This list can be for both high school or college graduates; things that they will need in a future dorm or apartment, especially good for cooking for one person. My brother also mentioned these would all make good gifts for someone going into the military. After they graduate from boot camp, they move into barracks that have small kitchen setups with nothing in them!
Electric Water Kettle – A great item for heating water safely in a small space. Good for making ramen noodles or tea/cocoa/coffee.
My favorite, the Bodum cordless
electric kettle. Comes in 2 sizes!
Ways to Make Coffee – Read my Coffee Maker Basics blog to learn more about what type of coffee brewing system works best for your graduate!
Aeropress – This little guy is consistently hailed as making the best cup of coffee using regular coffee grounds. A lot of people used it at my last office with the grounds the office provided to make a slightly stronger cup. Brews right into the mug by adding hot water, and the filters come in packs of 350 so they last a really long time!
French Press – There are other brands, but Bodum is the most well-known. They make a variety of presses, from the classic glass, to stainless steel, thermal, and travel. Can also be used to brew hot tea, but you cannot brew both in the same vessel as the coffee taste will remain in the mesh filter. These can also be utilized to make cold press coffee.
Bodum glass French press
Single Cup Brewer – The most popular single cup brewer is Keurig, but there are many other brands by the usual suspects. Make coffee one mug at a time, sometimes taking special pods and other times allowing you to use your own coffee grounds, or both!
Keurig single-cup brew system
Electric Espresso – These can get tricky because the inexpensive ones usually don’t produce an authentic cup of espresso. Luckily, most American coffee drinkers don’t know the difference, so base your purchase off of whether you’re buying for a connoisseur or not! Nespresso makes the smallest footprint models at a lower price than larger household models that produce as good a cup, but it’s still a tad spendy, so this might be more for the college grad and a cheaper one for your high school grad!
Nespresso electric espresso machine
Travel Mug – Most coffee shops take a few cents off the price of your drink if you bring your own cup. Or just to bring their homemade coffee to class with them. Either way, save them some cash and keep their coffee warm!
Contigo travel mugs have become one of the
most popular brands – easy to sip from and seal tight!
Inexpensive Dinnerware and Flatware – A couple of plates, bowls, forks and spoons will be very helpful to have in a dorm room. I recommend cheap and plastic or melamine! Walmart, Target, dollar stores, etc. to find these for low prices.
For someone graduating college, getting them their first real set of dinnerware would be a great next step. Read my ceramic dinnerware blog for ideas on what brands to consider!
Small pot and frypan – If this is going to be their first time cooking, I would recommend something really inexpensive and nonstick. Nonstick for at least the frypan – it’s a little harder to burn/stick things in a pot than a frypan based on what is normally cooked in both.
A small frypan and a small saucepan are all you need!
Shopping for someone who knows their way around the kitchen a little? Consider Cuisinart or Calphalon’s less expensive lines. Feel free to check my Buying Cookware blog for more in-depth information on how to choose what’s best for your cook!
For someone graduating college, it might be time for their first nice set of cookware! Consider the Cuisinart Multi-Clad Pro as a very solid set that will last them forever.
Round it out with a set of cooking utensils. Cheap plastic ones from the dollar store should work well for our college-bound and military group; maybe spend a little more on some nicer ones for our college grads.
Microwave – An essential tool for the single person!
Microwave Cooking Acoutrements – Nordic Ware is made in America and they produce the best microwave-safe dishes and cooking items! Your will have a hard time NOT finding something useful for dorm/single-person microwave cooking, and I find their products in every type of store as they are a very popular brand name.
Nordic Ware microwave egg cooker
Electric Countertop Grill – These may or may not be allowed in dorms. Another essential cooking tool for the single person! Can make grilled sandwiches or use as a small grill to cook meat, fish and veggies.
Soda Stream – Not a necessity, but a fun gift that will save them a little money.
There are a few different things to consider when purchasing new ceramic dinnerware or bakeware, and I’ve also included some use and care advice to help you out.
Ceramics can be expensive, and usually the inexpensive ones will end up needing to be replaced constantly, so I’m a believer in spending more for better quality and that it will actually last a lifetime.
As mentioned in the “Ceramic Dinnerware and Bakeware Basics” blog, durability comes from how the ceramic is made. Depending on how many times the piece was fired during its creation is a huge factor – the less (at higher temps) is better.
