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In the 1980s, the TV show MacGyver introduced Americans to a new action-adventure hero. MacGyver was a master improviser: Need to fix a blown fuse with a gum wrapper? No problem. Gotta repair a radiator with egg whites? Done. All while making a mullet look macho.

As a student, you may find yourself hungry but with sparse kitchen resources to silence your belly beast. Should you settle for ramen noodles or PB&J? Hardly! Time to channel your inner MacGyver and get creative in the kitchen.

Food for Thought

Look around: There are many ways to improvise in a kitchen or dorm room, like:

  • Prepare foods that need boiled water using a plug-in kettle, microwave, or hot plate.
  • Create a steamer by covering a pot of boiling water with punctured aluminum foil and placing food on top to cook.
  • To drain a pot sans strainer, simply place the lid’s edge at the lip of the pot and let liquid pour through. (Just be sure to wear cooking mitts or use towels to protect yourself from the hot water and steam.)

Elizabeth G., a senior at Doane College in Crete, Nebraska, suggests, “I’ve used aluminum foil in place of a cooking sheet for light items in the oven.”

Think about using non-kitchen items too. “I’ve used two tongue depressors like chopsticks,” says Lacey Y., a fifth-year student at Worcester State University in Massachusetts. With a little thought, that food is yours.

More Kitchen Improvisations Ideas

The Many Uses of Aluminum Foil
  • Make a baking sheet out of aluminum foil by creating a flat surface and crimping the sides.
  • Use foil (or a heat-safe plate or plastic wrap) to cover a saucepan or bowl in place of a lid.
  • Placing a layer of foil on a baking sheet makes cleanup easier.
  • Reminder: Never put aluminum foil in the microwave.
Be Egg-cellent
  • Separate egg whites by letting the white portion fall into a bowl through your fingers while you hold the yolk.
Liquids and Such
  • Leave seeds behind when you juice citrus fruits by squeezing the halved fruit upright.
  • Use a plug-in kettle to prepare noodles, soup, tea, instant coffee, hot chocolate, or oatmeal.
  • Strain liquids from a saucepan or pot without a colander by placing the lid at the lip of the pot and letting liquid pour through the crack. Make sure to wear kitchen mitts or protect your hands and arms with towels.
Unconventional Utensils
  • Use popsicle sticks, chopsticks, or two very clean pencils-or even chopstick-length tree twigs-instead of a spatula to stir, flip, or turn foods.
  • Use an iron to make grilled cheese sandwiches or waffles. Just clean it thoroughly before pressing clothes!
  • Thaw frozen vegetables with a hair dryer. But never immerse the dryer in water. Ever.
  • Cut cheese blocks with taut dental floss or a guitar string.
  • Crush peppercorns and other herbs or nuts by placing them inside a zip-tight bag and rolling a heavy tin can or glass bottle across them. Alternately, a hammer will work, but may be more destructive.

Feast, Not Famine

If you’re like more than 90 percent of respondents to a recent Student Health 101 survey, you have access to a stove, microwave, or hot plate. You can make all sorts of hearty soups, grains, and vegetables using nothing more than a pot filled with water.

And what’s an easy, cheap, portable snack that’s high in protein? Hard-boiled eggs. The only MacGyver technique needed is one that makes removing the shells easier…

How to Hard-Boil Eggs

Stovetop
  • Place eggs in a saucepan and add cold water to cover eggs by one inch.
  • Heat over high heat just to boiling.
  • Remove pan from heat, cover, and let eggs stand in hot water about 12 minutes.
  • Drain and fill pan with cold water. Let eggs sit 10-15 minutes.
Hot plate

Use the stovetop technique with either a saucepan or large microwave-safe bowl with a sturdy base.

Microwave
  • Boil water alone in a microwave-safe bowl, leaving at least one-inch clearance for the top of the eggs.
  • Submerge eggs carefully into the bowl of water and cover the bowl with a microwave-safe plate or paper towel. Cook on a low to medium heat setting for 8 minutes.
  • Let the eggs stand in the heated water for an additional 8-10 minutes to complete the cooking process.
  • Place the eggs carefully in a bowl of cold water and ice. Let eggs sit 20-30 minutes.
Pro Tips:
  • Peeling eggs under cold running water makes the shells fall off more easily.
  • Do not use eggs whose shells are cracked before cooking.
  • Eggs always burst if they’re cooked in a microwave without being completely submerged in water. Be prepared to clean the inside of the microwave when you’re done!

Need to measure ingredients without cups or spoons? No problem. Use common items to eyeball an approximation.

Measuring Without Cups or Spoons

1/4 tsp.1 dime
1/2 tsp.1 nickel
1 tsp.1 quarter
1 Tbsp.1 walnut
2 Tbsp.1 ping-pong ball
1/4 cup1 large egg
1/3 cup1 billiard ball
1/2 cup1 tennis ball
3/4 cup1 baseball
1 cup1 standard mug

Stuck in a Kitchen-Less Siberia

Do you live somewhere without a stove or microwave? Jenna Volpe, a registered dietitian at Walden Behavioral Care in Waltham, Massachusetts, says, “You don’t have to cook everything. Take advantage of things from a can or jar, non-perishables, [plus] foods [that aren’t] processed, as much as possible.” Try these:

  • Unsweetened peanut butter
  • Nuts
  • Low-sugar cereal
  • Fruits that don’t need refrigeration

If you have a friend living off campus, get together and cook. Make enough for leftovers and store them in your mini-fridge. Food prep with friends builds connections, keeps you full on novel dishes, and exposes you to new skills and foods you didn’t grow up with.

So while only MacGyver may be able to make a mullet look macho, you too can improvise and be a hero in the kitchen.

Want to outfit your kitchen with the basics?

Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, suggests getting the following basic cooking tools:

Essential:
  • 2 microwave-safe mixing bowls: 1 large and 1 small
  • Small cutting board
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • Can opener
  • Colander
  • Potholder
Nice to Have:
  • Toaster oven
  • Coffeemaker
  • Blender or food processer

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