Who else has lived in a place with skimpy cooking facilities and knows what it’s like cooking in a small kitchen aka kitchenette?
Not everyone has the luxury of living in a residence with a full kitchen that has counters, cupboards, a sink, fridge, stove, and maybe even a dishwasher.
Some people rent rooms in a house. Sometimes there’s a kitchen/cooking area. Other times there’s not.
Did you know that in California landlords aren’t even required to provide a stove and fridge to their tenants?
How do you prepare meals when there isn’t a cooking area?
The answer for me was that I mostly ate a lot of sandwiches!
When I was in my second year at the University of Victoria, I rented a room in the basement of a house close to campus.
I didn’t live alone in the basement. Another student rented the other bedroom in the basement. It was pretty decent as far as college accommodations go. We shared everything downstairs – a bathroom, washer & dryer, and the kitchen was a fridge, toaster, a 2-burner hot plate, and a sink. We didn’t have a communal living room. If we wanted to visit, we just knocked on the other person’s door and came into their room. Our living area was a hallway, where the appliances and sink were located, the two bedrooms were next to each other, and the bathroom was across from my room.
The other lady, Shelly, was an older student who’d taken a few years off and had worked as a cook in a restaurant at one point. She was able to do amazing things with the hotplate.
Me? Not a cook. Most of my meals consisted of the ever-popular university student meal of choice – instant noodles.
I also made a lot of Jell-O and popcorn.
One day I cooked a can of beans and poured it on top of a slice of buttered toast. I think it’s a British thing. That’s how my Scottish mother served canned beans, and I continued the tradition.
I guess Shelly had never seen it before. “Poached beans,” she said, while looking at my dinner plate.
The barn loft
One of the cutest little places I ever lived in was a brand new suite that was attached to the end of a 4 stall barn. The best part was my Standardbred horse, Mark, lived there too! I’d accepted a job with a woman who owned about a dozen horses and had just recently built the new barn and suite. It was very small, about 16 feet long, and as deep as a barn stall, maybe 10 or 12 feet. Open the exterior door and step inside the living room, consisting of a love seat and end table. I had a TV in there, but I don’t remember if the property owners provided it or it was an old TV set I got from my parent’s.
There was also a kitchenette, making the living/kitchen area one open space. It had a full sized fridge, a hot plate, a toaster oven, a sink, and some cupboards and counter space.
The owner was really concerned about a barn fire which is why she didn’t have an oven in there. Not an issue for me because back then I wasn’t interested in baking. She did offer the oven in her house if I wanted to bake cookies or whatever, but my parents lived locally and I could also use their oven if needed.
I don’t remember needing to use an oven. I bought my baked goods.
Some of you might be wondering where I slept. Did that couch pull out?
Nope. This was the best part. There was a loft bedroom over the bathroom and kitchen area. I climbed a ladder to a single bed, and looked down on the living room. Upstairs had a porthole window that looked into the horse stalls.
Like I said, really cute.
It’s really hard starting out and not earning a lot of money. The options are getting a roommate, or multiple roommates and finding an apartment or renting a room in someone’s house. Hopefully the room rental includes kitchen privileges.
Sometimes people rent a small room/studio apartment that barely has a kitchenette set up.
Think of it like staying in a hotel room that has a mini-fridge and microwave.
Of course, these days, microwave ovens are much more common place than pre-1990.
That meant when I was younger, all I had was a hot plate and toaster or toaster oven for cooking.
Outfitting the small kitchen
Hopefully, your suite includes a fridge and microwave at the very least. And a counter or table to put your kitchen gadgets on. If not, you will need to buy these items so you can save money and cook at home instead of eating out all the time. You should be able to pick up used kitchen items on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace.
If you don’t have cupboards, you can buy storage totes to hold your food, glasses, cutlery and dishes. These are all things you can buy second hand. Check Craigslist, garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores.
Here’s a list of more supplies you need for your small kitchen:
- Hot plate
- Toaster oven
- Crock pot (or Instant Pot)
- Fry pan
Obviously, the hot plate and toaster oven will not be necessary if you have access to an oven with a stove top.
Simpler times when I didn’t need as much stuff in my kitchen.
(Disclosure: I’m an Amazon associate and if you click the links below and make a purchase, I’ll receive a small commission for the referral.)