What also matters is the design – having thin edges or connecting pieces might be an indicator that it will chip. Imagine the piece lightly bumping into another piece in your dishwasher – edge to edge. Do you think it would stand up in this situation, or crack? The less edges the piece has the better, too. Bowls are a great example of this – does the base of the piece have a protruding edge? Just something else that could get chipped.
Colors can be fun until you put food on them, then all of a sudden the fun colors make your food look not so appetizing. I have a friend who gave up a cobalt blue loaf pan simply because she made mac and cheese in it and it looked inedible to her! There’s a reason why restaurants use whiteware; there’s also a reason why food judges always rate chefs on their “plating” – this is taught in culinary school, I kid you not!
Also to consider with color is what scratching will look like (see more about scratching on ceramic below). Cobalt blue is notorious for showing marks very well and customers were always returning it with complaints. I have the “Sunflower” color in Fiesta dinnerware, and while all of the different colored plates show a small amount of scratching, the yellow really looks unappealing.
Choosing a Brand
You want to do some research and make sure the brand you choose is going to be around for a long time, producing the same product lines, and also the same color choices, otherwise you won’t be able to replace or add to your collection in the future.
Fiesta dinnerware actually claim they never discontinue pieces because the pattern has remained the same for decades, only the colors have changed (or rather, “retired“). This might not make a person who buys all one color happy if their color gets discontinued!! You should be able to find information on at least quality vendors about when a pattern came out or how often they discontinue colors, etc. if you do enough research.
Make sure to check to see if the dinnerware or bakeware you’re selecting is dishwasher and microwave safe. Generally all ceramics are, however, the claim that it is safe for the dishwasher doesn’t mean it’s safe FROM your dishwasher. I load all of my ceramic bowls with dishwasher-safe plastic pieces in between them to avoid them bumping each other while being cleaned. I also find that if a piece of bakeware has buildup on it, just like cookware, it’s probably just going to get baked on harder inside of the dishwasher and not come out clean.
As mentioned in the “Basics” blog, different elements exist within different color dyes that are used on ceramics. Different elements react differently when heated in a microwave; for instance, reds get hotter than any other color because of the lead contained in the glaze. It’s not harmful to you as a user, but it does react to the heat!
Not all ceramics can handle the same temperature ranges, so be sure to check the instructions or label of the piece in question. You can really only assume bakeware is good to 350 degrees Fahrenheit; anything higher you would want to be sure you check first. Some of the sturdier brands go as high as 480 degrees, but I’ve never seen one that is OK to use on “broil”.
Be wary of Pinterest recipes and other things you read online. Like with anything you read on the internet, not everyone’s an expert. (Not even me! I double-check myself constantly and will always update my blogs accordingly, however.) Two different casserole recipes I randomly found on Pinterest and tried asked me to put in my “oven safe” bakeware and then crank them up to 500 or broil and told me not to worry, it was fine. Luckily both times I realized my stupidity and turned the oven back down quickly enough.
When an item says it is “freezer to oven” safe, they mean they want you to warm it up with the oven. Don’t EVER put cold ceramic in a hot oven, let them come to temperature together! (Same goes for a pizza stone!) Extreme temperature changes are a major cause of cracking and crazing with ceramics.
Ceramics are never stovetop safe (with the exception of CorningWare’s stovetop safe line), so be careful when you are using brands that create both cookware and bakeware. I’ll never forget the poor gal who tried returning her Le Creuset baker because it cracked on the stove! It had a lovely electric burner ring stain on the three pieces it had become and we were not able to replace it for her because that wasn’t proper use – she thought all Le Creuset was safe for the stove. 🙁
Scratching on ceramic is normally caused by two different things.
1. Flatware scratching: This is inevitable unless you do all of your cutting on a different surface. The metal from your flatware leaves unsightly marks on lighter colored porcelain and ceramics. There are various cleaning products you can purchase that they say will remove these marks, but I have never personally tried any of them.
2. Ceramic-on-ceramic scratching: This occurs when you stack your ceramics, more commonly with plates. Generally the base of a piece of ceramic has a ring that is not glazed and also a little rough to the touch. When you pull one dish out, it lightly scrapes against the other item it’s stacked against, causing a scratch. These scratches can actually be deeper and worse than flatware scratches.
Ceramic-on-ceramic scratching can be avoided by purchasing ceramics with less edging, sanding down your unfinished edges, or storing them in a plate rack versus stacking them.
I created a guide for you, which includes a quick video on how to sand your ceramics without sandpaper, using other pieces of dinnerware. You can also use a lower number grit sandpaper.