One pot meals for communal kitchens

Venturing into my old dorm hall, Jennings Hall, I asked University of Florida freshman, Hanna Harwood, what her favorite things to cook in her dorm are.

“I like to get creative and recreate meals from my favorite restaurants,” she said. “I don’t have the luxury of going out to eat, so I started searching copycat recipes for my favorite dishes.”

One of her favorites to recreate is Panera’s mac & cheese. Considering this is one of my favorite menu items Panera offers, she had me hooked.

“There are hundreds of recipes online for it, but I like this one because everything is made in one pot and there are so little ingredients” Harwood said.

I immediately set aside 30 minutes of my time to make this. I ventured to Publix and picked up the only two ingredients I didn’t already have: extra sharp white cheddar cheese and dijon mustard.

“It’s really fun when everyone in the kitchen is super impressed with what you are making,” Harwood said. “You basically throw all of the ingredients into one pot and let it do its magic.”

Copycat Panera mac & cheese

2 cups pasta

2 1/2 cups milk

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. dijon mustard

1 tbsp. butter

1 cup (4 oz.) grated extra sharp cheddar



I gathered my ingredients, and got to cooking.


I chopped up the cheese (because what college student has a cheese grater?).


On medium heat, I added the milk, butter, mustard, salt and pasta.


I let that come to a simmer, and then turn the heat down to low. Stir continuously for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked in the milk.


Add the cheese. I added some regular shredded cheddar, because why not?


Let it sit with a lid on for about 5 minutes and enjoy immediately!

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Thank you Hanna Harwood, thank you.


Kitchen gadgets worth the investment

Trekking all the way to the end of the hall, pot in one hand, ingredients in another, to make a simple grilled cheese became an arduous task. I had seen other people on my floor with spaceship looking panini makers, but always thought wow what a waste of money. I finally caved and bought one, specifically the Cuisinart Griddler at Bed Bath & Beyond for $99.99 (with a 20% off coupon, of course). The griddler can be used to cook almost anything. Paninis, waffles, pancakes, chicken, eggs and the list goes on… This heaven-sent appliance has removable plates, which makes it a breeze to wash!

“This really is the greatest invention ever,” said Alex Smith, resident of UF’s Broward Hall. “I use it to cook almost everything.”

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The list would not be complete without something for caffeine lovers, or hot drink lovers. According to the National Coffee Association (NCA), 59% of Americans drink a daily cup of coffee. As a die-hard Starbucks fanatic, my bank account began crying weeks into my first fall semester. That’s when I knew I had to ask for some sort of coffee appliance thingy for Christmas. My Keurig Mini kept me alive through early mornings, late nights and everything in between. For $99.99, they are available at Bed Bath & Beyond (with that 20% off coupon, let’s not forget).

“Having a Keurig has saved me so much money I’d probably be spending at Starbucks, or really anywhere that serves coffee,” said Christina Vala, resident of UF’s Jennings Hall.


Lastly, there is the Nutri Ninja available for, once again, $99.99 at Bed Bath & Beyond. Luckily, my freshman roommate picked up this one. I recommend talking to your roommate to see who can buy what to spilt up costs. The Ninja can blend anything from green smoothies to piña coladas (I prefer the latter). Frozen fruit is usually cheaper than fresh fruit too! Throw together a smoothie and you have the perfect on-the-go meal.


Two microwave mug meals perfect for a dorm

When I was a freshman in college, I barely had time to sit down and watch a full Netflix show, let alone travel down the hall to the communal kitchen and cook a meal. I usually opted for frozen meals or picking up some good ol’ Chick-fil-A when pressed for time. Recently, I dove into the world of microwave mug meals. Even though I have moved into a house equipped with a kitchen, this hasn’t made me any more inclined to cook a meal every time I eat. With little to no prep time, mug meals are my new go-to when I am rushing out the door.

1. S’mores french toast

2 slices bread

1 tsp. butter

1 egg

3 tbsp. milk

dash cinnamon

1 tbsp. mini chocolate chips

2 tbsp. marshmallows

Begin by putting the butter at the bottom of a mug. Melt in the microwave for about 20 seconds and swish the butter around to coat your mug.


Cube the bread and add it to the mug.

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In a separate bowl, mix the egg, milk and cinnamon together.


Pour the mixture over the bread. Top with chocolate chips and marshmallows.


Microwave for about 1 minute and 20 seconds. If the mixture is still runny, microwave for 10 seconds until it is set.

Get the inspiration for my recipe here!

2. Cheese pizza

4 tbsp. flour

1/8 tsp. baking powder

1/16 tsp. baking soda

pinch salt

3 tbsp. milk

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. tomato sauce

1 1/2 tbsp. cheese

1/2 tsp. dried italian herbs (optional)

toppings (optional)


Mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.


Mix in the milk and olive oil until it is a batter-like consistency.


Top batter with the sauce.


Sprinkle cheese of choice and dried italian herbs.


Microwave for about 1 minute and 20 seconds, or until it starts rising.

Click here for Gemma Stafford’s recipe that I used!

UF farmers provide local produce to Gainesville community

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On Thursday nights, Cody Gusto sets up his tent and waits for customers to pick up their freshly packed produce.