The hot plate below is a top seller on Amazon:
This toaster oven is a best seller on Amazon:
I have this 7 in 1 Instant Pot and use it a lot!
Even though the Instant Pot has a slow cooker setting, I don’t find it as effective as a crock pot.
You can even buy a tiny, countertop fridge on Amazon, but I’d recommend looking for a larger, used mini-fridge that has a small freezer compartment. This one doesn’t look like it’d do more than keep a couple of cans of beer or Coke cold.
A few more suggestions are a storage drawer on wheels where you can store your kitchen supplies and push it into a corner to get it out of the way.
If you’re looking for new stackable bins, check this out:
Hot plate cooking
A hot plate is a portable stove burner that is plugged in so you can cook on it, just like you do on a stove top. They come with either one or two burners.
Besides boiling water to make instant noodles, what else can you cook on a hot plate?
Most of the meals I cooked on the hot plate were opened from a can, mainly soup or beans. I also cooked a lot of spaghetti.
Boxed macaroni and cheese can be cooked on a hot plate.
Let’s not forget how many times I used that pot to make popcorn on the hot plate!
I had a fry pan and occasionally made pancakes and eggs.
Back then, veggie burgers weren’t in the stores. These days you can buy frozen veggie burgers and fry them on the hot plate.
Or if you eat meat, grill up a hamburger, fry a chicken or make sloppy joes.
It only takes a few minutes to fix a grilled cheese sandwich.
Toaster oven cooking
These days the Internet has lots of recipes you can find to cook meals in a toaster oven. There was no Internet around in my toaster oven days!
Going back in time to that barn loft apartment, I used the toaster oven a lot to make pizza. I liked going to Buns Master, a now mostly defunct bakery in the Vancouver area, to buy a 6 pack of single serving pizza shells. I spread tomato paste on the pizza shell and then added tomatoes, black olives, and mushrooms. Topped off with cheese. That was a huge go-to dinner for me.
The thing with toaster ovens is they have terrible temperature control. Although I don’t recall any issues with the single serving pizzas I made, I seem to recall a lot of burnt toast.
I used to have a toaster oven up until about five years ago, but I rarely used it, so it was recycled. Things were always burning in there. If you have a full kitchen with an oven, a toaster oven isn’t necessary.
But, if you live in a small place with a limited kitchenette, and you like to make little pizzas, the toaster oven is very useful.
Small space eating
Convenience foods have come a long way since I lived in small spaces with kitchenettes. If pre-packaged salads had been a thing years ago, they’d have been in my fridge.
If you have the space for it, I’d recommend a single serving smoothie blender. Smoothies are a health kick item these days, they’re easy to make, and they keep you feeling full for hours.
When I lived in the barn loft suite, besides having ingredients on hand to make pizzas, I always kept muffins in the house. I couldn’t bake them, so I bought them. Fortunately, Buns Master also sold muffins and other baked goodies. The muffins were my break time snack. Mucking out a dozen horse stalls builds up an appetite!
Most of the suggestions in my post 21 budget meals when money is tight fit right in for small kitchen spaces.
Living in a place with a small cooking area means your meals are limited by your budget and the space needed to store food and kitchen gadgets. That brings up another point. Small kitchens mean frequent grocery store trips.
You’ll be eating many of the same meals over and over, which sucks if you like variety.
Even after moving to places with larger kitchens, it took me years to get over my small kitchen eating and cooking habits. I’ve always been OK making easy meals like soup, spaghetti, or eggs. Eventually I stopped buying muffins and started baking them.
The good thing about a small kitchen is it’s generally easy to clean up. If you only have one pot, one pan, and a couple of dishes and forks, you have to keep them clean because you’ll be using them again very soon!
If overnight oats had been a thing when I was living in a kitchenette, that would have been one of my main meals. Move over DIY pizza!
And speaking of pizza, I think I need to drive over to Langley, home of the last Buns Master in the area, for a quick shopping trip!
Check out this tiny – and tidy! – studio apartment in New York City. You don’t even have to get out of bed to cook!
The above photo comes from the article: I’m under lockdown in an apartment that doesn’t have a kitchen, but making food isn’t as difficult as you’d think. It’s an interesting read about life during the pandemic without a kitchen.
Here’s an another article I like, mostly aimed at college students living in a dorm, but it’s good advice for anyone who doesn’t live in a place with a kitchen. https://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/primers/article/college-cooking-no-kitchen