Now that school is just around the corner, I’m sure plenty of you are beginning to prepare for The Big Move. Admittedly, it can be pretty intimidating to have to start managing each meal that you eat, especially when you’re on a tight student budget.
In this day and age, it seems like new kitchen tools are popping up left, right, and center. But as a student, you've got to consider whether or not you really need that garlic press or lemon juicer. Most likely, you'll be living with roommates where space is limited and even if you're moving out on your own, it's important to buy only the essential items to keep your expenses low.
With that in mind, you'll want to stock up your kitchen only with the essentials -- basic tools and small appliances that will get you through the year and help you cut down on the money spent on eating out.
To get you started, here are my top 15 essential gadgets you need to have in your kitchen. While some of these items seem intuitive and obvious, they are probably also the ones that you don't think about until you need it.
1. Knives/Pots & Pans/Cutlery
First off, no kitchen is complete without the obvious essentials: knives, pots and pans, and cutlery. Naturally, you’ll want knives to cut produce and pots and pans to cook with. I would recommend around two knives: a paring knife for fruit and small items and a larger chef’s knife for the bigger items. In terms of pots and pans, you should get a medium sized frying pan, a small pot for soups, and a larger pot for pastas.
In terms of cutlery, always have one or two extra sets lying around in case your friends come over to bum a meal off you.
2. Coffee Maker
Coffee is essential for students, but it’s also one of the easiest ways to spend a lot of money without realizing it. A cup of coffee typically runs between $2 to $3 dollars, depending on where you’re purchasing it from. If you buy one cup a day for 5 days of school, you can easily spend $10 to $15 in a week and $40 to $45 in a month. Instead, purchase a coffee maker and you can cut costs significantly and you can have a fresh cup of Joe whenever you want.
3. Rice Cooker
Another must-have for the cheap student is a rice cooker. Rice is one of the cheapest foods you can survive on when in school and, since it’s pretty plain, you have about a million ways to spice it up and keep yourself from getting tired of it. While you can cook rice on the stovetop, you can also invest in a decent rice cooker for around $20. Rice cookers have a “Keep Warm” function, which means you can start cooking your rice before you head to class and come home to a nice vat of steaming, yummy rice.
Pro tip: You can also make boiled eggs with a rice cooker for a quick and easy breakfast!
For those of you who have an early morning class, a blender is a great kitchen tool to have so you can prep your on-the-go breakfast. Some of you don't get hungry until later on in the day and having your stomach growl loudly in class can be pretty embarrassing. Smoothies are a great and easy way to satisfy your hunger and get your nutrients in. Depending on how much you invest in your blender, you can use the "Pulse" option to quickly dice up fruit and vegetables. On the other hand, those looking to save some money can opt for the single serve blenders.
5. Toaster Oven
My toaster oven was an absolute godsend during my first year of post-grad. Not only can you make toast with it, but you can also use it as a small oven for things like mini pizzas, frozen chicken fingers, etc. On the days where I actually felt like eating "real" food, I could whip up baked chicken thighs in 20 minutes. For students, a toaster oven is a low-maintenance way of cooking as you can just pop the food in, turn it on, and leave it to do its thing while you go and do something else.
6. Crock-Pot/Slow Cooker
If you’re planning on doing more cooking than simply reheating frozen dinners, a slow cooker is an amazing introduction to cooking yummy meals. Slow cooker meals generally require little to no maintenance. You simply throw all the ingredients in, set the timer, and off you go. Not only can you make some hearty stews and chilis with it to warm up with in the winter, it’s also a handy tool for those of you who can’t be bothered to start cooking after a long day of class -- You can prepare your meals the night before or right before you head to class and your food will be ready by the time you get home.
I love to drink tea, so a kettle was a must for me. While you can always opt for the more traditional kettle, you can also use electric kettles which have the added benefits of silently boiling water and switching off immediately after your water boils. I used my kettle to make tea, but kettles can also be used for heating up water for instant coffee, hot chocolate or preparing cup noodles.
8. Can Opener
One of the easiest ways to feed yourself on a tight budget is with canned food and accordingly, you must have a can opener on hand. Seems straightforward enough, but you'd be surprised at how many students forget to bring one of these until the day they need it and the closest store is closed. On a completely unrelated note, depending on the style you get, your can opener can also double as a bottle opener.
9. Cutting Board
A cutting board is a must-have during food prep. It prevents your food from slipping around the counter and keeps any mess confined to one easy-to-clean board. For those of you renting a place this year, keep in mind that knives can cause damage to kitchen counters, so you'll want to grab one of these to protect your counters and avoid paying fees to your landlord when you move out.
10. Plastic Containers
For those of you who are planning on batch-cooking on the weekend and eating leftovers throughout the week, plastic containers are a necessity. While you can most certainly put the whole vat of cooked food in your fridge, your food will last much longer if you place it in separate containers and keep some in the freezer for later on in the week. Plus, if you’re looking to save money by bringing a lunch, you’ll need these containers to bring your food to school.
The microwave has long been touted a must-have for those on a tight budget, so it’s natural that it made our list. Perfect for quickly reheating meals, making cakes in a mug, popcorn and more, the microwave is a staple in any individual’s kitchen.
12. Bag Clips/Rubber Bands/Cling Wrap
As someone living on a budget, you’ll want to keep your groceries lasting as long as possible. The best way to do this is by securing every open bag and package with bag clips or rubber bands. Rubber bands are available for cheap and will get the job done. Bag clips are a little more expensive but are better at keeping bags secured. You can get a decent sized pack of clips at IKEA for $2.
For everything else that can’t be secured with a clip or a rubber band, cling wrap is your answer. It’s great for wrapping up opened cans of food, blocks of cheese that you haven’t finished eating, and the tuna sandwiches that you’re bringing to school.
13. Aluminum Foil
Aluminum foil is another one of those easily over-looked kitchen essential. It's a must-have to keep your food from sticking when baking and for keeping your food warm when you're taking lunch to school. Furthermore, you'll need tin foil to make baked potatoes for another delicious meal on the cheap.
14. Kitchen Towels
Kitchen towels are essential in the kitchen for wiping your hands dry or cleaning your counter tops. You could always use paper towels, but you would end up going through those quickly and buying fresh rolls adds up quickly. Kitchen towels look nice in the kitchen, are relatively inexpensive, and can be washed regularly, which makes them a good investment.
15. Cooking Utensils
When picking your cooking utensils, there are a few that are must-haves: spatulas, tongs, slotted spoon, and a ladle. Spatulas are best for stirring the pot or mixing ingredients. Tongs are perfect for picking up individual pieces of cooked meat. Slotted spoons are for simultaneously ladling up pasta and draining it. Last but not least, ladles are for soups, stews and the like.
This list isn’t comprehensive by any means and when you're able and if you really want to, you can always add your own gadgets, but it’s a good start for those of you who are moving out for the first time.
If we missed anything in this list, let us know in the comments below!