatile, I don't even know where to start.
Stock up on your favorite frozen fish. Especially when it's on sale. These easy recipes are pretty quick, easy, and flavorful. Good seafood can definitely be a part of easy recipes for one college student, maybe just not all the time!
If you don't have an Air Fryer (which you don't have to get), this recipe can be made in the oven or even on the stove. I like to steam frozen fish on the stove. It does take some time, but comes out very tender and delicious.
Ok I think eggs are the ultimate inexpensive (not plant based) protein source. Now that egg prices have decreased, stock up on this budget friendly food. There are so many easy recipes for one college student with eggs.
Take your microwave eggs up a notch by, excuse me for the word choice, but plopping them on a tortilla, bagel, or bread. It's a great way to turn a light breakfast into a meal. Eat them any time of day.
Plant Based Dishes
Hands down the easiest way to save money on groceries is to eat more plant based proteins. Experiment with tofu, beans, TVP, and a combination of whole grains and legumes. They make delicious easy recipes for one college student.
Let me say, this is the ultimate easy recipe for one college student meal. Lots of inexpensive ingredients thrown together. All you need are the toppings, good salsa, and a fork.
Find recipes you like, with limited ingredients, that are also quick. These tips will help make cooking easier and faster, both are important for busy college students. These easy recipes for one college student will help too.
Did you make any of these easy recipes for one college student? Leave me a comment & rating to share how it turned out!
If you or your college student wants more support, reach out to a registered dietitian (like me!). Many colleges also have a dietitian on staff, see what nutrition services are available at your school.