University of Florida’s Office of Sustainability created the Gator Community Support Agriculture program back in fall 2010. This program provides a convenient way for UF students and Gainesville community members to receive locally grown produce.

“It’s really fulfilling work for people to see and understand directly where their food comes from,” said Gusto, CSA coordinator at Frog Song Organics. “To be on the providing end of that is real neat.”

Gator CSA, amembership program, allows members to pay a given amount of money at the beginning of the season, according to the UF Office of Sustainability website. In return, the participating farmers supply fresh produce to consumers for the season. Family Garden, Frog Song Organics and Siembra Farms support the 2015-2016 growing year.

“It’s a great avenue to connect with people and bridge consumer producer pathways,” Gusto said.

Fruits and vegetables are available throughout the season to consumer-members, along with a variety of other farm products, according to the UF sustainability website.

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Caroline Young, CSA member and mechanical engineering student, browses and collects her fresh produce every Thursday at the Agronomy Teaching Farm.

“We’re used to just Publix veggies,” Young said. “The best part about CSA is you get to try new things and know you are supporting local farms, which is really nice too.”

The long lasting relationships built between the consumer and producer makes Cody Galligan, owner of Siembra Farms, come back to Gator CSA year after year.

“With wholesale, you see a semi-truck pull up and a truck driver and that’s about the only person you get to interact with,” Galligan said.

As an alternative to industrial and conventional food processing, CSA engages the community through food sustainability.

“You’re not transporting food for thousands of miles,” Galligan said. “10 miles is really the most we travel to transport our food.”

“I care about where the food I’m eating comes from,” Young said. “I think everyone should too.”

This is a great alternative for students’ healthy eating too! Through research, I found this program and visited their setup. The farmers were extremely nice and willing to walk me through the whole program. I think every student living on campus should really consider this program. Picking up fresh fruits and veggies is extremely affordable and only a bus ride away!

For more info on Gator CSA, click here!

Meal planning saves time and money

Pinterest sparked my interest in meal planning freshman year, and I’m so glad it did. Scrolling through all of the mouth-watering recipes, I never thought they would actually be attainable. But they are, I promise!

Meal preparation can seem like a very tedious task that requires a lot of time and effort. It isn’t as hard as it seems, though.

I introduced my roommate, Jennifer Vazquez, to the world of meal prep. Before this, her diet consisted mostly of Totino’s pizza rolls and Kraft Mac & Cheese.

“Wow, this definitely beats Chick-Fil-A,” said Vazquez, a.k.a. Ramen noodle connoisseur.

Discovering how to prepare my meals for the week made shopping so much easier. I would never just wander aimlessly through the grocery store, purchasing whatever it is that I was craving at the time, and then regretting it later.

Once I dedicated myself to trying meal prep, I was on the road to success. The first recipe I tried is still one of my favorites, and I’m going to share with today. I found this recipe on Kayln’s Kitchen and will link it down below.

“It’s amazing how quick and easy these meals can be put together,” Vazquez said, “I actually don’t mind cooking now.”

Don’t forget! This recipe can easily be customized by adding in or substitute anything. I found that this recipe created four meals worth of food.


Click here for my favorite meal prep recipe! 


Four tips to avoid the freshman 15

1. Have a set of kitchen ware and utensils.

Freshmen may think living off dining hall food and Chipotle will be sustainable, but let’s face it, 2 weeks in, you will be craving some home-cooked meals. Have at least one pot and one pan on standby for when this happens. Other useful tools in the kitchen include a can opener, strainer, some big spoons for stirring and eating utensils.

2. Avoid non-perishables.

I know Spaghetti-O’s can be very enticing, but things that come in cans should be avoided at all costs. Generally, they contain many preservatives and have an abnormally high sodium content. Instead, stick to the fresh fruit and vegetable sections. It may be intimidating, but you won’t have to spend as many hours working off that late-night bowl of Ramen.

3. Plan your meals ahead of time.

It may be time consuming, but will help in the long-run. Research some recipes and plan your grocery trips wisely because freshmen typically don’t have the luxury of going often. I recommend planning five meals for your week. This will save time and money, and as a freshman, these things are very valuable.

4. Stick to the list.

Go to the grocery store with a list of items, and stick to it. Do some research before arriving to see what deals and coupons your local grocery store is offering that week. Following a list will help  avoid any temptation to junk food and save time browsing the aisles.

Welcome to The Dorm Diet

Hi all!

I’m Julia Harrison, a second-year advertising student at the University of Florida. Cooking is one of my passions. My dad owned an Italian restaurant for about 10 years and taught me a lot of what I now know. This sparked my interest in cooking.

Coming into college, my mom refused to purchase an overpriced dining hall meal plan for cafeteria quality food. I thought it would be impossible to cook actual meals using a communal kitchen all the way down the hall from me. I thank her to this day for forcing me to get creative and learn how to cook in the space given to me (a shoebox dorm). I began to shop strategically and on a budget. The purpose of this blog is to serve as a guide to freshmen living in dorms. Having been in that position, I have perfected the art of communal kitchens, mini fridges and microwave meals. The struggle was real, and although it is over for me, it has just begun for you.

Stay tuned for recipes, kitchen tips and tricks, shopping lists and demonstrations in the future!

Updates can be found on my Twitter @juliacharrison_ or email me at