The College Kitchen I Wish I Had

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By Jonathan Able

When prepping for college, I had everything all lined up: coordinating extra-long twin bed sheets, a college-ruled notebook for every class, one of those really annoying graphic calculators, and of course, my day-planner.

What I didn’t have was a kitchen.

You see, life on campus is really kind of this cruel survival-of-the-fittest game pitted on teenagers just barely old enough to make life decisions on their own, let alone know how to cook a frittata.

“Okay, so look,” I would think to myself, “you expect me to live on my own, and cook for myself, too? What do you think this is, Little House on the Prairie?”

But I survived, thanks to the help of a generous meal plan, and plenty of Ramen noodles. Eventually I would move off campus, and into an apartment of my own. It had the standard white walls, a cream carpet, and a gated entrance. I was living the college dream.

“...Wait. This apartment doesn’t come stocked with three meals a day?” You can tell I was a pretty disillusioned college student.

I had to learn, and learn fast, how to find ways to well, survive. I mean, in all seriousness, survival wasn’t really as much of a goal as was, say, waking up for class on time. So, in looking back at my formative years, if I had to pass along some words of wisdom to would-be college students, and mothers of college students, it would be summed up in the following list:

The Quintessential College Kitchen Needs

GROCERIES Duh. This is a given. But what should you buy? Generally, I like to stick to the basics, because with basics you can go most anywhere.

Milk, eggs and bread – The trifecta in groceries. If you have these three items, you will always have a meal.

Cereals – What’s easier than a bowl of cereal and milk?

Salad fixin’s – Bagged lettuce, or heads of lettuce, and then whatever else
you’d like to go on top. Nuts, fruits, croutons, cheeses. Salads are super simple to make, and they’re a great place to explore flavors.

Canned soups and vegetables - These have longer shelf lives than buying fresh. They’re also cheaper. Of course fresh is better, but when you’re in and out of study groups, a college student can be kind of crunched for time. It’d be worse to have your fresh veggies, and consequently all that money, go bad.

Proteins - Ground beef, chicken breasts that you can freeze, and lunchmeats for on-the-go sandwiches, etc. I always tried to have a protein of some kind paired with a vegetable and an additional side, like rice or potatoes.

Instant meals – This is a broad category. This can include minute rice, instant grits, or just-add-water sides. You may also consider picking up a few freezer meals. Most grocery stores these days have great options that are cost-effective, too.

TOOLS When you’re planning your first college kitchen, you might be just as clueless as I was. Here’s a list of things that would have made my life a lot easier.

Pots and Pans – A good set of pots and pans should include a stockpot, a few saucepans, and skillets.

Measuring cups – Contrary to popular belief, measuring cups are different than drinking cups. Who knew?

Knives – Just remember, a sharp knife is a safe knife. Or something like that.

Food storage – Since you’re going to be cooking, you’ll likely have leftovers. Save money by storing your leftovers in airtight containers.

Slow cooker – With a slow cooker, you can set something up in the morning and have it cook while you’re at class. You’ll enjoy coming home to a freshly cooked meal. Another great way to have leftovers.

Like I said, these are really just the basics so that you’ll be able to put food on your plate every day. An expanded list might include mixing bowls, bakeware, and a hand mixer... but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

And in closing, enjoy college!

Jonathan Able, Online Editor for, is a Savannah transplant and received a BFA in Theatre from Valdosta State University where he spent many hours memorizing scripts and working on his Meisner technique. Recently, he has decided to tackle single-handedly a formerly unknown territory...the kitchen...and he looks forward to sharing his adventures here. His favorite color is green and he's never met a carb he didn't like.
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By CRYSTAL on August 24, 2011


Thanks Cindy! So glad you found it useful!

By Jonathan Able on August 19, 2011


Jonathan, I love this!!! Great information for everyone. I will be forwarding it to my son. Thanks for the great post. Cindy

By Cindy Edwards on August 19, 2011


This is great! I wish I had read this before I went away to college! Your blogs are really helpful Jonathan!!!!

By Jenny on August 19, 2011

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Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You Mary Ann
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
in Crispy Fried Green Tomatoes on August 15, 2014 at 10:33 am

I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
Melissa in Taste Testing 101 on August 13, 2014 at 8:36 am

Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
Carol Bryant in Love at Last on August 11, 2014 at 6:12 pm