dorm dining

From Mug Cakes to Granola-Bar Suppers, This Is Dorm Dining 101

COVID-19 has radically changed the school year for college students, especially their dining experience. For many, the dorm is the new dining hall.  
September 10, 2020
9 mins read

For students back on campus, one of the many radical changes is the dining experience. Whether your campus has one dining hall or several, they are an always-packed place known for group congregation. However, it’s incredibly difficult to offer indoor sit-down dining suited to everyone’s schedules within the CDC guidelines of six-feet social distancing and reduced capacity, and you can’t exactly wear masks while eating.

On my campus, all dining has switched to grab-and-go, with the food options much more limited and seating space confined to the great outdoors or, on rainy days, my dorm room. I’m 21 but still have the flavor palate of a 5-year-old, so I’ve been getting creative over the past few weeks, turning my dorm room into what feels like an apartment with a kitchen, despite not having an actual kitchen. Here’s my suggestions for making your dorm room feel the same.


Even if you normally go without, it’s within your best interest to consider having things like a fridge, microwave, hot plate, electric kettle, etc., in your room, depending on your school’s guidelines. I’m not a coffee or tea drinker, but I use my electric kettle for making hot chocolate, oatmeal and even macaroni and cheese.

Tupperware is also an important tool to add to your arsenal. Storing food in Tupperware containers will save you from taking a trip to the dining hall or ordering out again — just make sure you remember it’s there and don’t start growing a science experiment in your fridge. Also, if you have a microwave, you’re going to want microwave-safe Tupperware; most plastic Tupperware is not, but the glass Pyrex storage containers are.

One thing I wasn’t expecting when I got to school was limited water fountain access. A lot of the fountains without bottle-filling options have been closed, which means my best water bet is the sink. While it’s technically meant for keeping wine cold, my Swig stemless wine glass, at about 9 ounces, is much easier to stick under the faucet than any of my tall, 16-ounce water bottles or even my kettle. When I’m in my room, I prefer to use it even though it requires more trips to refill. I save the water bottles for trips to class, or for the dining hall, where I can fill it.

I also have been making use of my ice cube trays. My fridge has a little freezer compartment, which I keep well stocked with ice cubes and ice packs to keep everything nice and cold.

Then, to clean all of your dishes, which you’ll probably have to do by hand, you’re going to want to make sure you have access to dish soap and a sponge or scrubbing brush. I actually have two brushes — one, technically made for baby bottles, that I use for water-bottle cleaning, and one for everything else.

Food Essentials

In addition to the equipment you’ll need to get through the semester, you’ll want to keep a good supply of food, too. I’m keeping way more food in my room than I ever have before, and needing it a lot more than in previous years. Here are some of the treats keeping me going:

Cereal: Eating breakfast in your room will allow you to literally roll out of bed and head to class, Zoom or in person, and save you a stop. Dry cereal is fine, but if you have a fridge, you can normally fit a half-gallon carton in there.

— Peanut butter: If you’re not allergic, peanut butter is a great staple to keep around. It goes great on toast and as a sandwich ingredient. I certainly have been enjoying lots of PB&J sandwiches for meals when my dining hall’s options just aren’t quite appealing anymore.

— Granola and energy bars: These can double as both snack and meal, and in just a few weeks I have eaten them for both purposes. If you have an in-person class, they’re great to eat on the go when you’re running late, but they can also fill you up after a home workout. They come in so many brands and varieties, making it a simple thing you can tolerate all semester or even all year without it getting too repetitive.

— Fruits and veggies: If you have a fridge, you can get more creative, but even just a few apples (that you can dip into your peanut butter) lying around will keep you healthy.

— Other snack foods: Crackers, chips, cookies, candy, popcorn … sometimes you just need a pick-me-up. Frito-Lay sells variety packs at Target and Walmart, from Classic to Bold to Baked & Popped. There’s even a 40-count “Ultimate Snack Care Package” including chips, cookies, pretzels, popcorn and more, available for shipping from Target.

Get Creative

One of my favorite microwaveable discoveries is mug cakes. It’s a cake for one person, microwaved in a mug for just a few minutes. Why the mug? Well, not all bowls are microwaveable, but because mugs hold hot drinks, most of them are. The cylindrical shape of a mug is also more conducive to a single-serving baked good than a bowl, which is more of a 3D oval, really.

Brands like Betty Crocker and Duncan Hines sell packet mixes in the baking aisle, but you can also make them from scratch. Recipes like this one require the usual baking ingredients — flour, sugar, baking powder, eggs, etc. — in much smaller portions and can be microwaved to deliciousness in just a few minutes. You probably can’t buy the ingredients in small portions, though, so be prepared to commit to things like eggs and butter in your fridge.

Cake isn’t the only thing you can make in a mug, though. Recipes exist across the internet for concoctions like French toast and even pizza in a mug. Basically, if you think it might work in a mug, someone on Pinterest has probably figured out how to do it.

In years past, part of the reason you turned to eating in your room was because you were bored of what was in the dining hall. Even if it’s still somewhat out of necessity now, you should still have fun with it. Have you always wanted your school to serve something in particular? Here’s your chance to try and make it yourself and impress all of your friends with your cooking skills, even if it’s just putting something in the microwave.

Olivia Dimond, Bates College

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Olivia Dimond

Bates College

Olivia is a writer, actor, and theater director from Richmond, Virginia. When not creating or studying at Bates College, she enjoys teaching kids, ranting about politics, petting dogs, and speaking French.

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