The Best Budget Kitchen Essentials for Student Apartments

by Jalen & Sarah Bromley

Most people associate college with studying and parties. But when it comes down to your day-to-day experience, you’ll most likely spend a lot of time in the kitchen — especially if you’re budgeting your money carefully. So, do yourself a favor by stocking up on budget-friendly kitchen essentials for your student apartment.

Whether you’re a pro chef or still learning the basics, our comprehensive list contains everything you need to cook up a storm.

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The best budget-friendly kitchen essentials

Before purchasing everything in the list below, we recommend checking if your student house comes stocked with any items or appliances. 

If you’re going to have roommates, you may also want to check what everyone else is bringing so you can coordinate. While you can never have too many plates or forks, you may not want five air fryers.

  1. Toaster

Few food items will fill you up as much as bread for such a low amount of money, so don’t forget to pack a toaster when you head off to college.

For under $30, this toaster offers all the features you need, plus a special “bagel” setting and extra-wide slots to accommodate bread of all shapes and sizes.

  1. Nonstick cooking utensils set

Toast is a staple, but most people want to have a real meal from time to time. And if you’re going to cook, you’ll need cooking utensils. 

This 16-pack covers all bases. As well as the usual spatulas and spoons, you’ll get tongs and measuring cups and spoons so you can follow recipes with ease. Oh, and everything is nonstick.

  1. Can opener

A can opener is one of those items we often forget about — until the moment comes when a can is right in front of us and we have nothing but our bare hands to get it open.

This KitchenAid can opener is affordable yet effective, and it has an integrated bottle opener too.

  1. Set of whisks

Another item you may forget about when packing is the humble whisk. This set provides three of them in different sizes — so whether you want to whisk a single egg or a big cake mixture, you’ll have the perfect tool. Each one is made of stainless steel wire with a silicone coating.

  1. Saucepan

A saucepan is essential for cooking most meals — and if you’re creative enough, you might be able to get through college using a saucepan and nothing else. This one from Cuisinart has a capacity of 0.95 liters and has a cool grip handle for ease of use.

  1. Frying pan

Saucepans are multifunctional, but they don’t quite cover all bases. A nonstick frying pan will be your best friend when you want to whip up some eggs or sizzle some meat. This one is under $20 and has a size of 10 inches, though.

  1. Stockpot

If you’re the kind of student who likes to meal prep, a saucepan may not be enough. The large design of a stockpot allows you to make big meals or multiple portions, with this one having a capacity of eight quarts.

  1. Freezable tupperware

Tupperware is another meal prep essential. And even if you’re not planning to prepare your meals in advance, having a few food storage containers is always handy.

This pack of ten is safe for both the microwave and the freezer, so you can cover all bases.

  1. Lunchbox 

As well as tupperware, it’s helpful to have a special lunchbox to take your food into college. This box is divided into three compartments and comes with a handy fork. Plus, it’s made from BPA-free materials.

  1. Cutlery starter pack

We’re all about saving money, but we don’t recommend eating without cutlery. When you’re a student, you don’t need to overdo things with a 100-piece fine dining set, but this pack gives you four knives, spoons, and forks. Enough to get through a day or two of eating without washing.

  1. Dinnerware set

Another absolute must is a basic pack of dinnerware. And, if you’re sharing with roommates, it’s best to opt for something cheap so you won’t be disappointed if your precious plates go missing or get broken.

This AmazonBasics 16-set contains four dinner plates, dessert plates, bowls, and mugs — all for less than $40.

  1. Drinking glasses

Continuing along the same vein, you’ll also want something to drink out of. As a student, we recommend swerving the glass and opting for some shatterproof plastic glasses instead. This colorful pack of six fits the bill.

  1. Chef’s knife 

A chef’s knife is a large, heavy-duty knife that will be your companion when cutting onions, cuts of meat, and just about anything else you throw its way. Even if a dirt-cheap knife seems like a bargain, it’s not worth it if it doesn’t serve its purpose, so we’ve chosen this Mercer Culinary knife for a touch of quality. For a price tag below $30, it’s a bargain.

  1. Paring knife 

A decent chef’s knife and paring knife will equip you for just about any task in the kitchen, with the paring knife handling food prep of smaller items. Paring knives are the cheaper of the two, with this Farberware knife coming in at under $10.

  1. Bread knife

The last entry in our knives trio is the bread knife. It might seem unnecessary to buy a separate knife for bread, but cutting bread with a chef’s knife is unnecessarily tiresome. Besides, this one is under $10, so you can’t go wrong.

  1. Cutting board 

Now you have knives covered, finish things off with a cutting board. With a large surface area (11 inches by 14 inches) yet a tiny price tag of below $10, you can’t go wrong.

  1. Mixing bowls

Mixing bowls allow you to combine ingredients to conjure up some magic in the kitchen, and this pack of three has a space-saving nesting design. If you ever get the spontaneous urge to make a cake, you’ll thank yourself for purchasing.

It’s also less than $15.

  1. Colander

Whether you want to drain pasta or wash your salad, this generously sized plastic colander has you covered. All for under $10!

  1. Sheet pan

Whether you’re a “throw something premade in the oven” kind of person or a “bake something from scratch” type, baking sheets are a must. These ones are non-stick, and it costs less than $20 for a pack of two. What more could you want?

  1. Kitchen scales

Are you a nutrition nerd who wants to weigh your food at every meal? Or maybe you’re a keen chef who wants to follow recipes word for word? Either way, scales are a useful addition to any kitchen. This digital scale from AmazonBasics ticks all the boxes and costs less than $15.

  1. Measuring Cups

Pyrex is one of the biggest names in kitchenware, and this measuring jug can do it all. It has a one-quart capacity and is safe for use in the oven, freezer, and microwave. 

  1. Kitchen scissors

From the simple task of opening plastic packaging to the more difficult job of cutting through tough meat, a good pair of kitchen scissors will always have your back. And this one has a price tag barely in the double digits!

  1. Coffee maker

This is one of the more expensive items on the list. But coffee is essential for all students doing all-nighters at the library or waking themselves in the morning for those early-start classes. At under $40, this coffee maker from Mr. Coffee is far cheaper than heading to a barista every morning.

  1. Handheld blender

Buying a Nutribullet or Vitamix might be pricey, but a handheld blender is a great way to get all the same benefits for a lower price. This blender from Ovente is less than $25 and is the perfect tool for smoothies or soups.

  1. Airfryer 

Admittedly, an airfryer isn’t an absolute essential for your student apartment. But we thought we’d finish the list with something fun in case you have any money left over in your budget. And it doesn’t get much more fun than this Cosori Mini Air Fryer. For less than $60, you’ll get the functionalities to air fry, roast, bake, and reheat some yummy college dinners.

Let’s get cooking!

Preferences in the kitchen can differ significantly, but hopefully the list above has at least inspired you to create a plan of your own. Just make sure you take a practical approach and stick to budget-friendly kitchen essentials over fancy gadgets or aesthetic designs. You can save them for once you graduate from your lucrative major.

For more tips on managing your finances as a student, keep up to date with Frugal Student. We post regular tips to help you balance your budget and get through college in good financial shape.

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