Stock Your Dorm Room with These 20 Pantry Essentials

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Whether you have access to a kitchen or you’re working with just a microwave and mini fridge, dorm cooking comes with its challenges — the first of which is properly stocking your pantry. Between limited space and a limited budget, figuring out what to buy can be hard work.

To get your school year started right and to help you break the cycle of awful dining hall meals and ramen noodles, here are 20 essentials to keep your dorm pantry well-stocked.

Think of this list as a starting point. I’m sure there are a lot of other items you’ve found useful — whether it’s in a dorm room or a tiny studio apartment with an efficiency kitchen.

20 Pantry Essentials for Dorm Cooking

1. Oats

A hearty bowl of oatmeal is the perfect breakfast to carry you through a tough morning of classes. If you have a microwave, hot oats mixed with milk and honey are always a good choice. If not, go for the super easy option of overnight oats.

2. Cold Cereal

Cereal isn’t just a great breakfast. It also makes a tasty late night study snack, and when desperate times call for desperate measures, it even works as dinner.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

3. Yogurt

Make some space in the mini fridge to stash a few containers of yogurt. We love this easy tip to make your own fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt.

4. Honey

Honey is a great natural sweetener, with a long shelf life, which makes it an ideal item for your dorm pantry.

5. Nut Butters

It doesn’t stop at sandwiches. Use your favorite nut butter with your morning oats, in dressings and sauces, mixed with cold noodles or added to desserts. And, of course, a big spoonful of peanut butter after a tough day will always make you feel better.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

6. Bread

Whether it’s a quick piece of toast in the morning or a sandwich for lunch, it’s always handy to keep a loaf of bread around.

7. Beans

Canned beans might just be the best inexpensive and practical pantry staple ever. They’re a great source of protein, super versatile and they won’t kill your tight budget. I especially love chickpeas and black beans. You can toss them in a salad, mash them into a simple dip, mix them with pasta or make a rice and bean burrito.

8. Boxed or canned soup

A bowl of hot soup is one of the most comforting meals. Even if you’re not into cooking, boxed or canned soup is an easy and convenient staple to keep handy.

9. Nuts and Seeds

Keep some pumpkin seeds or a stash of nuts, like almonds or cashews, handy for those times you need a boost during late night study sessions.

10. Cheese

Cheese makes a great snack, and an even better addition to sandwiches, burritos and tacos.

11. Olive Oil

Olive oil is a must if you plan to do any cooking or baking. A small splash also adds a finishing touch to a bowl of pasta.

12. Milk

Space is certainly tight if all you’ve got is a mini fridge, but it’s worth it to make room for a small container of milk.

13. Canned tuna

Whether you mix it with mayo and some veggies for a sandwich, or eat it straight from the can, tuna is definitely a great staple for quick, nourishing meals.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

14. Tortillas

From a simple roll up with peanut butter and banana, to quesadillas, burritos and tacos, tortillas are capable of so many meals and snacks.

15. Salsa

I’m sure your mind immediately jumped to chips (it’s hard not to!). But think beyond snacks. Salsa is an ideal pairing for burritos and tacos, totally transforms a plate of scrambled eggs, and it makes a nice way to flavor chicken.

16. Rice

Not only does rice work well with a tiny college budget, but the number of meals you can make with this versatile grain are nearly endless!

(Image credit: Dana Velden)

17. Pasta

There’s a chance I survived my entire sophomore year of college on pasta (thankfully I branched out shortly thereafter!). Pasta is ideal for a dorm room pantry because it’s inexpensive, quick and easy to cook, with limited clean up, and of course, it’s delicious. Add variety to your pantry with soba, rice and udon noodles.

18. Salt, Pepper & a Few Basic Spices

Simple seasonings can make a big difference and really elevate your meal. Salt and pepper are essentials, but beyond that consider what you’re most likely to cook before buying spices. Consider dried herbs, like basil, thyme, oregano or rosemary, or perhaps, chili powder, curry powder or chili flakes if you want to spice things up.

19. Frozen Vegetables

Fresh is always best, but frozen vegetables are a great choice for dorm living since they take up limited space and have a longer shelf life than their fresh counterparts.

20. Coffee and Tea

If you’re anything like me, coffee is essential to get moving in the morning and definitely necessary for late night study sessions. Save money by making your own coffee and tea.

What are the must-have items in your dorm room pantry?